The South African government in its capacity as current chair-holder of the Southern African Development Community reiterated Monday that Zimbabwe's political leaders should form a national unity government without further delay so that they can tackle the humanitarian crisis in the country, which a top Pretoria official said is deepening.

Thabo Masebe, a spokesman for the South African President Kgalema Motlanthe, told the Johannesburg talk radio station SA-FM that the first step toward implementing the unity pact between President Robert Mugabe's ZANU-PF and the Movement for Democratic Change should be the appointment of MDC founder Morgan Tsvangirai as prime minister.

Masebe said Tsvangirai?s ultimatum demanding the release of all persons abducted, allegedly by agents of the state security apparatus, or who now face charges of coup-plotting after their reappearance in the hands of police, should not bear on the government issue.

But Tsvangirai spokesman George Sibotshiwe told reporter Ntungamili Nkomo of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe that his party continues to stand by its demands which include the release of abductees now charged with conspiring to overthrow the government, and the equitable distribution of key cabinet posts.

ZANU-PF politburo member and ruling party chief parliamentary whip Joram Gumbo said the government should be formed urgently with or without Tsvangirai?s participation.

Political analyst Tom Cargill, an Africa specialist with Chatham House, London, said the chances of putting a unity government in place in Zimbabwe are fading fast.

The statement from Pretoria was much the same as the recommendation issued Nov. 9 by a SADC summit which also suggested the MDC, which had demanded control of the Ministry of Home Affairs, from which the national police depend, share ministry control with ZANU-PF. Tsvangirai's MDC formation rejected this recommendation as unacceptable given the prominent role of the police in April-June post-election political violence.

Another SADC summit on Zimbabwe has been mooted for next month.

More news from VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe...