Ok, let's not get excited and see only what we want to see. The South African government, like a scolding parent, has come out with the strongest statement yet on Zimbabwe from Tshwane. It is perhaps the end of quiet diplomacy?
You will notice that the statement did not mention a single name. Like President Montlathe's opening address at the ill-fated SADC summit a week ago, the statement danced around the two main figures in this political tragedy.
At the SADC Summit, the president of South Africa urged Zimbabwe's political leaders to "show maturity" and put the interest of the people first. Behind closed, he is said to have been more scathing, saying that true leaders of their people should not throw tantrums if they did not get what they wanted. Apartheid would not have ended if that approach had been taken in South Africa. Who was he talking about? Or to?
You see the point? Then the statement that came from the South African cabinet on Wednesday suspending aid to Zimbabwe until the next planting season: it laments the suffering of the people of Zimbabwe as it acknowledges that its own limited healthcare system is coming under additional strain from all the Zimbabweans taking their cholera across the border into Limpopo province to be treated. So, a bit of self interest, then. And this is guaranteed to raise the heckles of any nation.
The South Africans' displeasure can be measured by the fact that they chose not to hand over their US30 million dollar agricultural assistance package to Mugabe's illegal ministers. Doing so could have been defensible on humanitarian grounds, but would have been hard to justify on moral and even-handed grounds. If they had released the seed, fertiliser and other requirements, it would have been clearly a case of propping up Mugabe. The Zimbabwean president himself would have been the first to consider this a form of blessing to go ahead and form a minority government without waiting for the MDC to make up its mind about participation.
It would also have upset the MDC, not because they do not understand the suffering of the people and the importance of a good harvest to set this country back on the straight and narrow. Rather, they would be upset because it was not they who asked for the package. It was a carrot dangled by Mbeki, knowing as he does Mugabe's obessesion with getting just one bumper harvest before he turns his back on power. It is the one vindication he longs for to finally prove that he did right by the land reform programme and was only disturbed by the inconvenient sanctions of Perfidious Albion. The MDC have no appetite for giving Mugabe that satisfaction.
At the same time, though, the South Africans are also wondering at the cavalier and even insulting conduct of the MDC and especially its leader, Morgan Tsvangirai.
At a time of crisis such as this, any president or national leader would cancel all leave, batten down the hatches and marshal his army of advisers and fixers to quickly rid the country of a cancer. Yet Tsvangirai goes straight into Europe after having undiplomatically told the SADC leaders that they "have no decency". Meantime, a country is burning, cholera runs amok, AIDS patient expire, not from want of money, but from lack of access to that money in order to buy drugs. The shops continue to empty and inflation has reduced all but a handful of people into dealers or into penury.
Even if the pretext for the European trip was to ask for aid and stop more sanctions, this could easily have been done from home. There are ambassadors here who carry word back and forth in little things called diplomatic bags. How is this different to Mugabe's insensitive, ill-advised jaunt to the United Nations days after the agreement was signed and with the whole country waiting with bated nreath for a government to be formed and their suffering at least lessened as a result? How is it different?
We should have seen both Mugabe and Tsvangirai within our borders trying their darnest to break this impasse, burning the midnight oil to find a middle ground. But Mugabe thinks Tsvangirai wants to bring a Trojan Horse into government, hijack the Ministry of Home Affairs to facilitate the arming and border crossing of his militia and launch an armed bid for power from within the corridors of State House. So Home Affairs must be kept an eye on by ZANU PF, he decides. Tsvangirai thinks Mugabe is up to his old tricks and wants to pull a fast one on him, enticing him into government only to use his international goodwill and then making life so much hell for the MDC in government after that they will pull out and leave Mugabe to cling on to power, enjoying the benefits of Tsvangirai's hard work.
The South Africans are not stupid. This is why, after the June run-off and the talks looked as though they were faltering, the Human Sciences Research Council, a respected body in South Africs, came out with a statement urging sanctions on both Tsvangirai and Mugabe to force them to the negotiating table. They possibly wanted to avoid something like this, a situation where, if the leaders were allowed to travel freely all over the world, they would abandon the very people they are trying to save and go off to hobnob with the jetset of international diplomacy in the West.
Even as the crisis raged, Mugabe flew off to the UN, amidst catcalls from the international community and journalists. These should equally be heard in the case of Tsvangirai. Both these men are wasting the people's time. The blood of countless victims of cholera is on their hands.
The truth of the matter is that SADC is fed up with both Mugabe and Tsvangirai and the people of Zimbabwe do themselves no favours by adopting whatever hardline attitudes their respective political leaders take on matters to do with this power-sharing deal. They would only be shooting themselves in the foot, because if we fail this time, then God help us. More and more of us will die and Mugabe will simply remain in his seat pointing to the West and blaming their "sanctions" for the death of Zimbabweans, But he will not resign or allow Morgan Tsvangirai anywhere near real power. We would have done it to ourselves. Reason must surely prevail, but it starts with the silent majority who want these talks to end in success speaking out. Loud. Clear. That time is now. Tomorrow will almost certainly be too late.