SOUTH African President Jacob Zuma's (pictured) mediation in the Zimbabwe crisis is slowing down due to a plethora of political problems that threaten his leadership of the African National Congress (ANC) and could cascade into leadership change for the ANC next month.
The ramifications of a leadership change are still unclear, but it appears that President Robert Mugabe's ZANU-PF would be the biggest beneficiary of a renewal at the helm of the ANC.
Zuma and President Mugabe have crossed swords over the latter's insistence of heading to polls without sufficient political reforms.
Now, Zuma is facing a stern test as the ANC heads for a crucial congress at Mangaung where his deputy, Kgalema Motlanthe is expected to spring up a challenge for the presidency.
As a result of the nascent challenges to his leadership, the embattled Zuma has shifted his focus from the crisis in Harare to deal with the uncertainty surrounding his stay at the helm of the ANC and South Africa.
Critics point out that it would be folly for him to extinguish fires in Harare yet his backyard is also up in flames.
Fresh turmoil has erupted in Harare over the final stage of the constitution-making process, a development critics say urgently needed Zuma's intervention as a new constitution is pivotal to the country staging fresh polls whose outcome would be universally accepted.
There are also other issues around the political roadmap to the elections, such as the requisite legislative reforms ahead of fresh polls that require Zuma's attention.
President Mugabe, Prime Minister (PM) Morgan Tsvangirai and Welshman Ncube are still at tangent over the date of the next elections, something critics claim should also be clarified by Zuma as the mediator in the Zimbabwe crisis.
President Mugabe is insisting that elections should be held in March next year while PM Tsvangirai and Ncube have hinted June or September 2013 would be the most suitable dates to allow for the full implementation of an agreed election roadmap.
There is also the issue of the role of the security sector in the next polls which, it is, felt should be addressed by the mediator before the country goes to the next polls.
Ncube's formation also wants Zuma to once and for all deal with the issue of Deputy Prime Minister Arthur Mutambara whom they accuse of masquerading as a principal of the Global Political Agreement yet the last Southern African Development Community (SADC) summit held in Angola resolved that the Minister of Industry and International Trade should assume that mantle.
Rightly or wrongly, Ncube accuses both President Mugabe and PM Tsvangirai of protecting Mutambara for one reason or another.
Be that as it may, Zuma has his plate full.
In the past few months, he has had to fight internecine internal battles in desperate attempts to cling to power.
But critics say his fights within the ANC have diminished his role in Harare as he seems to have little time for the political crisis whose contagion threatens the entire SADC region.
Trevor Maisiri, a political analyst with the International Crisis Group, said the domestic pressure that Zuma is faced with has somewhat affected the mediation process in Zimbabwe until after Mangaung conference.
"This is the key weakness in the SADC mediation architecture; where the process is not housed within a functional unit of the regional bloc but is rather haphazard and dependent on the individuality of the mediator," he said.
If SADC had an institutionalised mediation unit, some work on the ground could have continued while Zuma drenched himself in domestic politics.
"Better still, SADC needs to appoint retired statesmen and other retired reputable persons as mediators; generally called the 'elders' who will be able to continuously focus on their role of mediation without being involved in other parallel political processes elsewhere," added Maisiri.
Psychology Maziwisa, a political analyst, said while Zuma was concentrating on internal ANC fights, it was high time Zimbabweans be left on their own devices to end the crisis in Harare and not always be dependent on foreign interventions.
"At times it is not properly appreciated that Jacob Zuma does not have a full-time job as mediator in Zimbabwe. He is President of South Africa first and foremost and must prioritise domestic issues above all else. That's not to say he should neglect his duties elsewhere and I don't think that's what he is doing," said Maziwisa.
"SADC said the principals should speedily deal with the crafting of a new constitution; send it to a referendum before going for elections. As far as I can see, that is precisely what is happening. Those who suggest that the process of mediation has slowed obviously have no idea what they are talking about. It may well be that they don't realise that Zimbabwe is now an independent country that must, as far as possible, be left to its own devices," he said.
He noted that the last SADC summit laid out quite clearly what the parties to the Global Political Agreement (GPA) had to do.
The last SADC Summit held in Angola implored the partners in the GPA to fully implement the outstanding issues in the power-sharing truce as well as ensure the completion of the drafting of the new constitution which the regional grouping said should lead to fresh polls.
But Pedzisai Ruhanya, the director of the Zimbabwe Democracy Institute, said it should be noted that the leadership contest in South Africa is real and democratic in comparison to Zimbabwe's situation.
"Unlike in Zimbabwe where the leader of ZANU-PF succeeds himself through face-powder processes, ANC leadership contests are robust, rigorous and require adequate attention. It is therefore not surprising that President Zuma is giving critical focus on that event. Nothing can be taken for granted," said Ruhanya.
In this regard, Zuma is seen paying adequate attention to retain his leadership of the ANC and consequently the presidency.