Who actually owns the farm?

A comprehensive land audit to establish who owns what after almost a decade of often chaotic land transfers in Zimbabwe is being stalled by a lack of money. 

President Robert Mugabe launched the fast-track land reform programme in 2000 to redistribute white-owned commercial farms to landless blacks. It also heralded the country's steep economic decline, widespread food shortages and political violence, while allegations that the redistribution process served as a smokescreen for land grabs by members of Mugabe's ruling ZANU-PF elite were rampant.

The audit formed part of the Global Political Agreement (GPA) signed on 15 September 2008 by Mugabe, Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai's Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), and an MDC faction led by Arthur Mutambara.

The agreement led to the establishment of the unity government in February 2009, but major donors have held back billions of dollars in aid, adopting a wait-and-see attitude to gauge Mugabe's commitment to democracy. 

"While differing on the methodology of acquisition and redistribution, the parties acknowledge that compulsory acquisition and redistribution of land has taken place under a land reform programme undertaken since 2000," the GPA noted.

"The parties hereby agree to conduct a comprehensive, transparent and nonpartisan land audit during the tenure of the Seventh Parliament of Zimbabwe, for the purpose of establishing accountability and eliminating multiple farm ownership."

Three land audits were undertaken by the ZANU-PF administration but the findings have yet to be made public. Herbert Murerwa, the current Minister of Lands and Rural Resettlement, said his ministry required US$31.2 million to perform the audit, which could take up to nine months to complete, rather than the anticipated three months or so.

"The 100 days given for the exercise is inadequate and, without resources, implementation of the programme is very difficult. We are also seeking to establish an independent land committee - an inter-ministerial [body] to be made up of permanent secretaries and other senior government officials. The committee will also be replicated at provincial and district levels," Murerwa said.

However, Justice for Agriculture (JAG), an organization advocating the rights of the more than 4,000 white farmers forced from their land, was pessimistic about the proposed audit. 

''Farming activities have been disturbed by senior government officials, who get on to a farm and strip all the assets before moving to a new farm''

"To start with, if an audit is to be done then it should be done by an independent group of people and not government officials, who may be beneficiaries of the same programme," JAG spokesman John Worswick told IRIN.

"I don't think there will be a comprehensive audit anytime soon because senior [ZANU-PF] government officials, judges and the military have taken over many farms - we have cases where individuals own as many as two or three farms," he said.

"Farming activities have been disturbed by senior government officials, who get on to a farm and strip all the assets before moving to a new farm." There has also been renewed violence on commercial farms in recent weeks.

Moreover, Minister of Justice Patrick Chinamasa announced that Zimbabwe would withdraw from participating in the Tribunal of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) after it ruled in favour of 78 former commercial farmers, describing their evictions as racist, discriminatory and illegal under the SADC treaty. The SADC was responsible for negotiating the GPA.

The Zimbabwean government also intends recalling a judge seconded to the SADC Tribunal in 2005, although Tsvangirai said the country would not pull out as there had been no consultation on the matter.

"The decision to pull out of the SADC Tribunal was a comment by an individual minister and the country cannot be bound by that. The issue has not been discussed in cabinet and we cannot therefore be bound by the decision of a single minister."

Gorden Moyo, Minister of State in the Prime Minister's Office, told IRIN that the government would try to raise the necessary finance to conduct the audit, even if it meant conducting it in phases. He said offers of funding had been made and it was envisaged that the audit would also involve local and international land experts. 

He blamed the renewed farm disturbances on "residual elements" wanting to frustrate the GPA. "As the government, we are yet to establish the source of those problems, but what is clear is that some of them are political motivated, while others are driven by corruption and criminal tendencies," Moyo said.

"The government, in its entirety, is convinced that a comprehensive land audit is important to, among other things, address multiple farm ownership, productivity, security of tenure and transparency."