SADC averted a political meltdown on November 6 when it convinced Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai to end a three week boycott of the unity government.

But the regional body gave the squabbling parties a 30-day deadline to resolve a slate of thorny disputes.

An emergency SADC mini summit in Mozambique to tackle the Zimbabwe crisis gave the parties 15 days to kick start negotiations.

The deadline is fast approaching without any signs of movement signalling the parties’ seriousness to end their disputes, including the arrest and harassment of Mr Tsvangirai’s loyalists.

On Monday, some of the negotiators from President Robert Mugabe’s Zanu PF and the two Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) factions met the PM, in what officials said was a brief meeting to set the tone for the talks.

Two minutes

The meeting only lasted about two minutes as some of the negotiators were said to be out of the country.

This means that negotiations will not start until Friday, a senior official in Mr Tsvangirai’s office said.

“They will work from Friday right into the weekend to deal with the matters as brought on the table through the SADC troika summit,” said Mr Gorden Moyo, the Minister of State in the PM’s office.

“The principals themselves have met and agreed on a programme.

“On Monday the Prime Minister was then implementing the agreement in as far as their meeting was concerned.”

The main MDC’s chief negotiator and Finance Minister Mr Tendai Biti was however, optimistic the negotiations were on course.

“PM Tsvangirai implored us to start the negotiations but the meeting did not go far because there was no representation from the other party (small MDC faction) whose negotiators are out of the country,” he said.

“We are hoping to start the negotiations as soon as the other negotiators are back and we will work hard to make sure we meet the stipulated time frame.” 

Last week, Mr Mugabe, Mr Tsvangirai and Deputy Prime Minister Arthur Mutambara – the three principals in the unity government formed in February – met and referred all the outstanding issues to their negotiators.

The former foes are still wrangling over the appointment of provincial governors, ambassadors, permanent secretaries and lack of progress in political reforms.

Mr Tsvangirai’s MDC also wants Mr Mugabe to reverse the unilateral appointment of his cronies to head the central bank and the attorney general’s office and also swear in its deputy agriculture minister designate who is facing terrorism charges.

On the other hand, Zanu PF says it will not move on the demands until the MDC calls for the lifting of sanctions against Mr Mugabe’s inner circle and the closure of pirate radio stations.

Mr Mugabe also accuses his coalition partners of setting up parallel government structures to try and topple him from power. Zanu PF says MDC is working with Western powers on a regime change agenda. Analysts say the parties are unlikely to meet the SADC deadline because they are poles apart on a number of fundamental issues.

But Mr Moyo was confident the weekend meetings will produce a result and a report will be sent to the new facilitator, South African President Jacob Zuma.

Mr Zuma who takes over from his predecessor Mr Thabo Mbeki – the key facilitator of the dialogue that led to the historic power sharing agreement signed on September 15 last year – will then visit Zimbabwe to assess progress.

His entry was welcomed by many Zimbabweans who felt that he would be tougher on Mr Mugabe than Mr Mbeki.

Incessant squabbling between Mr Mugabe and Mr Tsvangirai has left many wondering about the Harare coalition’s long term viability.

Major investors appear to have adopted a wait and see attitude before they can consider making any significant investments in the country.

Chances that the coalition will collapse are increasingly becoming remote as the parties now agree that they cannot survive without each other.

The marriage of convenience has undoubtedly done a lot to restore the country’s severely battered economy.

But the major concern is that many investors now fear Zimbabwe’s new found stability is threatened by the unresolved issues.

During Mr Tsvangirai’s brief withdrawal from the unity government, Zimbabwe’s stock exchange that had found its vibrancy on the back of the new dispensation, crashed overnight.

Foreign investors who had rushed in to cash on the new order were also quick to take a back seat.