Zimbabwe's land reform
Members of Robert Mugabe's ruling Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front party (Zanu PF) gather in the streets of Harare in November 2006, in support of the president's land reform.DESMOND KWANDE/AFP/Getty Images

After decades of anti-Western rhetoric, Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe is showing signs of mellowing. Faced with economic wobbles in his drought-stricken nation, the 92-year-old has been warming to the West, and on 16 March he agreed to major reforms that were interpreted by some observers as an incentive to end cash-strapped Zimbabwe's isolation by the West.

One of these measures was the introduction of a special fund to pay compensation to 4,800 white and many black owners of between nine and 11 million hectares of land that were seized during Mugabe's controversial 2000 land reform programme.

The government and farmers are yet to reach an agreement on how much the land compensation plan will be worth.

On Thursday (31 March), meanwhile, Finance Minister Patrick Chinamasa acknowledged Mugabe's government had no funds to compensate the evicted white farmers, and that the process would take considerable time to settle. Chinamasa said Harare was considering a land levy tax imposed on black farmers who benefited from the seizures to contribute towards a fund.

Zimbabwe's land reform
Rapson Sibanda, age 76, tends his small sustenance farm.John Moore/Getty Images

"And of course it means that, in that respect, we have to start talking about (the issuance of) treasury bills as well," Chinamasa told the audience, according to Reuters.

While money raised would first go to aged white farmers while younger ones would be paid over time, new farm occupants who are described as having had few farming skills when they were relocated, said they were struggling to earn a living, and therefore would be unable to pay an extra tax.

In the aftermath of the nation's independence, some 4 million hectares of commercial land was acquired by the state which used funds provided by the international community, but it soon emerged that the land was not being settled properly and was in fact handed over to individuals linked to the political elite.

The international community suspended its funding, and despite UN promises of a land acquisition agreement, no further land reform was carried out.

Two decades later, however, Harare launched its so-called "fast track programme". Starting in 2000 and stretching over a 15-year period, the government forcibly evicted some 4,800 white farmers and many black commercial farmers from their land. An estimated 7 million hectares were seized.

Zimbabwe's land grab
Schoolchildren pass the entrance of occupied Devonia farm on their way home from school in a rural area some 40 km east of Harare, 21 June 2000. The land issue was being exploited by the ruling Zanu PF party ahead of the 24 and 25 June 2000