Mr. G. the Diamond Peddler


Mr. G. the Diamond Peddler


I met Mr. G. while waiting to buy petrol at a station in Mutare, Zimbabwe, where I live. I was on my motorcycle, behind a chain that hung across the entrance to the station, and he was standing beside the car next to me, talking to the driver. A long queue of cars was backed up along the street and around a corner. Petrol in Zimbabwe is always in very short supply. A queue is a telltale sign that a station has it, so the chain puzzled me. (Motorcycle riders don't have to queue.)

 Mr. G. turned to me, and I asked him, "Is there petrol?"

 "No power," he said.

 There's always the unexpected in Zimbabwe. Power can go out at any time. The country's power plants cannot meet demand, which has resulted in a scheme called "load shedding." This provides most neighborhoods with at least a few hours of power each day.

Mr. G. came over to me, his phone in hand, and showed me a photo, and said, "Diamonds." The stones were resting on the palm of someone's hand--I presumed his--and on that hand there was a slip of paper with a date written on it.

Street peddlers often roamed petrol queues. Women sold bananas and pineapples from wicker baskets balanced on their heads. Men hawked leather belts and wallets and Chinese made knock-off watches. There were even those who sold cold Zambezi beer from ice boxes and ice-cream men. But a diamond peddler? This was unusual, even for Zimbabwe.

The Marange diamond field, perhaps the richest deposit of stones in the world, is to the southwest of town. Its recent history is one of violence, forced labor, and political corruption. Thousands of fortune seekers scavenged the field in the early two thousand’s before the Zimbabwe Mining Development Corporation, relying on the army, took over the field, violently. Hundreds, perhaps thousands, were killed. All of this was in violation of the Kimberly Process, which is meant to prevent diamonds from conflict areas from entering the legal market.

Just off the main highway to the Marange field there is an upscale Chinese hotel, the Golden Peacock. It's painted a brilliant white and has a red-tile roof. There's also a shimmering blue pool and a sculptured Chinese garden. The hotel sits on the brown, arid landscape as incongruously as, well, a golden peacock. Not far from it there is an airstrip. The Golden Peacock, the airstrip, and ready access to vast amounts of diamonds can't stop one from wondering about where most of the money from the diamonds is going.

Mr. G. said, "Fifty U.S. dollars one carat. Cheap."

 That much was true. Fifty dollars a carat was cheap. The Marange diamonds, though plentiful, are of an inferior quality to those found in deep mines. The ones in Marange, I've been told, can be picked up off the ground, if a person has the means, and is desperate enough, to evade the CCTV and drones which are monitored by the army.

But I wasn't interested in diamonds. I wanted petrol. What could I do with an uncut diamond? if those stones in the photos really were uncut diamonds. I, in turn, would have to find a buyer so that I could buy petrol, something of value. At that time, I worked as a lecturer at Africa University, twenty kilometers from town, a one liter round-trip.

"Sorry," I said.

 Mr. G. continued on, as if he'd not heard me, saying, "Please take a look." Rather than ignoring him, as I probably should have, my curiosity got the better of me, and I looked at the photos.

 "We're struggling, sir," he said. He looked as if he'd aged ten years.

 I, of course, sympathized with him. Millions of Zimbabweans are struggling. They were struggling even before the Covid-19 pandemic forced a lockdown of the country. The price of mealie meal, a maize used to make the staple, sadza, had doubled in price. Then doubled again during the lockdown. Inflation was out of control, perhaps five hundred percent. But what could I do? I couldn't buy everything that was offered to me.

 The power to the petrol station came back on, and the director of the queue, a man in a company uniform, lowered the chain and signaled for me to come up to the only functioning pump.

 I told Mr. G., "I'm really very sorry."

 "Maybe a friend of yours?" he replied, and insisted that I take his name and phone number. I did, just to cheer him up, but couldn't help but feel a little guilty for giving him a sense of false hope.

 Then I rolled my motorcycle up to the pump.


James Roth


About the author: James Roth was, until the COVID-19 Pandemic changed things, an English Language Fellow in the U.S. State Department's ELF Program. He has written several nonfiction pieces for online magazines and has recently finished a historical novel which takes place in Meiji era Japan. He lives in Mutare, Zimbabwe.


  1. one hell of a tale we need to hear more of your work

  2. Sorry I haven't responded. Thanks for your comments. I've been busy writing, finishing a historical mystery/literary, set in Meiji Japan, other fiction and nonfiction, because I have time to write, for a change. Thanks to Covid-19, no job. I lived in Japan for years, love the country. I had another piece about Zimbabwe, "Zimbabwe's Illegal Gold Miners," posted on "A Thin Slice of Anxiety," and another piece, travel writing in Sumatra, accepted by "Litro." Also a mystery story, set in Japan, short-listed by ""Guilty Crime Magazine." I suppose I should be more engaged with my readers. I need to work on that. Now in Cape Town, but plan to return to the U.S. in June. Hope to go back to Zim. It's a wonderful country, in spite of all the bad press.

Previous Post Next Post