Feuding leaders of Zimbabwe's main opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) party on Tuesday momentarily forgot their differences to reject unanimously claims by South African President Thabo Mbeki that they had agreed on a new Constitution with the ruling Zanu-PF party two years ago.
Mbeki told South African state television in an interview last Sunday that his much-maligned policy of "quiet diplomacy" toward President Robert Mugabe's government was in part based on expectations of a political breakthrough after Mugabe's Zanu-PF and the MDC had in 2004 agreed on a new Constitution during secret talks.
The South African leader -- who openly regretted the missed chance to resolve Zimbabwe's crisis that the secretly agreed Constitution presented -- said the two political parties had given him a copy of the draft Constitution “initialled by everybody” before abandoning the initiative after new problems arose between them.
But the leaders of the two rival factions of the MDC, who spoke to ZimOnline
separately, strongly denied ever agreeing with Zanu-PF on a new Constitution for Zimbabwe, let alone submitting such a document to Mbeki.
“As a party we are not aware of what he [Mbeki] was talking about. We are in shock,” said MDC president Morgan Tsvangirai.
MDC secretary general Welshman Ncube, who together with party vice-president Gibson Sibanda is battling to wrestle control of the MDC from Tsvangirai, admitted leading an MDC delegation that held “informal talks” with Zanu-PF officials over a new Constitution.
But Ncube said there was no agreement reached in the talks and, like Tsvangirai, also distanced the MDC from any draft constitutional document that Mbeki claims to have received from Zimbabwe's two biggest political parties.
“All I know is that we had some informal talks at length with Patrick Chinamasa [Zanu-PF legal secretary] and other people from late 2004 and up to the run-up to the 2005 election. The talks never bore fruits which were palatable to the party [the MDC],” Ncube said.
He added: “We never gave Mbeki a draft Constitution -- unless it was Zanu-PF which did that. Mbeki has to tell the world what he was really talking about.”
However, Chinamasa, who is also Zimbabwe's Justice Minister, insisted that the meetings between a Zanu-PF delegation led by him and a Ncube-led MDC team had produced a draft Constitution, adding that the new House of Senate controversially introduced by the government last year was part of some of the provisions contained in the draft Constitution.
He said: “Part of the Constitution is what resulted in the reintroduction of the Senate. Obviously when two sides discuss you cannot agree on everything. The issue of proportional representation was one such issue which they [MDC] wanted but we did not give in.”
It was not possible to immediately get comment from Mbeki's office on the matter.
But this is not the first time that the South African president, designated the point man on Zimbabwe by United States President George Bush, has publicly clashed with the MDC over his attempts to broker a negotiated solution to the country's political, social and economic crises.
For example, the MDC has spent the better part of the past 24 months denying claims by Mbeki that there was formal dialogue between the party and Zanu-PF.
The Zimbabwean opposition party at one time declared it would never be party to any mediatory process initiated by Mbeki, saying the South African leader had shown bias against it after he endorsed Zanu-PF's victory in last March's general election, which the MDC said was rigged by Mugabe's government.
The opposition party has, however, since reversed the decision to boycott Mbeki-led efforts to resolve Zimbabwe's crisis.
Forged out of Zimbabwe's labour unions but also bringing together several civic groups, the MDC is expected to split formally in the next couple of months after Tsvangirai and party chairperson Isaac Matongo on the one hand and Sibanda and Ncube on the other disagreed on how to oust Mugabe and Zanu-PF from power.
The split, triggered when the opposition party's leaders could not agree on whether to contest last November's Senate election, is expected to hamper the MDC's effectiveness as Zimbabwe grapples its worst economic and political crisis since independence from Britain 25 years ago. -- ZimOnline