CHIMANIMANI is a district of disparities - on the positive , it is a rich land endowed with vast tracts of gold and diamond deposits - and on the negative its people are poor.
The district has failed to achieve a middle income status, when it was thought the discovery of two of the world's most sought after mineral deposits would change the economic fortunes of the district.
Dubbed the "Switzerland of Africa" due to its fertile soils, mountainous and snaking terrain, Chimanimani has all it takes for it to be as developed as any part of the country.
Yet, despite the discovery of two of the world's most expensive mineral resources, the district has remained economically backward, with high illiteracy, poverty, factor-immobility, lack of entrepreneurship and ignorance in economic matters.
Rural households register a higher poverty rate as most farm incomes and production are inadequate and food shortages are rising. Households rely increasingly on remittances and emergency aid.
Kraal head Thomas Masoka, said the district's mineral resources had not made a positive impact at community and household levels.
The big question is why is the district still lagging behind?
"We have nothing to show for the diamonds and gold in this district. Whatever the youths bring home is for daily survival. We watch helplessly as our wealth is being exploited by outsiders. All the mountains are flooded by outsiders who are tapping our diamonds and gold. They have dug tunnels underground and our roads are curving in. We would prefer formal mining because the mining companies will help develop our area. We need proper mining," said the traditionalist.
"Drought has exacerbated an already difficult situation and has made it harder for us farmers to raise our productivity. We are relying on bananas. We trade them for food. Food insecurity continues to worsen. Our infrastructure has deteriorated, with almost all our road network in poor condition, effectively isolating rural communities from markets. Water and sanitation coverage is very poor. The prevalence of HIV and AIDS in Zimbabwe remains worrisome," he said.
Another Chimanimani villager, Mr Webster Ruwo, said since the discovery of the minerals in 2007, they had hoped for a stampede of investors.
"There are thousands of unemployed youths in Chimanimani whom we had hoped would be employed, but to this date nothing has materialised. We had hoped to get employment so that we would fend for our families and send children to school. We are starving and ekking a living by selling bananas. Those of us who tried panning ended up being frustrated by our counterparts from Shurugwi," said Rewu.
Mr Nehemiah Deure, the chief executive officer for Chimanimani Rural District Council, said although the discovery of diamonds and gold was set to become another source of economic growth for Zimbabwe, it was yet to attract expected meaningful investment.
Experts say the Chimanimani diamonds deposit occur in the same geological structure as those of the Marange diamond fields and therefore, have the potential to be as good in terms of grade and quality.
The diamonds were discovered at Charleswood Estate, a farm owned by MDC-T treasurer-general, Roy Bennett, while gold deposits were reportedly discovered along Rusitu River, Chizembe, Taka, Rosecommon and Musanditeera, among others areas.
Most of the early surface diamonds recovered at Charleswood Estate were industrial-grade stones that were brownish in colour, but some higher quality stones have also been located.
So far only DTZ-OZGEO (Pvt) Ltd -a joint venture between a Russian company OZGEO and the Development Trust of Zimbabwe, has gone into full diamond mining in the area after securing a special grant to explore and mine diamonds.
Between 2007 and 2010, DTZ-OZGEO (Pvt) Ltd, carried out a substantial amount of work in construction and technical fit-out of the Chimanimani site in terms of preparation, prospecting and diamonds mining. It could not be established how much of diamonds had been mined during that period.
"We have a lot of natural resources available, but we find ourselves with no takers to exploit them. The financial and technical know-how needed for the exploration of such natural resources is not readily available. The lack of investment in the mining sector is what is collapsing our very promising economy. We only have DTZ-OZEGEO at Charleswood Estate, as for gold there are no investors. May be it is because of the terrain or size of the mineral harvest," argued Mr Deure.
DTZ's chief geologist, Mr Mikhail Malykh, said since the start of trial mining in 2010, they had mined over 7 000 carats.
He said since the exploration began, four diamond drill holes, totalling 200 metres had been drilled by Diamond Drill (Pvt) Ltd.
This is a renowned indigenous diamond drilling company engaged to execute the drilling programme. The plan is to drill 24 holes, totalling 1 200 metres.
"We are using X-ray diamond sorting plants from Russia, made by Alrosa Group and we have commenced diamond drilling to probe the depth of the conglomerate unit and determine the reserves of the deposits," said Mr Malykh.
Mr Malykh said professional advice from the Ministry of Mines and Mining Development and co-operation from the local authorities had helped to expedite the operations, which are in line with the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme requirements.
The mining company has invested in serious exploration and mining activities, which would result in "a modern mining venture."
The mining company's deputy managing director, Mr Fadzanai Mupaya, who is also the Geological Society of Zimbabwe chairman, recently said available geological information such as conglomerate pebble sizes and diamond morphologies that is more rounded crystals for Marange and generally octahedron Chimanimani diamonds suggests the Chimanimani diamond deposit has different controls from the famous Marange alluvial diamond deposit.
Mr Deure said unsecured gold deposits throughout the district were left at the mercy of artisanal miners, resulting in serious environmental degradation.
"We do not know why there are no investors in the gold sector in Chimanimani. Panners are making brisk business as a result. Artisanal mining has become a cancer, and the impact on the environment is unprecedented. It is quite serious, the land is full of dongas," he said.
Artisanal mining in Chimanimani remains a primitive, non-mechanised enterprise, involving little more than hand-digging of river-bank mud, sand or gravel (alluvium), which are then sifted, or panned using hand-held sieves.
The illegal mining is also taking an environmental toll, clogging the Rusitu River with silt, harming fragile ecosystems, damaging farming irrigation systems and contaminating drinking water. Added to the problem, is that artisanal gold miners in the region use cyanide and mercury to separate panned gold from ore, flushing these toxins into the rivers.
"The people of Chimanimani are yelling for formal investment, as it will contribute to the general economy. This will create employment for the people and also boost our revenue base as a council, which will also result in improved service delivery and infrastructure development and maintenance.
"The unfortunate thing is that as council we do not have control over the selection of investors. It is centralized and that disadvantages us. If we were empowered, we would have come up with special grants, and promoted small scale mining as a way to stop illegal mining activities which has destroyed the environment. The current legislature framework is not favourable to local authorities. We must be empowered to give trading licences to investors. We must be involved in the decision-making process," said Mr Deure.
DTZ-OZEGEO will strive to assist the local community, through funding community development projects in Chimanimani - construction of roads and road maintenance.
The company is earmarked to construct a $26 000 water reservoir in Chimanimani.
"As per company policy, social responsibility and environmental rehabilitation will be in progress as in the Mutare Gold Project, if the project proves viable. To this end, the company is assisting the Chimanimani Rural District Council with the construction of a water tank to supply water to Ngangu Township."
DTZ-OZGEO is also mining gold in Penhalonga and has been issued with the Environment Impact Assessment certificate by the Environmental Management Agency for its environment friendly mining technology at both the Chimanimani and Penhalonga projects. Notably at Chimanimani diamond project, the processing plant is environmentally friendly, in that water is recycled and there is no pollution of the nearby Harani River.
The gold mining company is one of the first companies in Zimbabwe to rehabilitate over 60 hectares of land it has mined.