'SADC all bluster and no backbone'

Like the one last Sunday in Sandton, where the regional leaders instructed President Robert Mugabe and Prime Minister-designate Morgan Tsvangirai to form their long-delayed power-sharing government "forthwith" and to share the home affairs ministry over which they had been bickering for two months.

That communique was a great example of SADC bluster – apparently very forceful, but actually quite meaningless.

The order that Mugabe and Movement for Democratic Change leader Tsvangirai share the ministry of home affairs was a pathetic dereliction of responsibility, an implicit admission that the leaders could not bring themselves to face down Mugabe.

The octogenarian seems to have an uncanny ability to bully people when they are in his presence and does not yet seem to have met his match anywhere in this region.

Former president Thabo Mbeki, still the SADC’s Zimbabwe mediator, could not or perhaps would not, or possibly a combination of the two.

His successor, President Kgalame Motlanthe, only "flattered to deceive", to repeat a horrible sports commentator’s cliche.

The post-Polokwane ANC had shown promise of being tougher on Mugabe than Mbeki had and before the summit the cabinet and Motlanthe himself had threatened the SADC would be tough on the Zimbabwean leaders.

But to be tough on both Zimbabwean leaders is meaningless. The SADC’s task was to tell either Mugabe or Tsvangirai to surrender home affairs, not to produce a caricature of even-handedness by instructing them to bisect the ministry.

And before the summit senior SA officials had acknowledged that Tsvangirai should get home affairs – which controls the police – because Mugabe’s Zanu-PF had all the other security agencies.

But Motlanthe went along with the summit decision calling for home affairs to be shared.

Much was also expected of Botswana’s President Ian Khama who had taken the unprecedented step a few weeks ago of refusing to recognise Mugabe as president because his re-election on June 27 had been flawed.

But Khama did not even attend the Sandton summit because of a prior engagement at a conservation conference in the US – surely not as important – and sent his vice-president Mompati Sebogodi who also rolled over before Mugabe.

The SADC leaders could not even enforce their own decision that Mugabe should recuse himself from discussion on the Zimbabwean issue – as Tsvangirai and the other MDC leader Arthur Mutambara had to do.

Nor could the SADC leaders insist – as they also should have – that Mugabe at least give Tsvangirai a passport instead of humiliating him every time he has to go abroad by forcing him to apply for an emergency travel document.

After the summit, Sebogodi issued a statement, pointing out that the decision to demand the sharing of home affairs had been a "consensus" rather than a "unanimous" one – a hint that Botswana had only gone along with it for the sake of regional unity.

After the summit, Lesotho Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili made a speech in which he claimed he had told Mugabe at the summit that he had no majority and had repeated this charge when Mugabe denied it.

Brave words all – after the event. But why did these brave leaders not insist Mugabe give up home affairs?

If the decision was in fact made by consensus, it would have taken just one leader to spike it – and yet here we have three leaders who ought to have done so. Are these leaders closet Mugabe admirers who just pretend to dislike him?

Or are they really scared of him? The late Zambian President Levy Mwanawasa drew great cheers around the world when he broke ranks with SADC and publicly likened Zimbabwe to the Titanic. – Daily News Foreign Service