How it feels to negotiate with Mugabe
An insight into the oppressive atmosphere of the power-sharing talks
The world has seen that the latest international effort to resolve the power sharing impasse in Zimbabwe - the Johannesburg meeting of the leaders from the Southern African Development Community (SADC) - has ended in confusion once again.
Now a source who sat in on this tumultuous conferenceshas described to me exactly what it's like to try and persuade Robert Mugabe and his Zanu-PF lieutenants to see reason. He says the sessions were uniformly noisy, quarrelsome, and even scary.
Things began well. South African President Kgalema Motlanthe didn't pull his punches. He spoke firmly to the three Zimbabwean principals: Mugabe, Morgan Tsvangirai, leader of the MDC, and Arthur Mutambara, leader of the breakaway MDC faction.
"You have to think of your people, not yourselves, and therefore your negotiations should be for their good, not about you getting power," he told them.
All well and good. Then Tsvangirai made his opening presentation, saying that Mugabe should not be allowed to cling on to the powerful ministries in a new government, because he had lost the presidential election, and was therefore President in name only.
At this, according to my source, Mugabe went ballistic. "You did not win the election, no you didn't," he bellowed. "You are a liar!"
Some of the SADC leaders tried to intervene, but Mugabe shouted them down. "He did not win those elections. This is just a Western machination. He is a western puppet... I cannot allow him into my government."
My source says that at this point he would have expected firm words in opposition to the President and his rantings from Botswana and Zambia, who have both been critical of Mugabe's rule. But neither of the leaders of these countries was present. And the others seemed cowed, afraid that any criticism of Mugabe would be deemed to be in some way anti-African.
Meanwhile Mugabe raged on. "I am president of the country... I am the one who decides what he gets, not him. We are not equals in this. As President, I am in charge."
In the end, the humiliated and intimidated SADC leaders came up with the suggestion that Zanu-PF and the MDC should share the disputed Home Affairs ministry - an idea so ludicrously unworkable that Tsvangirai dismissed it out of hand.
So what now? Mugabe is threatening to form a government in the very near future, whether anyone else likes it or not. Arrogantly, he has demanded that Tsvangirai submit of list of the men and ministries he wants, for Presidential approval. Tsvangirai, too long in the tooth to play that game, has pointed out that in a government of national unity Mugabe must also submit a list to him, for his approval.
MDC leaders meet on Friday to consider what to do next. But it was perhaps the party's spokesman, Nelson Chamisa, who summed up the future most succinctly.
"Zanu-PF is on the warpath," he said. "Now we have rejected the carrot, the next thing will be a very very big stick."