A three-person team from South Africa appointed last week to mediate Zimbabwe's political deadlock is in Harare.  It was sent to resolve several issues in the political agreement that led to formation of a unity government in February.

The three South Africans, all senior members of the ruling African National Congress, include two party stalwarts, Charles Ngakula and special envoy Mac Maharaj as well as President Jacob Zuma's international relations adviser, Lindiwe Zulu.

They are to meet with the three Zimbabwean parties that signed the political agreement in September 2008.

Their appointment last week by Mr. Zuma officially ended the role of former South African president Thabo Mbeki.  He had mediated the Zimbabwe crisis on behalf of the Southern Africa Development Community since 2007.

The former opposition Movement for Democratic Change of now-Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai had accused Mr. Mbeki of bias in favor of the ZANU-PF party of Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe.

The unity government, inaugurated in February, brought the old foes into a government of national unity.  But tensions and deadlocks hindered progress toward a more democratic process.

Mr. Tsvangirai's patience snapped in October and he and his ministers boycotted Cabinet meetings for three weeks.  They re-engaged ZANU-PF after South Africa pledged to fully monitor Zimbabwe's progress and SADC pledged talks between the three Zimbabwean parties would begin by December 6.

The issues include the MDC's complaint that Mr. Mugabe unilaterally appointed many top civil servants, when the agreement calls for him to consult with Mr. Tsvangirai on such matters.

In addition, Mr. Tsvangirai says selective detention, harassment and prosecutions continue, aimed primarily at his supporters.

Mr. Tsvangirai has also complained the state media is biased against him, which also violates the political agreement.

ZANU-PF wants the lifting of travel sanctions that European and North American governments have imposed against 200 top party leaders and their companies.  Mr. Mugabe claims the restrictions are responsible for Zimbabwe's economic decline.  Western diplomats say they do not prevent normal trade between Zimbabwe the West.

The Zimbabwean president also wants two radio stations that broadcast into Zimbabwe from Washington and London to be closed.  He calls them pirate radio stations.

The government controls the only two daily newspapers, the country's only television station and all of its four radio stations.

The arrival of the South African mediators has generated hope that they will help remove obstacles to the slow progress of the power-sharing government.

Civil-rights groups say the standoffs have unnecessarily delayed the writing of a new constitution.

In addition they say the rule of law must be restored in Zimbabwe and a new electoral commission must be formed with independent and professional officials.

The ultimate goal of the power sharing government is to move towards new elections.