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Zimbabwe Opposition Faces High-Stakes Negotiations, Internal Strife

The Zimbabwean opposition faction led by Movement for Democratic Change founder Morgan Tsvangirai has its hands full these days pursuing high-stakes crisis resolution talks with the ruling party under South African mediation while containing turmoil in its ranks after the dissolution of its women's assembly and United Kingdom executive.

The Tsvangirai MDC faction in cooperation with the rival formation led by Arthur Mutambara has established an uneasy working relationship with the ruling ZANU-PF party of President Robert Mugabe, voting together to pass a constitutional amendment over strident objections from civil society and co-drafting a new constitution.

Yet Tsvangirai himself and other senior officials this week warned that the crisis talks could be broken off if alleged state-sponsored political violence does not cease.

At the same time, the Tsvangirai faction has been hit by internal turmoil following the dissolution of its women’s assembly and its United Kingdom leadership.

Many in the MDC rank and file and in allied civil society groups were displeased when both opposition factions voted with ZANU-PF in parliament to pass the controversial Constitutional Amendment 18, and accused the politicians of selling out.

Others question whether Tsvangirai will make good on his threat to break off the talks - his secretary general, Tendai Biti declared that the faction intended to stick it in the negotiating forum come what may, before Tsvangirai corrected him on the point.

But there are those who believe the MDC is well advised to stay with the talks, which, being held under the auspices of the Southern African Development Community, exert something of a check on the Harare government which spent most of the period between March and July cracking down hard on MDC officials and members.

Such pragmatists believe the talks represent the best hope for a democratic breakthrough as national elections play out next March.

For perspective on the state of the opposition, VOA spoke with Advocacy and Communications Manager Fambai Ngirande of Zimbabwe's National Association of Non-Governmental Organizations, and South African-based Senior Researcher Sydney Masamvu of the International Crisis Group in Pretoria.

Ngirande told reporter Ndimyake Mwakalyelye of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe that he doubted the outcome of the talks would be accepted by the majority of Zimbabweans because they have been shrouded in an unhealthy secrecy.

More reports from VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe...