Former President Thabo Mbeki. File Picture: Masi Losi

Johannesburg - Former president Thabo Mbeki has urged members of the African Diamond Producers Association not to allow Western powers to politicise and abuse the Kimberley Process to overthrow Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe’s government.

This came as reports, quoting the international NGO Partnership Africa Canada, that Mugabe and his Zanu-PF “cronies” had plundered the country’s diamond discovery, costing Zimbabwe’s economy R16 billion.

The report condemns the Mugabe government’s control of the Marange diamond field, which has made Zimbabwe a major player in the international diamond trade.

“Marange’s potential has been overshadowed by violence, smuggling, corruption and, most of all, lost opportunity,” the report said.

“The scale of illegality is mind-blowing” and has spread to “compromise most of the diamond markets of the world”, said the report.

The report describes the $2 billion loss to the Zimbabwean treasury as a “conservative estimate”.

Finance Minister Tendai Biti said in his 2012 budget he had been promised $600 million in diamond revenue for the national treasury to help refinance crumbling health care, education and other public services.

Biti said only one-fourth of that pledge had been received.

Addressing the Zimbabwe Diamond Conference gala dinner at Victoria Falls on Monday night, Mbeki said the debate, started by various global role-players and a significant section of the world media, had sought to present Zimbabwe as a rogue state that deserved to be toppled.

“This narrative was advanced to place on the agenda the fundamental proposition that because Zimbabwe was such a ‘rogue state’, it was perfectly legitimate to use all means, including through decisions of the UN Security Council, to overthrow the government of Zimbabwe, thus effecting regime change in this country,” he said.

The Kimberley Process is a joint government, industry and civil society initiative to stem the flow of so-called conflict diamonds - rough diamonds used by rebel movements to finance wars against legitimate governments.

Mbeki said there had been an international debate that was “unjustifiably hostile” to Zimbabwe in the short period the country had started mining and exporting diamonds from its Marange fields.

The debate sought to use the Kimberley Process incorrectly to classify the Zimbabwe diamonds as “blood diamonds”, which should not be traded internationally, he said.

As was the case in 2000 when the southern African country started its controversial land reform programme, Mbeki said, Zimbabwe had been subjected to a “veritable and sustained political storm” over its diamonds.

He called on his audience to do everything in its power to “insulate” the Kimberley Process from political abuse.

“I would appeal to you, as members of the Kimberley Process, not to allow the important Kimberley Process, in whose success our continent is genuinely interested, to be abused by anybody whatsoever for political purposes, among others to achieve the objective of regime change in Zimbabwe,” Mbeki added.

However, he warned diamond producers and Africa in general against supporting the production and sale of diamonds contrary to the spirit of the Kimberley Process.

Mbeki also implored the Zimbabwean government and political leaders to ensure the country’s diamond mining industry was not “governed by a predatory elite” that used access to power to enrich itself “in collusion with mining companies” at the expense of the public.

His speech came as Partnership Africa Canada reported that the Marange field – one of the world’s biggest diamond deposits – had been mined since 2006 and its vast earnings could have turned around Zimbabwe’s economy, which has been battered by years of meltdown and political turmoil.

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The Star