Although Southern African leaders meeting in summit on the weekend in Zambia gave South African President Thabo Mbeki a fresh mandate to mediate in Zimbabwe, he is under fire from the Zimbabwean opposition and civil society - and from some in his own African National Congress party - for downplaying the crisis next door.
Observers were taken aback and the Zimbabwean opposition was outraged when Mr. Mbeki, stopping Sunday in Harare on his way to the summit to confer President Robert Mugabe, told journalists that a two-week delay in releasing the results of the country's March 29 presidential election was not abnormal and that "there is no crisis."
The statement overlooked numerous reports that the ruling ZANU-PF party, which has called for a runoff election, has dispatched liberation war veterans and youth militia into Zimbabwe's rural areas to punish the opposition and those who voted for it.
Opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai, whose party says he won the election outright, was continuing a regional diplomatic tour this week in what some political analysts say reflected something less than confidence in Mr. Mbeki as mediator. Crisis mediation by the South African leader between March 2007 to this January ended abruptly when Mr. Mugabe refused to make key concessions and called the March 29 ballots.
Tsvangirai met with former Mozambican president Joaquim Chissano on Monday and was expected to meet President Armando Guebuza in Maputo as well.
Officials of Tsvangirai's MDC formation have called Mr. Mbeki’s comments “reckless,” and a civic coalition called the Institute for a Democratic Alternative told diplomats and journalists Monday in Pretoria that Mr. Mbeki has become “a joke.” The coalition included the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions, the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights and the National Constitutional Assembly, among other groups.
Mr. Mbeki is taking heat from domestic critics too. Speaker of parliament Baleka Mbete broke with the president's much-criticized “quiet diplomacy” on Zimbabwe, calling the Harare government's suppression of results “a democratic process gone wrong.” She said the world cannot remain silent in the face of human rights violations.
Foreign Affairs Secretary Eliphas Mukonoweshuro of the Tsvangirai MDC formation told reporter Blessing Zulu of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe that although many were disappointed with the summit, SADC leaders still hold the key to a solution.
More reports from VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe...