THE on-off-on talks about Zimbabwe's future governance are continuing this weekend on the fringes of a Southern African Development Community meeting in Johannesburg. These talks, mediated by South Africa's President Mbeki, were scheduled for two weeks but now are approaching their fourth - and without any sign that progress has been made on the central issue of who should hold executive authority in a power-sharing government of President Robert Mugabe's ZANU party and Morgan Tsvangirai's Movement for Democratic Change (MDC).

Mugabe is a past master at divide-and-rule tactics during negotiations and in the past few days has given the impression that he is reaching agreement with the leader of a small splinter-group of the MDC, Arthur Mutambara, that would give him a majority over Tsvangirai in Zimbabwe's parliament. Tsvangirai's position is that Mugabe should be a President in name only while he would hold executive power as prime minister. Meanwhile Mugabe has resumed making speeches to his followers warning against “handing the country over to the enemy” - assumed to be Tsvangirai!

The principals have attended too few of these talks to ensure that deals made at them will stick. This weekend, Mugabe, Tsvangirai and Mutambara are all expected to be at the table with President Mbeki. Even so, there is no guarantee that any conclusion will be reached. For Tsvangirai it is essential that he is not talked into an agreement that gives him less than full executive authority.