Robert Mugabe off the hook as usual

morgan_tsvangirai_4African leaders fail yet again to squeeze Zimbabwes recalcitrant president

MORGAN TSVANGIRAI, Zimbabwes prime minister (pictured), is putting a brave face on his latest setback. But he must feel badly let down, once more, by the Southern African Development Community (SADC). At a summit meeting of its 15 leaders, the

Jacob Zumas election as South Africas president in May had brought hope of a tougher stance towards Zimbabwe by SADCs most powerful country after years of ineffectual quiet diplomacy by its former president, Thabo Mbeki. Mr Tsvangirais expectations rose after he met Mr Zuma in Johannesburg last month. South Africas ruling African National Congress announced that Mr Zuma would be more vocal than his predecessors in criticising the adolescent and deviant behaviour of Mr Mugabes Zanu-PF party.

During a visit to Zimbabwe at the end of August, ostensibly to open an agricultural show but in truth to knock a few heads together ahead of the SADC summit, Mr Zuma pointedly stressed the importance of good governance and respect for human rights everywhere in Africa, before calling on the parties to Zimbabwes power-sharing deal to honour their commitments and ensure its full implementation. In particular, he said Zimbabwe must, as a priority, meet the Wests conditions for resuming development aid. No African leader had dared say that before.

The Americans and the European Union insist that Mr Mugabes lot must stop abducting, arresting and killing supporters of Mr Tsvangirais Movement for Democratic Change (MDC); cease the invasions of white-owned farms; replace the central-bank governor, Gideon Gono, and the attorney-general, Johannes Tomana; appoint new provincial governors; and free the media (see article). And they must help draft a new constitution leading to fair elections within, it is hoped, 18 months.

To stave off the humiliation of being censured by his SADC peers, Mr Mugabe has begun to make a few concessions. In the past few weeks he announced steps to end the states monopoly over the media, and lifted a ban on correspondents from international broadcasters such as CNN and the BBC. And he has convened the National Security Council, on which Mr Tsvangirai has a seat and which is meant to replace Mr Mugabes feared Joint Operations Command. The top military brass have even begun to salute Mr Tsvangirai, which they had sworn never to do.

Yet, with Mr Mugabe still holding the main levers of power, violence and intimidation have not abated. No fewer than 15 MDC MPs have been arrested on dubious charges since the unity government took office. More white farmers have been murdered and 170 face prosecution for refusing to leave their land. A SADC tribunal ruled last year that the seizures were illegal, but Zimbabwes government now refuses to recognise the tribunals legitimacy.

Meanwhile, Zanu-PF is doing its utmost to delay drafting a new constitution and to prevent fresh elections, which it knows it is virtually certain to lose. Now, with SADC apparently unwilling to squeeze Mr Mugabe, the old man and his friends can breathe more easily for a while yet.

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