Close to two months since the Sept. 15 signing of a power-sharing accord by Zimbabwe's long-ruling ZANU-PF party and the Movement for Democratic Change, senior officials of the MDC's dominant formation this week declined to participate in a unity government with a partner they do not trust under conditions they concluded were unacceptable.
On Sunday a Johannesburg summit of the Southern African Development Community urged the immediate formation of a unity government in which ZANU-PF and the MDC would share control of the disputed Home Affairs Ministry - a recommendation which MDC founder and prime minister-designate Morgan Tsvangirai rejected in a carefully crafted statement.
On Thursday, Secretary General Tendai Biti of the Tsvangirai formation told VOA that his party would adhere to the position laid out by Tsvangirai in South Africa.
Party officials have said they intend in effect to appeal the SADC verdict to the African Union, and that failing to take it to the United Nations General Assembly, where efforts by the United States and Britain to table the matter have been vetoed by China and Russia.
But observers said the MDC decision this week was a classic Hobson's choice - either the MDC undertook to govern with a party that it does not believe will act in good faith, or in refusing to do so pass up an oppportunity to try to rescue the beleaguered Zimbabwean people.
Though unable to secure control of the Home Affairs Ministry, the MDC has obtained control of the Finance Ministry, seen as critical in convincing international donors to fund the massive humanitarian and economic recovery effort needed by the country. The MDC would also control the economic and social service ministries key to that endeavor.
Some four million Zimbabweans are currently receiving food assistance from the U.N. World Food Program, and five million will need such aid by the beginning of next year. About one in five Zimbabwean adults is HIV-positive, but the national health system is in collapse.
For a look at the arguments for and against the MDC co-governing under the terms endorsed by SADC, reporter Patience Rusere of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe reached Program Officer Hopewell Gumbo of the Zimbabwe Coalition for Debt and Development, an MDC founding member, and Johannesburg-based independent analyst Emmanuel Hlabagana.
Gumbo argued that the MDC should not enter into a "unholy alliance" with ZANU-PF, which he said only wants to prolong its grip on power. But Hlabagana noted that the MDC entered the power-sharing process in full knowledge of the nature of its prospective partner.
VOA Studio 7 listener Ephraim Antonio of Harare said he felt let down by the SADC regional leaders. Pardon Kudzanai, also in Harare, said the MDC should carefully weigh its options.
More reports from VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe...