Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe praised the country's first community mining project Thursday, under new laws that give mining rights to communities around the notorious Marange diamond fields.
Zimbabwe's so-called indigenisation, or equity, laws require foreign companies to cede 51 percent of their shares to local blacks, in an attempt to reverse the inequalities caused by the country's colonial past.
"The Marange community trust is unique in that it will own mining rights rather than hold equity in the four companies (operating in Marange)," Mugabe said at the unveiling of the scheme.
The Marange fields have been at the center of a years-long controversy over alleged army abuses, and the Kimberley Process global watchdog suspended exports there.
The ban was lifted last year, allowing two companies to start exporting stones, a decision supported by China and India but opposed by Western nations, rights groups and the industry.
Mining companies donated $1.5 million (1.2 million euros) to the Marange trust to allow the communities to resume the mining of alluvial diamonds over the area covering 6,800 hectares.
"We need to translate our political sovereignty into economic independence," Mugabe said.
"Our indigenisation programme is one such deliberate intervention that seeks to empower previously disadvantaged Zimbabweans," he added.
Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, who is Mugabe's partner in the power share government, has criticised the law, saying it will drive away foreign investment, just as the country is recovering from a decade-long economic collapse.© ANP/AFP