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Relations On Mend Between Zimbabwe Civic Groups And Opposition

Zimbabwean civil society groups and the opposition Movement for Democratic Change seem to have patched up their differences and avoided a serious rift over the MDC's vote in parliament to a highly controversial constitutional amendment.

But there were conflicting interpretations Monday as to what mollified civic activists outraged by the deal between the MDC and the ruling ZANU-PF party to approve the amendment effecting significant changes in the country's electoral dispensation.

Sources in Bulawayo for a meeting Saturday of civil society members said a statement by deputy treasurer Elton Mangoma of the MDC faction headed by Morgan Tsvangirai had been critical in soothing angry civic activists there to set a common position.

Mangoma is said to have offered an apology for the MDC's backing of the bill. In fact, according to a transcript of his remarks obtained by VOA, he seems to have stopped short of apologizing for the decision, offering amends only for how it was made.

Mangoma told the meeting that the MDC "cherished" its partnership with civil society, adding that the relationship would become more important in the future.

"At the same time I would like to be very categoric and here accept the blunder that the way that (Constitutional Amendment) Number 18 was put in was not the proper one and certainly that principles were not followed," Mangoma said.

Tsvangirai faction spokesman Nelson Chamisa said Mangoma was dispatched to the meeting to explain and to clarify the MDC position – not to offer an apology.

Sources present at the meeting said Mangoma promised civil society will be consulted in future in crisis negotiations mediated by South African President Thabo Mbeki.

A statement issued following the "Stakeholders Constitutional Conference" reiterated the demand by civic activists for a "new, democratic and people driven constitution as a foundation for resolving the crises in our country." The statement said participants in the meeting "totally" rejected the amendment and any other "piecemeal" changes.

"We regard recent events surrounding the passing of Amendment 18 as a serious infringement of our principle that a new constitution must be derived from a people-driven process," the statement continued.

"We therefore communicate to political parties involved in these processes our displeasure at this serious breach of principle and ask them in both word and actions to retract their position and reaffirm their commitment to this principle."

It said a "people's convention" would be convened "to consider the MDC's response to and actions regarding our core principles as a civil society" and map a way forward.

Senior Programs Manager Pedzisai Ruhanya of the Crisis In Zimbabwe coalition told reporter Patience Rusere of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe that the controversy was in fact just a hiccup in the relationship between the opposition and civil society.

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