Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe: Foreign companies 'stole diamonds'

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Robert Mugabe speaks at his 92nd birthday party held in Masvingo, Zimbabwe, 27 February 2016.Image source, EPA
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Mr Mugabe said Zimbabwe "had not received much at all" from the diamond sector

Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe has accused foreign mining companies of stealing the country's wealth, after an announcement that the government will take control of all diamond mines.

Mr Mugabe accused the companies of "swindling" and "smuggling" in an interview with state-run ZBC TV.

The 92-year-old leader denied that the move would affect relations with China, a major investor in the sector.

Zimbabwe was the world's eighth largest diamond exporter in 2014.

"We have not received much from the diamond industry at all," Mr Mugabe said, complaining that Zimbabwe had received $2bn (£1.4bn) from an estimated $15bn (£11bn) of revenues.

Mr Mugabe was also critical of Zimbabweans' role in the alleged theft, saying that those "expected to be our eyes and ears have not been able to see or hear what was going on".

Foreign mining companies can only operate in Zimbabwe as part of a joint-venture with local partners.

Image source, AP
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In 2008, the army was accused of a massacre against artisinal miners at the Marange diamond fields

Last month companies operating in the Marange diamond fields were ordered to stop working after their licences expired.

Analysis: Stanley Kwenda, BBC Africa

Mr Mugabe's insistence that Zimbabwe has lost vital revenue from the lucrative Marange fields will certainly raise a few eyebrows among those who have long called for greater transparency in the country's diamond sector.

Previous attempts by opposition parties to institute an official audit into diamond revenues have often been frustrated.

The companies operating in Marange did so as partners to the Zimbabwean government, which carried a 50% stake in each of them.

That the government has long appeared to be in control of operations at Marange makes it harder to explain how such "theft" could have happened without its knowledge.

Critics will see this announcement as a smokescreen for the government's failure to meet critical financial obligations, such as paying civil servants' salaries.

Reports of abuse, including killings by the army, led to an international ban on diamond exports from Marange between 2009 and 2011.

Mr Mugabe dismissed any possibility of a diplomatic rift with China over the new policy, saying that he had personally complained to President Xi Jinping about the poor deal Zimbabwe was getting from its joint ventures with Chinese mining companies.

Chinese-run Anjin Investments, along with several other foreign mining operators, have reportedly challenged the new government orders in court.

Zimbabwe's economy has struggled since a government programme seized most white-owned farms in 2000, causing exports to tumble.