South Africa's president-in-waiting Jacob Zuma will inherit a still-simmering crisis in neighbouring Zimbabwe, where analysts said he's unlikely to tread as softly as his predecessor Thabo Mbeki.
Mbeki brokered the power-sharing deal that brought Zimbabwe's long-time President Robert Mugabe together with his erstwhile rival Morgan Tsvangirai, who became prime minister in a unity government in February.
Under the joint administration, Zimbabwe has halted its spectacular economic collapse, abandoning its worthless currency and eased price controls, which has brought food back onto store shelves.
But with unemployment at 94percent and more than half the population surviving on international food aid, the country remains mired in a humanitarian crisis that shows few signs of easing.
Squabbling within the unity government is rife, most dramatically between Finance Minister Tendai Biti, one of Tsvangirai's top aides, and central bank chief Gideon Gono, who presided over years of world-record hyperinflation.
"South Africa was instrumental in the negotiations for the power-sharing government and they will support it" despite the problems, said Joseph Kurebga, a Harare-based political analyst.
But South Africa's stake in the success of the government goes well beyond diplomacy.
Up to three million Zimbabweans have fled to South Africa in the hope of earning a living, while a cholera epidemic that erupted last year quickly seeped across the border into South Africa.
Mbeki dealt with challenges through his so-called "quiet diplomacy" that avoided calling out Zimbabwe on its failures. Zuma is unlikely to prove so gentle, analysts said.
"They are going to maintain this idea of constructive engagement with the leadership in Zimbabwe, trying to get them to come together around the table and resolve whatever issue might arise," said Siphamandla Zondi, researcher at the Institute for Global Dialogue.
"But I don't think that they are going to have patience with the Zimbabwean players should they not move along as expected."
Zuma has proven himself a capable negotiator, credited with curbing political attacks between his own ANC and the Zulu-dominated IFP in the 1990s.
As the crisis unfolded in Zimbabwe last year, Zuma didn't hesitate to speak out, saying he believed Zimbabweans were demanding change and that delays in the violence-plagued elections were "unacceptable". - Sapa-AFP