Big Fight Night at the SADC summit
From the gooey ovations and the bland communiques one might think the recent Southern African Development Community (SADC) summit in Lusaka, Zambia, had passed off in peace and brotherhood. The truth is very different - and it may spell the end of SADC's cast iron support for the Mugabe regime.
Two independent sources have confirmed to me that near the end of a closed meeting an unholy row broke out between Robert Mugabe and the man chairing the session, Zambia' President Levy Mwanawasa. Apparently it was a one-sided screaming match, and guess which of the two was doing the screaming.
Not Mwanawasa, of course. He's a large and affable man with a streak of steel beneath his bumbling exterior, and he had previously annoyed Mugabe by comparing Zimbabwe, rather aptly, to a sinking Titanic. Now he tried to get the subject of Zimbabwe and its future tabled for discussion, describing the current situation of the country as "unacceptable."
That did it. Mugabe exploded with rage. "Who are you, Mwanawasa?" he shrieked. "Who are you? Who do you think you are?"
Before poor Levy could reply that he thought he was the President of Zambia, Mugabe got into his familiar full-frontal ranting stride.
"I do not like your attitude, Mwanawasa. You are not a true African brother. You are a sell-out. You want to sell Zimbabwe to the Europeans in the way you have sold Zambia. The trouble is, you inherited an independent Zambia, you did not fight the war of its liberation."
Such insults cut deep in an African country, and Mwanawasa was visibly shaken. But Mugabe wasn't quite finished. Trembling with rage, he stared balefully at the other members of SADC and told them that if any more pressure was put on him to resign he would withdraw Zimbabwe from the regional economic bloc.
Then he swept out of the room and caught a plane back to Harare eight hours ahead of schedule, leaving a roomful of shaken and silenced Southern Africa leaders.
Which gives us hope at last that those same leaders, who have previously supported Mugabe through thick and thin, will now come to realise the kind of man he really is.