MEDIATION on Zimbabwe's political crisis is lurching from one hurdle to the other as South African President Jacob Zuma -- the Southern African Development Community (SADC) point man in the local political dialogue -- faces an uncertain future ahead of the ruling African National Congress (ANC)'s elective congress next month.
Zuma is facing a sterner test as the ANC heads for a crucial congress at Mangaung next month where his deputy, Kgalema Motla-nthe, is expected to spring up a challenge for the presidency.
The uncertainty has forced the embattled South African leader to shift his focus from Zimbabwe in order to fight for survival. With Zuma on the ropes within the ANC, fresh turmoil has erupted in Zimbabwe over the draft constitution and unresolved issues in the Global Political Agreement (GPA).
With ZANU-PF insisting on its 266 amendments to the Parliamentary Constitution Select Committee (COPAC) draft, it emerged this week that the two formations of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) now want Zuma to urgently intervene to ensure the country holds the next polls under a new constitution and other requisite reforms.
There is however, concern that Zuma has frozen his mediation due to his political woes in South Africa.
His predecessor, Thabo Mbeki was removed from power under similar circumstances at a conference in Polokwane, which explains why Zuma could be having sleepless nights as Mangaung approaches.
This week, Motlanthe got nominations from key ANC branches across the country, an indication that the heat could be on for Zuma.
As a result, Zuma has been mum on a number of issues bedeviling the coalition government north of the Limpopo River, particularly his stone-cold silence on the absence of political reforms critics claim are necessary before the country stages fresh polls whose outcome would be universally accepted.
Zuma's international relations advisor and spokesperson of the mediation team, Lindiwe Zulu, was evasive this week when asked whether her boss still has time for Zimbabwe given the fast approaching Mangaung conference.
"President Zuma always has time for the mediation process. He wants to know what is happening. It's not about him coming to Zimbabwe," she said.
When probed on whether Zuma would be coming to Zimbabwe as part of his mediation role before the end of the year, Zulu could not commit her boss to such a schedule.
"I really cannot say that he will come before the end of the year but at the moment I cannot confirm. I cannot say whether it will be before the end of the year," she said.
Zulu said Zuma's position was that there must be full implementation of the GPA before elections.
President Robert Mugabe has not said anything about such reforms. He even ducked the issue when he set out the legislative agenda for the fifth session of the 7th Parliament two weeks ago. The session is expected to be the last for the legislature before elections.
Ever since Zuma took over from his predecessor in 2009, he has struggled with his mediation. He has rarely been seen in the country, preferring to send his facilitation team of Charles Nqakula, Mac Maharaj and Zulu.
The facilitation team has also failed to nudge ZANU-PF and the MDCs into honouring the GPA possibly because of lack of clout and the obvious limitations it has especially when it comes to engaging at the highest level.
This year, the South African President only came to Harare once, in August prior to the SADC Maputo summit where, after briefing the regional leaders, ZANU-PF mellowed its stance on the new constitution.
The Open Society Foundation for South African Foreign Policy Initiative is of the view that Zuma's mediation has lacked both the urgency and direction required to correct the deteriorating political situation in Zimbabwe.
"His has become more of an observatory role, through the facilitation team, than mediation," the Initiative concluded. With Zuma's mediation technically on the backburner, COPAC hit another brick-wall this week in attempts to forge ahead with finalising the draft constitution.
A constitutional referendum that had been expected in January now appears highly unlikely as disagreements persist, over the draft charter.
The draft still has to pass through Parliament after getting endorsements at all lower stages. President Mugabe has also demanded to have the final say, triggering the current storm between ZANU-PF and the two MDCs formations, which insist that the Executive should not interfere with the constitution-making process.
The MDCs have already sounded out Zuma's mediation team on the latest pitfalls.
While the mediation team is aware of the latest problems in Zimbabwe, they have not yet received any written communication from the bickering partners.
"We have not received anything from the MDCs but we know that there are problems with what happened after the Second All-Stakeholders' Conference," said Zulu.
Priscilla Misihairabwi-Mushonga, the secretary general of the MDC led by Welshman Ncube, this week said the people of Zimbabwe would be the ultimate arbiters of the draft constitution.
She said the COPAC report from the Second All-Stakeholders' Conference showed there were a wide range of opinions on the current draft such that there was no hope of reconciling the various positions.
"We have no choice now but to write to SADC as the guarantors of the GPA, and President Zuma as the appointed mediator, to try and make ZANU-PF play ball," she said.