RAPAPORT… Surat Rough Diamond Sourcing Limited (SRDS), a company set up to source rough diamonds for local manufacturers, has requested that Zimbabwe supply it with $100 million worth of Marange diamonds each month.
In a letter presented to Zimbabwe mines minister Obert Mpofu on Thursday, SRDS chairman Ashit Mehta, whose private company Blue Star is a De Beers, Diamond Trading Company (DTC) sightholder, offered to train Zimbabwe artisans in cutting and polishing as well as provide the country with technical assistance in exchange for the rough supply.
“We request minister Mpofu and the government of Zimbabwe to facilitate the supply of rough diamonds, on a regular monthly basis, to the tune of $100 million, which will be on an annual basis of $1.2 billion of run of mine goods,” Mehta said during the minister’s visit to Surat.
The diamonds would then be distributed to the Surat industry through monthly tenders, according to the SRDS mandate.
Mehta added that he hopes to receive a reply from Mpofu during a visit to Zimbabwe that will be made by members of the Surat diamond industry, next week from October 20 to 22.
Mpofu was taken on a whirlwind trip through Surat, which included stops at six of the city’s major cutting and polishing factories. Thousands of diamond workers lined the streets to greet the minister and his entourage (See picture 1 below).
Mpofu, who was educated in India, stressed the strong relationship between the two countries and dismissed attempts by “the West” to prevent Zimbabwe’s Marange diamonds from reaching the market.
The Kimberley Process (KP) approved the sale of a portion of Marange goods in August and September, much of which went to Indian buyers. However, further sales have been withheld pending a KP review mission report to be discussed at the organization’s plenary, to be held in Jerusalem during November. A number of KP members, particularly the U.S., Australia and Canada, along with the civil society component of the KP, remain concerned about human rights conditions at Marange.
The U.S. State Department listed the Zimbabwe Minerals Development Corporation (ZMDC), which owns a stake in Marange Resources, and the Minerals Marketing Development Corporation of Zimbabwe (MMDC), on its sanctions list making it illegal for U.S. citizens to purchase goods from Marange.
“The biggest beneficiaries of our diamonds are in the Western world,” Mpofu said. “They looted our resources and because they have stocks and stocks of diamonds from Zimbabwe they want to diminish those before they allow us to sell ours.”
Despite the sanctions, the minister claimed that that “there is no doubt our diamonds are going to the U.S.” He noted that De Beers spent 15 years in the country prospecting the area “so how did they not find diamonds in Marange.” Outgoing De Beers managing director Gareth Penny explained at the Mines to Market conference in Mumbai this week that the company was prospecting for kimberlite mines, whereas Marange is an alluvial field.
While Surat is aggressively seeking to buy Marange production, some of the larger local manufacturers stressed they would not buy goods until the KP issues have been cleared up, in order to protect their reputation.
Others, such as Blue Star, displayed their Marange goods during the minister’s visit (see picture 2 below). Blue Star bought approximately 150,000 carats worth of Marange goods at the September auction held in Harare.
Zimbabwe has at least 6 million carats worth of Marange diamonds in stock awaiting KP approval. A mines ministry spokesperson reported that around 1.5 million to 2 million carats are being mined there each month. The stones have an estimated average value of around $55 per carat.
While Mpofu said that manufacturers from Belgium, Israel, United Arab Emirates (UAE), China and India have made requests to buy rough, he was clearly impressed by his experience in Surat. The minister also stressed Zimbabwe’s need for technical assistance and for help developing its beneficiation industry.
“We have already teamed up with Indians to set up in Zimbabwe and this is what we want to see,” Mpofu said. “It is extremely impressive to see [in Surat] what diamonds can do for a city and an economy.”
“It makes us want to work even more vigorously to have our diamond exports allowed to India,” he added.
Picture 1: Zimbabwe’s mines minister Obert Mpofu is greeted by leaders of the Surat diamond industry as workers look on.
Picture 2: Mpofu holds marange diamonds at the Blue Star factory in Surat, India.