Africa Investigates: Mozambique's Gem Wars

By Al Jazeera English Network

• 18 illegal miners killed since 2009, allegedly by police and private security

• Filmmakers interview parents of three dead illegal miners

The third season of Al Jazeera’s award-winning Africa Investigates series continued last night with Mozambique’s Gem Wars.

Mozambican journalist Estacio Valois, along with director and cameraman Callum Macrae, investigated allegations that police and private security agencies were beating and killing illegal local miners in the vicinity of a private mining concession in Cabo Delgado Province, Northern Mozambique.

“For the western world, rubies mean luxury, it means glamour. It means wealth,” says Estacio. “But for my people it means the opposite. It means death, poverty, killings.”

In 2009, a hunter in a remote part of Cabo Delgado Province discovered a small red stone - a ruby. Within a couple of years, it became clear that the forests of this poor, undeveloped region contained a huge deposit of the precious red stone – possibly the largest in the world.

The area is now being mined by a local company, Mwriti, which in 2012 formed a partnership with a British company, Gemfields, owners of the luxury Fabergé brand. Their joint venture, 75% owned by Gemfields, is known as Montepuez Ruby Mining (MRM) and controls a concession covering some 340 square kilometres.

To help project an ethical business image, Gemfields hired Hollywood star Mila Kunis as their global ambassador. She’s appeared in high-profile publicity material praising the company’s socially responsible approach to the gemstone industry.

But the Mozambican project has been dogged by disturbing claims. Police and private security forces protecting the concession have been accused of burning at least one village, Namudja, and of shooting incidents which have resulted in several deaths of illegal artisanal miners.

Attorney General Pompilio Xavier Wazamguia, chief prosecutor of Montepuez, tells Estacio he knew of 18 such killings from 2009 to now. So far, four of these cases have led to convictions. The filmmakers also hear from three parents who describe the murders of their children.

Gemfields has pledged to pay 1% of all ruby sales to fund local social and environmental projects. But although it has already made over 120 million dollars from ruby auctions, locals accuse the company of failing to live up to its promises of development and infrastructure support for the communities within the mining concession area.

In the film, Gemfields boss, South African Ian Harebottle, defends the company’s social responsibility record, but pledges to investigate the allegations of violence and killing by security forces protecting the assets of the mine.

Africa Investigates is a groundbreaking Al Jazeera series that gives some of Africa’s best journalists the opportunity to pursue high-level investigative targets across the continent - using their unique perspective and local knowledge to put corruption, exploitation and abuse under the spotlight. Previous documentaries in the series have won One World Media and Mohamed Amin Africa Media awards.

Mozambique’s Gem Wars repeats on Al Jazeera English on 11 December 2015 at 04:30, 12 December at 17:30, and 13 December at 06:30 CAT.

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