Power-sharing talks between Zimbabwe’s ruling party and opposition continued for a second day Friday at an undisclosed location in Pretoria amid mixed signals and reports as to just how difficult the task facing negotiators for the two sides is likely to be.
The South African daily newspaper Business Day said a deal could be reached “soon,” citing unnamed sources on both sides said to be familiar with the talks.
“The deal is basically done, but what remains are a few issues of detail, implementation and logistics,” the newspaper quoted one unnamed source as saying.
However, an article in the state-controlled Herald newspaper reporting on day one of the talks seemed to suggest ZANU-PF is taking a tough stance and drawing lines in the sand.
The article said the outcome of the June 27 run-off ballot - the widely condemned re-election of President Robert Mugabe in a single-candidate race – was “non-negotiable.”
According to the Herald, the ruling party politburo said Mr. Mugabe would have to be the one who appointed a new government.
The Herald said ZANU-PF politburo "noted that there has to be a figure who appoints the all-inclusive government envisaged in the memorandum of understanding" signed by ZANU-PF and the two opposition formations on Monday, paving the way for the talks.
"And that figure is President Mugabe, who won the run-off," the Herald stated.
It quoted a ruling party source as saying that, "There has to be a figure who creates the all-inclusive government.
All that program has to be given to someone."
Political analyst Chris Maroleng told reporter Zulu that the power-sharing talks could succeed or fail based on the question of who will lead the government of national unity or transitional government that is the most weighty agenda item on the table, and that ZANU-PF’s insistence on this point looks like a bid to reclaim legitimacy for Mr. Mugabe.
Other political analysts agree there is a lot on the table in Pretoria as negotiators for the two sides square off, and that despite expressions of good will early this week when party leaders signed a threshold document, all sides may be expected to bargain hard.
So notwithstanding reports that a deal is close to being concluded, they say there are plenty of potential pitfalls for the discussions which are only just beginning.
Observers also warn that there are forces which are not at the table that must be reckoned with - for instance Zimbabwe's Joint Operations Command unifying the security forces, which some say has become the real power in the land as government structures collapse.
Some say the JOC orchestrated the violence that ravaged the country in recent months.
For a closer look at the stakes in the talks, the hidden hazards and the likely result, Blessing Zulu turned to political analyst and University of Zimbabwe Professor John Makumbe and Group Projects Editor Iden Wetherell of the Zimbabwe Independent newspaper.
Wetherell and Makumbe argue that for talks to succeed, political violence must stop, and that the ruling party politiburo must not set terms for the discussions in Pretoria.