A convention to draw up a new constitution descended into chaos on Monday as riot police broke up clashes between rival delegates, underscoring the tensions within a unity government Mugabe formed with arch-rival Morgan Tsvangirai in February.
Mugabe and Tsvangirai met to discuss the disturbances after riot police drove the delegates out of the venue and cordoned it off. The two, along with Arthur Mutambara who heads a splinter faction of Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), jointly addressed the media after their meeting.
"We are here to say that we will not brook any further disturbances in the future. We must have this constitution done, it’s a necessity," Mugabe told reporters.
"We feel disturbed and we have a sense of abhorrence with what happened this morning. What happened is not in accordance with the letter and spirit of the global political agreement. This is not the time to be shouting insults to each other."
Tsvangirai said he hoped the parliamentary committee driving the constitutional reforms would regroup and resume the process.
"We had provided our people with hope and we have people trying to undermine that hope," Tsvangirai said.
"I hope that the speaker of parliament and the parliamentary select committee can put the process back on rail as soon as possible because we need this constitution."
Both Mugabe and Tsvangirai ruled out a probe into the causes of the disruptions, stressing it was important to move forward.
"The question of whoever orchestrated that disruption is neither here nor there, we need to move forward for the benefit of the people. Let us put national interests above partisan interests," Tsvangirai said.
The conference is part of a process which should lead to the adoption of a new national constitution and fresh elections in about two years.
But the chaos reflected the divisions within the coalition government set up in a bid to end political paralysis and reverse a decade of economic decline.
Zimbabweans hope a new charter, replacing one inked in 1979 before independence from Britain, will strengthen the role of parliament and curtail the president’s powers, as well as guaranteeing civil liberties and political and media freedom.
Trouble broke out between delegates from Tsvangirai’s MDC and Mugabe’s ZANU-PF during an opening statement by the speaker of parliament.
When Lovemore Moyo, from Tsvangirai’s MDC, got up to deliver his opening speech, he was drowned out by youths singing revolutionary songs and delegates heckling each other.
The youths were waving fists, a traditional symbol of Mugabe’s ZANU-PF party and singing the veteran leader’s praises.
In a statement, the MDC earlier accused ZANU-PF lawmakers and officials of organising youths to disrupt the conference.
"Judging by today’s events, ZANU-PF MPs (members of parliament) and the party’s delegates were clearly reading from a script whose sole agenda is to derail the constitution-making process," the MDC said.