Page last updated at 13:55 GMT, Tuesday, 22 July 2008 14:55 UK

Doubts linger over Zimbabwe deal

Robert Mugabe (L) and Morgan Tsvangirai shake hands at the signing of a deal in Harare, 21 July 2008

By Brian Hungwe

The ink that marks a possible resolution to the crisis that has dogged Zimbabwe for the last eight years may be dry, but the tears of grieving relatives are not.

Leslie Madamombe of Mashonaland Central province lost three brothers a week before the country's 27 June presidential run-off.

One was shot point-blank and the others forced to drink a lethal Chinese paraquat herbicide by militias from the ruling Zanu-PF party.

"[The agreement] should have happened long back," he says. "Nothing will ever bring my three dead brothers back."

Leslie's mother and elder brother Hilton still fear for their lives, guarded by armed police at a Harare hospital.

"I'm bitter, but I however look forward with hope," he says.

No embrace

National angst remains after President Robert Mugabe and his main political rivals, Morgan Tsvangirai and Arthur Mutambara of the two Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) factions, signed a Memorandum of Understanding that could pave the way for a lasting political settlement.

This is not the time to outdo one another, but to think about the suffering of the ordinary people

Mudiwa, Highfields township resident

There was a handshake and a smile, but no embrace. It appears the rivals did not want to physically commit themselves that far.

The body language failed to provide a clue as to whether the ice had really been broken in the hotel where they held a brief meeting.

Mr Mutambara seemed at ease, Mr Tsvangirai disinterested, and Mr Mugabe was, as usual, self-confident.

The handshake was a temporary triumph for South African President Thabo Mbeki and his much-criticised "quiet diplomacy" policy on Zimbabwe.

At last, the rivals had come face to face.

They signed a commitment to "end polarisation, divisions, conflict and intolerance that have characterised our country's politics".

The talks are due to be completed in two weeks.

Economic collapse

With inflation at more than 2.2m%, unemployment at 80%, and basic food commodities vanishing from shelves, locals have been finding things tough, with millions forced into neighbouring countries.

It is a situation President Mugabe was finding difficult to wriggle out of.

Zimbabwe’s new Z$100bn note, 22 July 2008
Amid rampant inflation, Zimbabwe has printed a Z$100bn note

After winning the controversial run-off with an official tally of 85%, the economy became his newest challenger.

This time, he was never going to win, hence the huge climb-down for negotiations with Mr Tsvangirai - who he had previously characterised as a "puppet," "dumb" and a "frog".

For now, both rivals' loose tongues are tied by a clause in the new deal that states: "The parties shall refrain from using abusive language that may incite hostility, political intolerance and ethnic hatred or undermine each other."

In the townships, there is some confusion.

"We wait and see, it's difficult to trust Mr Mugabe," says Caleb, 34, from Chitungwiza, a dormitory town just south of Harare.

But Mudiwa, of Highfields said: "We trust all our leaders, we hope whatever they will debate, is good for us all.

"This is not the time to outdo one another, but to think about the suffering of the ordinary people."

Around the streets of Harare, the news came as a shock to many.

It drew laughter from those who thought it was a hoax, but excitement from others.

A security officer at a local hotel said people were looking forward to making sure "people are having enough food and they are having enough medication from the hospitals".

Taxi driver Johannes Phiri said: "I am quite happy, what has been happening was very bad.

"With the agreement, everything will be all right so that we can survive and lead our normal lives again."

'Ball rolling'

A 40-year-old petrol attendant who refused to be identified said the country could return to the relative prosperity of the past.

"The ball is rolling on now. I'm sure the country is going to prosper, it is going to be a Zimbabwe like that one of the yesteryears."

Under Monday's deal, the objectives and priorities of new government are to "restore economic stability and growth", and to address the issue of sanctions and the land question.

The parties agreed to address the thorny issues of a new constitution, national healing, free political activity, the rule of law and guaranteeing security.

In past weeks, Zanu-PF terror squads have torched countless rural homes, forcing villagers to flee into mountains where temperatures dropped to 6C.

The terror squads or militias are now expected to disband their bases, and preach peace.

"Will they ever do that, let's wait and see, I am very sceptical," says Leslie.

"Are people now able to walk freely with their party T-shirts without risking their limbs?" he asked.

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