Representatives of Zimbabwe's ruling party and of the main opposition held their first direct talks in Pretoria at the weekend as part of South Africa's bid to mediate an end to their feud, the parties said yesterday.
While neither side nor the hosts would give details, the talks represent the first tangible evidence of progress in President Thabo Mbeki's quest to reconcile the two sides before elections next year.
"I can only confirm that we have representatives in South Africa attending round table discussions with the country's other political players," Nelson Chamisa, the spokesman for the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), said.
"In the interests of diplomacy, I am under instruction not to comment or give any more detail until such a time when both parties have agreed to make a statement," Chamisa said.
Officials of the ruling Zimbabwe African National Union - Patriotic Front (Zanu-PF) could not be reached for comment.
However, the state-run Herald newspaper quoted the party's secretary for administration, Didymus Mutasa, who confirmed that discussions were under way between the two parties.
He said Zanu-PF was represented by Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa and Labour and Social Welfare Minister Nicholas Goche.
The meeting was chaired by South Africa's Local Government Minister Sydney Mufamadi, the paper said.
An opposition insider, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the meeting was to pave the way for future discussions to resolve Zimbabwe's political and economic crisis.
Zanu-PF spokesman Nathan Shamuyarira said that the South Africans were best placed to comment on the talks.
"The South Africans are the ones initiating so they are the best to comment on that," Shamuyarira said.
However, a South African foreign ministry spokesman refused to comment.
Tensions between President Robert Mugabe's government and the MDC further deteriorated in March when security forces, thwarting an anti-government rally, gunned down two opposition activists and beat up officials, including leader Morgan Tsvangirai.
Southern African leaders, meeting in Tanzania in March, appointed Mbeki to facilitate talks between Zimbabwe's feuding political parties in a bid to end the escalating political and economic crisis gripping the country. - Sapa-AFP