Zimbabwe’s government has ordered diamond miners to stop their operations and leave as part of its plans to bring the diamond mining business under the state-owned Zimbabwe Consolidated Diamond Company (ZCDC).

According to local media reports, the miners were given a 90-day period to remove equipment from the Chiadzwa diamond fields, following an impromptu meeting with mines and mining development minister Walter Chidhakwa. The minister claims that the companies had seven months to discuss plans for the aggregation, a proposal that mining companies (in which the government already holds at least a 50% stake) largely rejected.

Mining giant Rio Tinto exited the country in July, officially due to internal restructuring, but also influenced by Zimbabwe’s high political risk factor, fuelled by the nationalisation plans. “Rio Tinto believes that the future of these assets can be best managed by entities with existing interests in Zimbabwe,” the company said in the statement announcing the sale of its diamond and coal mines.

Another company has decided to pursue the legal route. Mbada Diamonds, a joint venture between the government-owned Marange Resources and a Mauritius-registered South African holding company Grandwell Holdings, won a reprieve from the High Court, which ruled that Mbada should have full control of its assets. A full hearing on whether it was allowed to continue its mining operations is expected on Wednesday (March 2).

The government’s decision may also create tensions with China, as two of the mining companies, Anjin and Jinan, are partially owned by Chinese investors.

According to consultancy Exx Africa’s director Robert Besseling, the diamond trade is unlikely to be disrupted due to its importance to the country’s economy: “The industry will keep going, the revenues are crucial,” he tells GTR. Zimbabwe’s economy has been hit heavily by low commodity prices, and the precious stones represent an attractive revenue stream, particularly for the country’s military.