Compensation remains unresolved as questions about the land watchdog's independence persist.
The European Union (EU) has extended funding to Zimbabwe's ministry of lands for a land audit that could pave the way for compensation to Zimbabwe's dispossessed white farmers, some of whom were violently removed from their farms after 2000.
At least 5 000 former white-owned farms were expropriated for redistribution to landless black people under the programme, amid accusations that prime farms were distributed to President Robert Mugabe's cronies.
A number of Zanu-PF bigwigs are multiple farm owners, in violation of the government's one-man, one-farm policy.
Under the inclusive government formed in 2009, the opposition Movement for Democratic Change pushed for a land audit, a move that was vigorously resisted by Zanu-PF.
But the country's new Constitution, adopted last year, makes provision for the creation of a Zimbabwe land commission, whose mandate is to ensure accountability, fairness and transparency in the administration of agricultural land vested in the state; to conduct periodic audits of agricultural land; and to enforce any law restricting the amount of agricultural land that may be held by any person or household.
The EU funding comes just weeks after the continental body lifted sanctions on eight high-ranking Zimbabwean politicians and military officials, but kept Mugabe and his wife, Grace, and a Zimbabwe defence force company on the sanctions list.
Consolidating land reforms
Aldo Dell'Ariccia, the ambassador and head of the EU delegation to Zimbabwe, said there was no relation between EU support for the lands ministry and the lifting of sanctions.
The EU, he said, had allocated about $6.4-million in support to the ministry. The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) had also contributed $690 000, making the total $7.1-million.
"The aim of the project is to consolidate land reform in a number of key areas," said Dell'Ariccia.
He said the key action plan identified together with the Zimbabwe government included finalising, adopting and implementing land tenure security policies and regulations; reviewing and streamlining land administration and regulations; ending the backlog on land valuation and compensation; reviewing and strengthening dispute resolution systems, structures and procedures; and strengthening the land ministry's service delivery capacity.
The funding is also expected to build capacity in the ministry and its surveyor general's office to enable surveying and land administration.
The funding would also help with the establishment and setting up of operations of the Zimbabwe land commission; valuation of acquired properties including farm inventories for compensation purposes; stakeholder consultation on compensation and valuation; dispute resolution mechanisms; land tenure; and the development of a land information management system that would include a database of resettled commercial farms.
Said Dell'Ariccia: "It is important to note that, as per the new Constitution, the Zimbabwe land commission is the institution that formally calls for a land audit, hence the priority given to the establishment of the commission in the first phase of the project [from January 2014 to June 2015]."
He said that, once the land commission was operational and had called for a land audit, the ministry would already be in the process of acquiring the necessary data.
"The funding is also connected to analytical studies that are funded under the Multi-Donors Trust Fund managed by the World Bank," Dell'Ariccia said.
He said a team of consultants had been hired through the Multi-Donors Trust Fund to implement the studies that directly fed into the EU/UNDP project, and this phase of the project would be finalised by mid-year.
Critics have pointed out that because the land commission falls under the lands ministry, it is questionable whether it will be able to act independently.
And for evicted white farmers, the issue of compensation remains unresolved. The new Constitution says the acquisition of agricultural land may not be challenged on the grounds that it was discriminatory.
SADC tribunal ruling
Critics say this conflicts with a Southern African Development Community (SADC) tribunal ruling that held Zimbabwe's Constitutional Amendment 17, now fully incorporated into Section 72 of the new Constitution, to be in breach of the SADC Treaty because the redistribution discriminated racially against white farm owners.
The new Constitution also states that, where land is acquired for resettlement or agricultural purposes, no compensation is payable for its acquisition, except for improvements effected on it before its acquisition.
Charles Taffs, the president of the Commercial Farmers' Union, said it welcomed the EU initiative as it was "vital for the country to move on".
Two years ago, according to reports, the agricultural recovery and compensation division of the union submitted compensation figures for land seized from its white membership since 2000 that valued expropriated farms at between $6-billion and $10-billion.
The government's valuation of the properties puts the figure at between $1.5-billion and $2-billion. When the government offered 1 000 former commercial farmers compensation for confiscated land, most declined, saying the amounts were too little.
The government claims it has no obligation to compensate the farmers for land, as that is the responsibility of former colonial power Britain. It said it would compensate only for improvements to the land.
Last year, Lands Minister Douglas Mombeshora said compensation had been paid for expropriated land during the Zimbabwe-dollar era, but payments ceased when the country ditched its currency and adopted a multicurrency regime in 2009.
"We will have to redo all the valuations to ascertain the value of improvements in United States dollars," he said.
"We have an outstanding balance of between $4-million and $5-million that is still owed to the farmers whose farms were evaluated nationwide, and we have applied for as much to the treasury.
"But not all farms have been evaluated and the programme is continuing," said Mombeshora.
Taffs said his members wanted to have a cordial working relationship with the government, and expected to be paid for their farms as 75% to 80% of expropriated farms had been bought by the affected white farmers after independence in 1980.