Zimbabwean leaders have clinched a historic power-sharing deal that will end five months of political stalemate between President Robert Mugabe and the opposition leader who defeated him in the first round of the presidential election.
The South African president, Thabo Mbeki, who has mediated during months of on-again off-again fraught negotiations, made the official announcement last night after four days of talks in Harare. "It's made in Zimbabwe, it's made by Zimbabweans, the rest of the world needs to respect that the people of Zimbabwe have taken a decision about their own country," he said.
Mr Mbeki said the deal would be signed at a formal ceremony in the Zimbabwe capital on Monday morning, to be attended by African leaders.
However, he did not give details of the accord, saying this would be done on Monday and critical questions remained as of last night. The mediation had recently stalled over disputes about how to share power between Mr Mugabe, who is to remain as President, and Mr Tsvangirai, who becomes Prime Minister.
The Zimbabwean leaders are to spend the next few days putting together the "inclusive government" to be announced then, Mr Mbeki added.
Mr Mbeki had faced international criticism because of his reluctance to take on Mr Mugabe during his seemingly futile mediation efforts aimed at putting an end to Zimbabwe's long-running crisis which has sent the economy of the country which was once Africa's breadbasket into a tailspin.
"I am absolutely certain that the leadership of Zimbabwe is committed to implementing these agreements... this is an outcome that comes out of decisions arrived at by the leadership of Zimbabwe," Mr Mbeki said.
The main opposition leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, was the first to announce the deal between Mr Mugabe's Zanu-PF party and his own Movement for Democratic Change as he left the talks in Harare. However there was no immediate comment from Mr Mugabe or Zanu-PF spokesmen.
Mr Mbeki said that "the leaders will work very hard to mobilise support for the people to recover. We hope the world will assist so that this political agreement succeeds."
If accepted by the key donor Western nations, the power sharing agreement will pave the way for Zimbabwe's reconstruction. The southern African nation's economy has been in free fall since February 2000 when Mr Mugabe, in his desperate bid to cling to power, unleashed his supporters on a campaign to seize white farms.
The campaign effectively destroyed Zimbabwe's agro-based economy and saw inflation spiralling to a record high of 50 million percent.
The deal will also bring relief to Mr Mbeki, who had received mounting condemnation over his softly-softly approach towards Mr Mugabe which many had blamed on his nearly two year official mediation failure.
Analysts remained cautious last night following the announcement. "There appears now to be a reluctance to come out from ZANU-PF, which means there have been major concessions from the government side in my view - not only agreeing an executive prime minister's role for Morgan Tsvangirai but maybe a sharing of security posts," said Martin Rupiyah, the director of Africa research at Cranfield university.
"I don't think we are out of the woods yet in terms of the Zimbabwe crisis. There are a number of pieces that still have to fall into place. One is the role of the military. That still has to be addressed directly. Also in the recent weeks or days there has been an upsurge in violence. The infrastructure for state-sponsored violence is still in place. I still have my doubts as to how this deal will impact the structures on the ground."