Is SADC about to speak at last?
Why Mugabe's neighbours may finally turn on their troublesome friend
The deafening silence emanating from the other nearby nations while the farce of the Zimbabwe election has developed may be about to break, with a meeting in Lusaka, Zambia, this Saturday of the members of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) in Zambia.
The call for the meeting came from the unlikely figure of the President of Zambia, Levy Mwanawasa. Mwanawasa is the current president of SADC, and shares a long border with Mugabe, including the spectacular Victoria Falls,
Traditionally, SADC members have supported Mugabe, often giving him standing ovations when he turns up at meetings. But many are now believed to have realised that his conduct reflects badly on them, on the international stage.
Others, including South Africa in particular, feel they cannnot continue to cope with the ever-increasing flood of refugees spilling over the border to escape the poverty and persecution that is a fact of ordinary life in Zimbabwe.
Up to now Mwanawasa, a large and ungainly figure who lacks charisma but has nevertheless led his country for nearly two presidential terms with relative success, is virtually the only SADC head of state to criticise Mugabe, when last year he described Zimbabwe as a "sinking Titanic".
Will more presidents take this opportunity on Saturday finally to utter some criticism of the Zimbabwe situation? That may entirely depend on one factor, and it is this:
Will Robert Mugabe himself turn up at the meeting? If he doesn't, there may be criticism of his regime implied, if not actually spoken. If he does, his presence as a dignified elder statesman and acknowledged hero of the struggle against colonialism, may be enough to silence the other leaders, even now.
Meanwhile the impasse in Zimbabwe itself continues, as the struggle for dominance between Zanu-PF and the opposition MDC is waged on a number of fronts.
Yesterday I was given the list of top Zimbabwe defence force officers who have been assigned to lead the Zanu-PF assault troops - war veterans, militias, and the youthful but ruthless Green Bombers - in the drive to intimidate voters in the event of a run-off poll for the presidency.
It numbers an incredible 200, with Colonels jostling with Brigadiers, Majors, Lieutenant Colonels, Major Generals, and even one rather lonely Squadron Leader. The multitude of ranks may look amusing. Their efforts, which have already resulted in recorded incidents of violence throughout the country, are not.
On a more peaceful front, the MDC have produced what they say is a faked document, purporting to emanate from their headquarters, and "signed" by Secretary-General Tendai Biti. The document talks of the successful bribery of ZEC officials and others at polling stations, and also of preparations for the swearing in of President Tsvangirai.
It says: "Our British friends have already taken the President, his wife and the rest of the first family through a crash course on ethics, etiquette and basic protocol."
Biti has denounced the document as a palpable fake, a product of the Zanu-PF dirty tricks department, designed to "steal our dignity".
The clearest sign of all that's it's bogus comes in the following lines: "Our international partners also continue to send us their assurances that they will guarantee our assumption of power, including with force of arms if need be."
This remark is beyond parody. Anyone who believes that the US cavalry or some other foreign force are going to come galloping over the horizon to our aid is sadly deluded.
Meanwhile, if you're still expecting the results of the presidential election to be announced, you will have to wait until Monday. Judge Tendai Uchena has postponed any decision until then, taking the weekend to deliberate on submissions by both the MDC and the ZEC.
I want to mention one other rumour that persists here in Harare. This says that, despite the military involvement in the countrywide violence, as revealed in the 200-strong list, see above, the top army brass are actually pursuing another agenda entirely.
It is thought that a group of heavyweight military commanders and politburo chiefs, led by the brooding figure of retired general Solomon Mujuru, have presented to Mugabe a plan for a temporary sharing of power in Zimbabwe, under a government of national unity.
The plan would entail Mugabe remaining president for six months, with Tsvangirai as vice president and Simba Makoni, the Zanu-PF rebel candidate, as prime minister. Eventually Tsvangirai would take over the top job, with Mugabe moving into graceful retirement.
Anyone know any more?