PRESIDENT Robert Mugabe has lashed out at his "all-weather friends" - the Chinese - for allegedly using him to hoodwink the people of Manicaland province into believing they would benefit from proceeds of Chiadzwa's Marange diamonds.
Addressing thousands of Zanu-PF supporters in Mutare on Friday, Mugabe admitted he was made to "wave dummy cheques" by Chinese diamond miners who pledged $10 million to develop communities affected by mining activities.
"You have grievances as people of Manicaland and we are aware of that. We know that you had expected money to be deposited in the Community Share Ownership Scheme like what happened in Zvimba (Mugabe's home area), but it never came. The Chinese used us and that is why we kicked them out," Mugabe said.
Two Chinese firms - Anjin and Jinan - were among five diamond miners licensed to extract the mineral from Chiadzwa before government withdrew their operating licences last year following reports of massive leakages and smuggling of the gems out of the country.
The Chinese firms operating in the Marange area promised to plough back over $10 million towards the Community Share Ownership Scheme, but reportedly reneged on their pledge.
"Even me, an old man, I feel used. They made me walk around waving dummy cheques, yet they never fulfilled the promise they gave. We then had a misunderstanding with the Chinese and we kicked them out along with the South Africans and the Lebanese. They lied to me, but we will not forget the people of Manicaland," Mugabe said.
First Lady Grace Mugabe is currently locked in a bitter legal battle with a Lebanese gem dealer after a $1,4 million ring deal went awry.
Local Government minister Saviour Kasukuwere, who served as Indigenisation minister at the time of the share ownership schemes, was implicated in the scam.
Government last year took over all diamond mining activities and established the Zimbabwe Consolidated Diamond Company (ZCDC).
Mugabe said court challenges by the Chinese had slowed down government's plans.
"They went to court, but lost. This has slowed us down, but I can assure you that once we are mining and selling our diamonds, we will fulfil the promise made, not by government, but by the Chinese," the President said.
Mugabe, for years, has harped on the so-called "Look East Policy", mainly aimed at wooing Chinese companies to prop up his beleaguered regime with little success.
In the past two years, the Zanu-PF leader has signed a litany of memoranda of understanding with a number of Chinese companies - dubbed the mega deals - but little has come in the form of operationalisation, amid reports that the Chinese were waiting in the wings to do business with Mugabe's successor.
The Chinese were reportedly holding out for Mugabe to hand-over power to Vice-President Emmerson Mnangagwa.
Zimbabwe National Liberation War Veterans' Association leader and former Cabinet minister Christopher Mutsvagwa last year admitted meeting the Chinese, in which discussions over Mugabe's age were raised.
"In the course of discussing investments in Zimbabwe, the Chinese asked about political risk given the President's age. They (Chinese) drew parallels to a retirement age father applying for a mortgage loan. The bank manager will ask for the working age son to co-sign so as to address life risk. The State House in Harare received that report and laced it with a nefarious twist to President Mugabe," Mutsvangwa said last year.
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