At a summit meeting of its 15 leaders, the regional club failed to criticise President Robert Mugabe for his refusal to honour the power-sharing deal it helped broker a year ago.
Instead, Mr Tsvangirai was fobbed off with the promise that a committee of three SADC members would eventually "review" the unity government that took office in February. Mr Mugabe is smirking.
Jacob Zuma’s election as South Africa’s president in May had brought hope of a tougher stance towards Zimbabwe by SADC’s most powerful country after years of ineffectual "quiet diplomacy" by its former president, Thabo Mbeki.
Mr Tsvangirai’s expectations rose after he met Mr Zuma in Johannesburg last month. South Africa’s ruling African National Congress announced that Mr Zuma would be "more vocal" than his predecessors in criticising the "adolescent" and "deviant" behaviour of Mr Mugabe’s 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 Zimbabwe’s power-sharing deal to honour their commitments and ensure its full implementation. In particular, he said Zimbabwe must, as a priority, meet the West’s conditions for resuming development aid. No African leader had dared say that before.
The Americans and the European Union insist that Mr Mugabe’s lot must stop abducting, arresting and killing supporters of Mr Tsvangirai’s 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 state’s 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 Mugabe’s 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 Zimbabwe’s government now refuses to recognise the tribunal’s 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. (The Economist)