The ruby company writes to ZAM about ‘gross distortions’ in our story about mining in Montepuez. ZAM responds
ZAM Chronicle 22’s article on human rights violations associated with ruby mining in Montepuez, Mozambique, caught the attention of the London-based majority shareholder in Montepuez Ruby Mining. Gemfields PLC wrote to us complaining about ‘gross distortions’ in the story. We wrote back and corrected some details. But the correspondence is about more than issues of journalism. It highlights a problematic partnership between a multinational and a ruling elite in a country where this elite is widely perceived as abusing power to protect its interests. We therefore print it in full below.
Sent: 13 April 2016, 19.38
Subject: Problematic article –rubies in Mozambique
Dear Sirs – I represent Gemfields plc, which is mentioned prominently in the article you have published today on your website.
I wanted to let you know that, whilst we have provided extensive, detailed information to the author of your article,
“Your text appears maliciously and wilfully misleading”
the text as it stands contains a number of major factual inaccuracies; gross distortions; and omits critical facts that are key to understanding the situation on the ground.As such, the article is not only factually incorrect; it appears maliciously and wilfully misleading to the point where it is defamatory.
I attach a mark-up (notes by Gemfields are highlighted in the ‘annotated story’ here) detailing many of the major issues and mistakes in the article. I would be happy to discuss these with you if helpful. In the meantime, it would be appreciated if you could take remedial action to correct the inaccurate, misleading and defamatory parts of the article ASAP.
Many thanks in advance for your attention.
Sent: 14 April 2016, 10.03
Subject: Problematic article- rubies in Mozambique
Dear Mr Cattell,
ZAM wants to thank you for your careful lecture of our story 'The Ruby Plunder Wars of Montepuez.' We want to assure you that we are reading all the notes inserted in the story as per your attachment and that we will deal with each one of these ethically and expediently. We will then correct any confirmed factual inaccuracies. We will also welcome a discussion with you. To this end we will send you a full response, which we will also publish. We would then welcome your response for publication again after that.
Investigations editor, ZAM
Sent: 14 April 2016, 16.10
Subject: Problematic article –Rubies in Mozambique
Dear Ms Groenik
Thank you very much for your prompt response. I very much appreciate your willingness to have a dialogue about this and to ensure that material presented to the public is accurate, fair and balanced. I am available for a discussion with you anytime.
“Would it be possible to take the article down from the website?”
However, I see that the original version of the article is still available on your website, which can be accessed by the public and give them this false and defamatory information. Would it be possible for you to take the article down from the website until we have resolved the major factual and other issues?
Sent: 15 April 2016 02:00
Subject: Re: Problematic article - Rubies in Mozambique
Dear Mr Cattell,
Indeed, if we would feel that a story we did is largely false and/or unjustly defamatory, we would not hesitate to withdraw it and offer a full apology as well. However, at this point, whilst still willing to engage with you on your views and objections, we are not convinced that this is the case.
It is of course not customary, nor is it acceptable, for a media house to immediately withdraw a story as soon as someone complains. There would be very few stories left for the public to access if this was normal practice.
Below we list the reasons why we feel that the story as it is, is not defamatory to the company you act for and why we feel it should stay as an article on our website.
1. The company Gemfields is not the main target of interviewed citizens' complaints in the article. However, the main targets of the testimonies, particularly those that relate to murder, are the Mozambican state's armed forces. Is it possible that you also act for these? Please inform us if this is the case.
2. The story has been researched for well over a year and has also been subjected to a rigorous fact-checking process. A good thing about online publishing is that such fact-checking is done continuously. If you check the story on the website now, you will find that most -if not all- of the actual factual inaccuracies that we could confirm from your note have already been corrected.
Numerous sources attest to killings and assaults by forces protecting the mine
3. Major objections from your side seem to center on you disputing Montepuez' locals complaints. Bearing in mind that there are numerous sources attesting to killings and assaults by forces protecting the mining company; and that several individuals working for these forces have been convicted, we would say that such observations by locals have been amply substantiated. Do you really want to annihilate all these testimonies?
We believe that journalists must listen carefully to all individuals they encounter in the course of their assignments, especially to those who lack the power and wealth to impact on an environment in which they -rather clearly- suffer injustices. We adhere to the journalism ethics which prescribe that such testimonies should come from various sources and should be substantiated as much as possible, either by credible third parties or, or including, independent observation by the reporter. We believe that all these rules were adhered to in our report.
4. We have allocated ample space to Gemfields' comments on all assertions that could possibly affect it. One exception is the assertion that (mysterious private guards called) 'Nakatanas' , who are limiting people's movements in the area, work for the mining venture. Your comment that ‘Nakatanas’ have no link to the company has now been included in the article.
5. If you have identified any assertions that accuse Gemfields/MRM of any wrongdoing, and for which a comment by Gemfields/MRM is not provided in the article, we would welcome such a comment and would do our best to add it as soon as possible.
6. To make sure that all your comments and views are given ample publicity by us, we have asked our web editor to publish the version of the story that has your notes in it. It will be up very shortly (hyperlink to annotated story).
I trust you find the above in order.
Sent: Friday 15 April, 12.42
Subject: Problematic article –rubies in Mozambique
Thank you Evelyn.
To be clear, I represent Gemfields and Gemfields only.
Our main concern is with the facts. Misreporting and false allegations about the situation on the ground can have a very damaging impact on the entire local area, as well as local people who already suffer amid the influx of illegal miners and gang activity. I certainly appreciate you publishing the annotated version and look forward to the substantive response from the reporters and our discussion.
“Misreporting and false allegations can have a very damaging impact”
However, through twitter and other platforms, the story is already spreading over the internet and many people will go straight to the link of the original story and form a view before remedial action is taken. And sadly may not click on the annotated version.
Given that, I would suggest the following compromise for now: a short text to be inserted above the text of the original story. Something like this (although obviously the wording is your choice!):
“I would suggest a text to be inserted”
UPDATE: Following the publication of the original version of the story below Zam Magazine was contacted by a representative of Gemfields plc who pointed out that the article contained a number of major factual inaccuracies, gross distortions, and selectively omitted critical facts key to understanding the situation on the ground in Montepuez.
A number of the most clear cut inaccuracies have already been corrected in the text below. ZAM Magazine is investigating the other points raised and will review the article as appropriate.
The sooner you are able to do this would be very much appreciated as people are clicking directly on the main link and not seeing any issue with the story as presented, or clicking on the annotated version. Please let me know if it is possible. Once again – thank you for your openness to discuss these issues and to be fair and balanced. It is certainly much appreciated.
(In response, an UPDATE listing the corrections we conceded on, was inserted; indeed in our own words. The update was also tweeted to ZAM’s following. To see the UPDATE, scroll down to the end of the original article)
Sent: Monday 18 April 16.59
Subject: Montepuez Rubies follow-up
Thank you for publishing the update under the main link. Unfortunately, there are still a couple of points that are not quite right.
“No ARKHE guard has been convicted of an offence”
Your article says: “Montepuez district head attorney Pompilio Xavier Wazamguia says that he is aware of four concluded cases of deaths by shootings and beatings in MRM’s mining area. “The perpetrators were trialled and found guilty.” One of the convicts was a security guard from ARKHE (MRM’s privately contracted security company, EG) and three were FIR agents – all of whom killed illegal miners. Wazamguia says his department is still gathering evidence for eleven other cases linked to allegations of the security forces murdering illegal miners.”
In fact, there is significant confusion about the status of these cases. As we indicated, no ARKHE guard has been found guilty of an offence. It is not clear either that the cases involving FIR have been concluded. We are cross-checking local public records to get a definitive view on these cases and clear up any confusion. I would suggest that your reporters should do a similar cross check of the records, rather than rely on the quote of a single source. These allegations and cases are central to the whole thesis of the article so I would suggest this is of utmost importance to clarify ASAP. As I said, I stand ready to assist and to continue dialogue in any way that is helpful (1).
2) The article refers to the wider region, not just MRM, because it discusses the 18 alleged cases mentioned by the prosecutor, which it says cannot all be located on the MRM concession. In this case, if the reporters are aiming at a genuinely balanced article they really should speak to some of the other concession holders in the Montepuez region, not just MRM (2).
“That families of murder victims are scared has NEVER been put to the company”
3. (With regard to ZAM’s assertion that families of murder victims were too scared to report the killings to MRM, EG.) This was NEVER put to the company. We are approached by a fair number of persons on a regular basis, whether waiting outside the gates to ask for work (with a large number of locals already having been employed and trained), requests for assistance when their homes have been damaged by storms (with assistance having been given on a number of occasions), to come and assist them with rescuing an illegal miner when their pit has collapsed on them, for assistance with agriculture, etc. None of these are afraid and we always do our best to hear their needs and assist as and where possible.
We also have duly appointed people whose specific task is to interact with the locals and the various Chiefs and other representatives also come and meet with our team on a reasonably regular basis. There is thus a very good track record of people actually not being afraid of all. I also believe (but it would be good if you can check this) that they supposedly said that they were too scared to report it to the police, but I don’t believe they said they were too scared to report it to MRM.
4, (With regard to the paragraphs on forced removals, EG) No resettlement of local communities has taken place yet so this passage still does not make sense. There is one reported incident involving a temporary settlement not occupied by locals which was destroyed as a result of a fight between locals and foreign illegal miners and was not connected to the company in any way.
Many thanks for your kind consideration of all the above.
Notes with regard to this mail:
(1) ZAM has to eat humble pie with regard to the assertion that an ARKHE security guard working for MRM was convicted of homicide. In an additional mail Brian Cattell sent us court papers which show that ARKHE guard Severiano Francisco, who was prosecuted for the ‘voluntary homicide’ of illegal miner Carlos Calisto, was acquitted because the murder weapon could not conclusively be linked to him. This has been corrected in the story and contained into an update which has also been tweeted to ZAM’s following.
(2) With regard to Brian Cattell’s suggestion that two other two mining companies should be included in our investigation, our reporters respond that these two companies have not started mining in Montepuez and that all testimonies so far pertain to MRM.
Sent: Monday 18 April, 17.29
I am happy to note that in our correspondence so far we have reached first-name format. It shows, I think, a willingness from both our sides to engage on issues we both agree are serious, such as the issue of 'damaging impact on the entire local area (of Montepuez) as well as on local people.' Whether it is the way mining is conducted and protected in Montepuez that causes this damaging impact, as the story 'Ruby Plunder Wars of Montepuez' says, or whether this damaging impact is the result of 'misreporting and false allegations,' as you say, will be the subject of our discussion.
Now for the major issues which we hope to further discuss with you.
1. You say that facts around where (the killing of Antoninho Geronimo) occurred, who did this and with what kind of weapon are 'critical to the thesis that is being advanced' in the story, and that these facts have not been established. However, this case, and the case of second murder victim Manuel Artur, were extensively discussed with Gemfields' CEO Ian Harebottle and Gemfields’ communications adviser Gillian Langmead. This is an excerpt from the interview with Harebottle:
Interviewer: “Those parents were so scared that they buried their children and didn’t report it to anyone.”
Ian Harebottle: “That does worry me because, as I said, I didn’t hear about it. You’ve said you’ve spoken to them and they said they didn’t report it to anybody, so that’s disappointing because first of all they themselves should have been, you know, I would have, I would have liked, I would have liked as a company that they themselves felt free to come through and communicate with me.”
This interview took place months ago and therefore Gemfields could have investigated if they so wished. We continue to believe, on the basis of the claims by the families and other witnesses, -which were supported by district attorney Pompilio Wazamguia-, that we were right to put forward the 'thesis' that Geronimo and Artur were murdered by the FIR, -the Mozambican Rapid Intervention Force- because they FIR saw them as illegal miners in an area which FIR defends in the interest of the legal mining operation.
2. You say that the Potia family did not report the murder of Antoninho to MRM or Gemfields and that therefore the company could not have helped even if it wanted to. We did remove, on that basis, Geronimo Potia's quote 'the company did not help, the police did not help, only the foreigners helped.' However, this removal was carried out as a show of goodwill on our side and should not be taken as agreement that Potia should not have expected help. The fact that Potia is scared of MRM is an indictment on MRM; it should not be used by the company to wash its hands of the case. In our view, MRM should take such fear of the company among locals very seriously indeed and take measures to improve relations, so that these locals would feel free to ask the company for help when their rights are violated.
3. There is ample evidence of violent forced removals. Local testimonies talk of 'machines' which come in to destroy houses and of 'Nakatanas,' who are instructed by ‘white people’, and who chase and beat locals and burn houses. It is highly unlikely that foreign illegal miners would come equipped with 'machines' and 'Nakatanas' which are instructed by 'white men.' If Gemfields is not aware of such testimonies, we suggest that it watches the Al Jazeera documentary. Should it want further information on this matter we will do our best to accommodate this request.
4. You complain that locals could not have mined for 'many years' before the company -first its local partner, then Gemfields- moved in from 2009. According to Gemfields CEO Ian Harebottle, first recorded reports of rubies in Montepuez date from 2005.
5. You say that locals do have legal access to rubies in two sites for artisanal mining. If Gemfields could give us more information on this we would happily publish it, especially with regard to the hundreds of artisanal miners who have moved to Nkata to mine the much cheaper garnet. Can these men, who -like Issuffo in the story- now live a vegetating existence, without income to take back to their families, be informed that there are better prospects now?
6. Gemfields has informed us that it has provided 800 jobs for locals which pay above minimum wage. From own observation we were only able to confirm cheap brokered labour arrangements. We would therefore welcome more information from you regarding this.
7. On the revenue for the Mozambican partner: if not US$ ten million, how much would you say this would be, yearly?
8. On the Corporate Social Responsibility issue, we clearly report what locals expected on the basis of promises made to them. Whether these promises were made by Gemfields or its local partner Mwiriti, we don't know. Like other issues, this begs the question how Gemfields manages its partnership?
9. We agree that illegal mining is problematic from a tax perspective. But the question of legality is precisely the one at hand. When many local people feel that illegality is their only recourse and that legal forces are victimising them, is 'legal' then still 'good?' This is a discussion we would like to have.
10. We don't understand why you complain about our observation that people's resistance is having an impact on the resettlement plans. You say that the decision to only resettle one village instead of four was made based on ‘logical process’ including geological and environmental findings.' Do you mean to say that people's feelings and needs played absolutely no role in this logical process?
In summary, we feel it cannot be sufficient for MRM-Gemfields to maintain that any reported violations do not concern it as long as it can say that these ‘do not happen in the concession area’ or that its own formal security guards ‘are not involved.’ ZAM would be eager to have a general in-depth discussion with Gemfields on all the above. After all, similar complaints against the extractive industry in developing countries abound: you might want to google ‘MRC’ and ‘Xolobeni’ in South Africa; you will be aware of all the publicity around Shell in Nigeria.
All these companies, like yours, are faced with complaints around local activities, carried out by local partners and under the supervision of local state structures. ZAM has made a point of sending questions to three Mozambican government ministers about the behaviour of their state structures with regard to the MRM-Gemfields operation. The fact that we received no responses to any of these shows that you are operating in a problematic partnership. Surely an ethical company would ponder the question of how to conduct business responsibly in such a context?
Looking forward to your answer, with best wishes,
Cuts to this correspondence have been made because of length and for no other reason. Responses from Gemfields to our last mail will be added as soon as these are received.
Photo credit: Estacio Valoi