South African President Jacob Zuma was leaning hard on negotiators for the three parties in Zimbabwe's unity government to agree on at least some of the many so-called outstanding issues troubling power-sharing before a somewhat ambiguous deadline set by regional leaders expires on Saturday.
But political sources in Harare said progress is being hampered as ZANU-PF hardliners dig in their heels on a number of those contentious issues.
ZANU-PF, led by President Robert Mugabe, has called a party congress from December 9-13 and internal jostling for position has led some in the leadership to oppose concessions to the Movement for Democratic Change formation led by Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai and a smaller MDC faction.
Sources said media liberalization has incited ZANU-PF opposition in particular.
Pretoria foreign affairs adviser Lindiwe Zulu told VOA that a South African facilitation team that visited Harare recently has briefed President Zuma but felt it was premature to report to Mozambique President Armando Guebuza, head of the Southern African Development Community's troika on politics, defense and security, which intervened Nov. 5 in the recent unity crisis.
Mr. Tsvangirai's MDC formation announced Oct. 16 that it was "disengaging" from ZANU-PF - though remaining in the inclusive government - over the former ruling party's alleged failure to adhere to the 2008 Global Political Agreement underpinning the 10-month-old power-sharing arrangement.
The MDC grouping agreed to participate in cabinet meetings again after SADC leaders meeting in Maputo, Mozambique, called for the three parties to hold discussions to resolve contentious issues. Though the communiqué wording was unclear, it indicated SADC wanted to see some results within 30 days.
Regional political sources said SADC executive secretary Tomaz Salomao was in Harare late this week trying to give impetus to the talks.
ZANU-PF and MDC sources told VOA the parties have agreed on the need for media reform and a land audit following a decade of land reform. They said the negotiators also discussed ZANU-PF complaints that Mr. Tsvangirai had set up "parallel government structures," and achieved clarity on this item.
Negotiators took up the question of a Tsvangirai newsletter posted on the prime minister's Web site, which ZANU-PF has complained is a propaganda tool. The MDC agreed the newsletter would cover activities of ZANU-PF ministers.
Sources in Harare and Pretoria said the three-member South African facilitation team is due back in Harare on Monday to push for agreement on some of the most divisive issues that were set aside to be dealt with last, including the leadership of the Reserve Bank and Office of the Attorney General.
London-based commentator Innocent Sithole told VOA Studio 7's Blessing Zulu that the unity government negotiators have no choice but to deliver results.
Controversy continued meanwhile over what ZANU-PF has called "pirate" radio stations and made a major issue in the negotiations alongside Western travel and financial restrictions placed on Mr. Mugabe and other top ZANU-PF officials.
The state-controlled Herald newspaper, closely aligned with ZANU-PF, Friday quoted presidential spokesman George Charamba in his capacity as secretary of media, information and publicity, as taking aim at VOA for broadcasting the Studio 7 news program to the country from a Botswana transmitter.
Charamba said a bilateral U.S.-Botswanan agreement allowing VOA to transmit from the neighboring country violated international law and the GPA.
Charamba told the Herald: "I challenge VOA to show the world the agreement between Botswana and America and how it encompasses Zimbabwe.”
Charamba was responding to comments on SW Radio Africa, a station based in London and operated by Zimbabwean expatriates, with VOA Africa Division Director Gwen Dillard who urged Zimbabwe to liberalize its media so that alternative radio and television voices could emerge. Zimbabwean state broadcasting entities exercise a monopoly within the country.
For perspective on the debate, VOA Studio 7 reporter Brenda Moyo turned to London-based political analyst Mqondobanzi Magonya who said ZANU-PF is likely to remain exercised over the "pirate" radio stations as the MDC is in no position to compel such stations to cease broadcasting to the country.
Elsewhere, Constitutional and Parliamentary Affairs Minister Eric Matinenga of the Tsvangirai MDC formation warned that the slow pace of the negotiations is having a negative impact on the constitutional revision process. He said issues of media reform and freedom of expression need urgent resolution.
Though the constitutional revision process has overcome funding difficulties, he said members of the public remain worried about expressing themselves freely in public meetings amid reports ZANU-PF hardline elements have been setting up militia camps and pressuring people to accept the Kariba constitutional draft which the MDC helped write but says must be just one source of many.
Matinenga told VOA Studio 7 reporter Patience Rusere that the GPA signatories must be seen to endorse and guarantee freedom of expression.