South African President Jacob Zuma on Wednesday opened a new round of mediation among the leaders of Zimbabwe's troubled national unity government, seeking to reconcile them on a broad range of issues that have prompted calls for new elections next year.
Mr. Zuma opened his initiative with a first round of one-on-one talks with President Robert Mugabe, Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, and Deputy Prime Minister Arthur Mutambara, head of a rival MDC formation.
President Mugabe and Prime Minister Tsvangirai, the two dominant figures in the power-sharing government, offered upbeat assessments of Mr. Zuma's intervention after a first round of discussions with him.
But political sources said Mr. Mugabe's former ruling ZANU-PF party asked for two weeks for negotiators to conclude talks and draw up a report on their conclusions.
Sources said Mr. Tsvangirai argued that this won’t help as the talks are deadlocked. Mr. Zuma was expected to meet the principals again later Wednesday or Thursday if he finds that there is common ground to develop.
In what some observers called a diplomatic coup for Mr. Tsvangirai’s MDC formation, Mr. Zuma met with Roy Roy Bennett, an MDC senator who Mr. Tsvangirai has designated deputy agriculture minister but who is now on trial in Harare High Court on charges he conspired in 2006 to overthrow Mr. Mugabe's government.
Zuma also met with Reserve Bank Governor Gideon Gono and Attorney General Johannes Tomana - who has taken it upon himself to personally lead the prosecution in the Bennett case. The tenure of both men has been a contentious issue within the government, as President Mugabe reappointed Gono to his central bank post and named Tomana to head the Attorney General's Office in late 2008 without consulting his future MDC partners in the inclusive government established on the basis of the September 2008 Global Political Agreement.
Negotiators must still come to grips with the most divisive issues on the agenda including the leadership of the Reserve Bank and the Office of the Attorney General, and the swearing-in of MDC provincial governors as promised by ZANU-PF.
Political analyst Charles Mangongera said President Zuma must ensure quick implementation of the 2008 Global Political Agreement and close the interminable talks if his visit is to be considered a success.