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By Staff Reporter

ZIMBABWEAN President Robert Mugabe's ruling Zanu PF party and the main opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) were on the verge of a political breakthrough two years ago after jointly drawing up a secret new constitution, South African President Thabo Mbeki revealed Sunday.

Mbeki told SABC television that he believed the MDC and Zanu PF were within a whisker of solving the country's policical crisis.

The South African leader said that his often-criticised policy of "quiet diplomacy" toward President Robert Mugabe's government had been fuelled in part by expectations of a political breakthrough that never happened.

"I said (in 2004) that the Zimbabweans were talking to each other and would find a solution ... they were actually involved in negotiating a new constitution for Zimbabwe, and they did and they completed it."

Mbeki said South Africa had believed that the new constitution agreed by Mugabe and the MDC could have paved the way for a resolution of Zimbabwe's long-standing political crisis.

"They had done this constitution, they gave me a copy initialled by everybody, done.

"So, we thought the next step then must be to say where do we take this process.

"But then, as I say, new problems arose among themselves. So we watch the situation and to the extent that we can help in future, we will."

But, Mbeki said the MDC, once the strongest political challenge to Mugabe, but now riven by infighting about differences in political strategy, appeared to be in deep trouble.

"The MDC has got its own serious problems," Mbeki said, adding that South Africa had tried unsuccessfully to help reconcile the party's internal differences.

"They asked us to assist, to mend relations among themselves. It didn't work. We tried to intervene, but I think the rupture had gone too far.

"We still believe that really the Zimbabweans need to engage to find their own solutions," Mbeki said.

Many political analysts expect the MDC to formally split in the next several months, a move which could hobble its effectiveness as Zimbabwe struggles through its seventh year of economic crisis seen in food and fuel shortages, skyrocketing inflation and high unemployment.

Mugabe, Zimbabwe's only ruler since independence from Britain in 1980, says the economic and political troubles are the result of sabotage by domestic and western opponents of his policy of seizing white-owned farms to give to landless blacks.

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