Zimbabwe's ruling ZANU-PF and the opposition Movement for Democratic Change were to begin talks about the political future of the country in South Africa's capital, but the timing is uncertain.   As VOA's Delia Robertson reports from our southern Africa bureau the two sides set out an ambitious agenda and little time to accomplish the goals.

Zimbabwe's political leaders have set their negotiators a significant list of agreements to forge within two weeks.  These include setting the objectives and priorities of a new government, a new constitution, a framework for a new government, and implementation mechanisms.

Each of these agenda items include sub-elements such as economic stability, land questions, individual security and prevention of violence, and the rule of law.  

All must then be combined into an agreement signed by party leaders in the presence of the facilitator, South African President Thabo Mbeki, who is supported by the Southern Africa Development Community and the African Union.

Many Zimbabweans, weary of political turmoil and a collapsing economy, welcomed the talks and expressed hope they will bring about positive change.  But not all are happy.  Many fear that President Robert Mugabe is using the talks as a tactic to shift attention from the failures of his government.

Others, such as National Constitutional Assembly Chairman Lovemore Madhuku, believe the agreement will lead to a power-sharing arrangement between the parties without time limits or commitments to real political reform.

"If you look at the content and if you listen to the speeches, although they pretend that the intention is to solve the problems of the country, the clear signal there is that they are about to share power, parceling out government positions and so on," said Madhuku.  "That is far from what we need at the moment.  What is required is a complete reform process that changes the political system."

A transitional government of national unity is expected to be part of the final agreement, but the parties appear greatly divided on who will lead that government and what transitional means.

Mr. Mugabe says he should lead a power-sharing government and wants the MDC to recognize his widely discredited re-election last month as president.  He also wants a lengthy transition period, perhaps as long as five years to enable him to serve out his current term in office.

MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai believes he should lead the government because of his majority in the March presidential vote that was widely accepted as free and fair.  The MDC would also like a short transition period, allowing just enough time to stabilize the country and prepare for fresh elections conducted under African Union and SADC principles.