Southern African Development Community (SADC) leaders meeting in Kinshasa instead backed Mugabe’s call for the lifting of sanctions imposed on the country by the international community.

Analysts say this show of support for the long-serving ruler is likely to harden his position as he refuses to bow to pressure from Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) to honour his end of the Global Political Agreement (GPA) that led to the formation of the coalition.

Many Zimbabweans have looked to SADC leaders to push Mugabe to honour his GPA commitments by swearing in MDC national treasurer Roy Bennet into cabinet and approve the appointments of both a new attorney general and a central bank governor.

But they have been disappointed by the show of support for Mugabe at a SADC meeting currently being held in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

"We are of course disappointed because it has become obvious that SADC will not solve our problems for us," said Tinashe Zulu, a primary school teacher who is one of many who downed chalk last week pressing for salary increments.

"We have always said it – African leaders fear Mugabe for some reason, and for anyone to expect anything from them is wishful thinking. We just give our fate to the gods," Zulu complained.

Zulu was echoing the frustrations of many in a country where humanitarian agencies say hundreds of thousands of people are crossing the borders into neighbouring countries in search of work.

In a communiqué released at the end of the Kinshasa meeting at which DRC president Joseph Kabila – a close ally of Mugabe – assumed the rotating SADC chair, the leaders of the regional group said they noted "the progress made in the implementation of the global political agreement and called on the international community to remove all forms of sanctions against Zimbabwe".

The statement stands in stark contrast to the MDC’s assessment; partners with Mugabe’s Zimbabwe African National Union – Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF), the MDC says little progress is being made by the coalition towards fully implementing the GPA. Hardliners in Mugabe’s camp have been accused of stalling for time as they look ahead to the next polls.

"This is the nature of these nationalist parties," said Effie Ncube of the Matebeleland Constitutional Reform Agenda.

"They rally behind fellow leaders against the West and go on about imperialism and nothing is mentioned about bettering the lives of people back home. They claim sanctions are harming the so-called ordinary man but forgetting that all attempts by the ordinary man to choose a government of his own have been met with violent suppression. All that does not matter to them," Ncube told IPS.

Long-time rivals Mugabe and Tsvangirai formed a coalition in February this year; for ZANU-PF it was conditional on the MDC calling for the lifting of what it calls "illegal" sanctions on Zimbabwe.

International money lending institutions have already signaled that they were easing their tough stance on assisting the government with economic reconstruction. At the beginning of September, the International Monetary Fund, which suspended funding in 1999 after Zimbabwe failed to service its loans, injected a half billion U.S. dollar loan to help Zimbabwe help pay for needed imports.

There is already jostling between MDC secretary general and finance minister Tendai Biti and the ZANU-PF appointee who heads the Reserve Bank Gideon Gono over who will control the funds.

Sentiment on the streets has long been that there are no sanctions imposed on Zimbabwe.

"I have never believed the country is under sanctions," said James Chuma, a vendor in the city’s central business district one of many who play daily games of cat and mouse with the police to earn a living in the informal economy. Labour unions claim that unemployment is above 90 percent.

"They closed down productive farms and factories and in my rural home where our parents worked peacefully with white farmers. The people are suffering and for me this has nothing to do with sanctions. Even though I’m not educated, I know enough not to believe everything the government says," Chuma told IPS.

"It is tough here and it is these people who want to rule forever who blame their failure on someone else."

Travel and other bans have been placed on Mugabe and more than 100 of his party loyalists. Prominent party members and their families have been banned from travelling to Europe and the United States due to accusations of their having presided over gross human rights abuses and electoral fraud.

Stanley Kwenda reports from Kinshasa that civil society groups have rejected Zimbabwe’s withdrawal Condemning Zimbabwe’s withdrawal from a regional tribunal which ruled state-orchestrated land seizures are illegal. SADC leaders have referred the matter to discussion at a special regional summit to be held in Mozambique at the end of September.

Robert Mugabe’s supporters in Zimbabwe, led by the state media, were yesterday celebrating the failure of the Southern African Development Community to discuss the country’s problems.

“Anti-Zim lobby flops” screamed the headline of the state-owned Herald.

State radio also made a big song and dance about how Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai had left the DR Congo summit after “he realised Zimbabwe was not going to be discussed”.

The only mention Zimbabwe received at the summit was during Monday’s speech by the outgoing SADC chairman, President Jacob Zuma, who said the “SADC … remains committed to working to encourage further progress”.

All the hype about how the SADC would get tough with Mugabe amounted to nothing when Zimbabwe was dropped from the agenda.

Tsvangirai, leader of the Movement for Democratic Change, had apparently lobbied SADC member states to hear his complaints.

He had hoped that the SADC — as the sponsors and guarantors of the unity government — would force Mugabe to accept real change.