Navigating the hills and voluntary confinement: Magweja and the socio-economic and political negotiation for space in the diamond mining landscape of Chiadzwa in Zimbabwe, 2006-2009.
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This article focuses on the socio-economic and political experiences of the artisanal diamond miners and the various communities within the hills of Chiadzwa situated in the Marange area of Manicaland Province in Zimbabwe. The diamond rush by Magweja which can be traced back to 2006 ended in 2009 with the violent expulsion of Magweja in January 2009 under operation “dzokera kumusha”. This phase in the country’s mining history has popularly been characterised by the miners as a “free for all” period. Although there is a lot of emerging literature focusing on different aspects of Chiadzwa and indeed the activities of magweja, none has focused on the physical and corporeal dimensions operating within that landscape and how this was informed by shifting political, economic and social conditions. Using at different times, law enforcement, state security and military apparatus, the state increasingly assumed a secure hold over the area as a way of protecting the natural resources of the country from exploitation. The magweja felt they were not only being subordinated to a strong and powerful state, but they were being deprived, since the inception of Chiadzwa, of the right to enjoy the wealth that naturally flows from a diamond mining activity located in their district. This is what propelled the miners to devise adaptation and survival strategies which in turn engendered the relationship of conflict between the state and the artisanal mining community in Chiadzwa from 2006 to 2009. The article explores this interaction and its intricacies with particular reference to the material conditions that affected the magweja as part of their negotiation for space within the diamondiferous landscape. In the beginning, entry into this lucrative mining enterprise was relatively easier, but later it became increasingly difficult culminating in the eventual expulsion and exclusion of magweja from diamond extraction. In the entire period from 2006 to 2009, magweja could not construct any settlement or living structures in this habitat which had become a home for many of them. Ironically, for a place that had vast economic potential for all involved, Chiadzwa came to be identified simply as “musango” (bush or thicket) or “kumunda” (the field) where the artisanal miners sought to eke out a living under the literally open, unsheltered landscape. The article thus characterises magweja’s entry into the highly policed and increasingly militarised Chiadzwa fields as acquiescing to voluntary confinement. It also traces the trajectory of individual and collective experiences and memories of magweja as a specific and important factor in the early diamond extraction narratives. State involvement is perceived and portrayed as a bane to the economic well-being of the local community.