On Saturday, two weeks to the day after they faced off in Zimbabwe's general election, President Robert Mugabe and opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai will confront each other once more at an emergency meeting of regional heads of government in Zambia.
Zambian President Levy Mwanawasa called a conference of the 14-nation Southern African Development Community (SADC) in the Zambian capital Lusaka to discuss the delay in the release of results in Zimbabwe's presidential race. Though Tsvangirai's Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) won a parliamentary majority in the March 29 vote, the Zimbabwe Election Commission (ZEC) has not released the official result in the presidential race. An independent survey places Tsvangirai well ahead in the vote, and the MDC itself claims an outright victory after 28 years of Mugabe's rule.
The delay is widely seen as a stalling tactic by Mugabe's Zanu-PF regime to give its "shock troops," government-allied mobs known as the "war veterans," to fan out across the country, seize land and intimidate voters in the event of an eventual presidential run-off. Tsvangirai told TIME this week that what was happening in Zimbabwe was a "de facto military coup." Government spokesman Bright Matonga has countered with no evidence to support his claims, however that the veterans are trying to resist a program of land seizures by white farmers crossing into Zimbabwe from South Africa.
Mugabe's Zanu-PF have demanded a recount even though the official result hasn't been released. Meanwhile, an opposition attempt to force the High Court to order the release of the results has so far served only to give the commission further grounds for delay. "The question of the results of the presidential election is now the subject of legal proceedings in the High Court," the ZEC said in a statement cited by the state-run Herald newspaper Friday. "Pending determination by that court, and in line with established rules of court, norms and procedures, the commission is unable to comment on this subject."
In the past, Mugabe has found support and empathy from neighboring states in the SADC. Many southern African leaders, such as South African President Thabo Mbeki, are his peers in the African liberation movement. Others, such as Angolan President Jose Eduardo dos Santos, have ruled just as undemocratically, and for just as long. In interview, Tsvangirai told TIME that his talks with SADC leaders had suggested Mugabe's support was evaporating. "Everyone realizes he is a cheat," he said.
Nevertheless, no SADC leader has yet joined the worldwide chorus of condemnation of Mugabe nor echoed accusations that he is attempting to steal the vote. There is little expectation that the organization will reverse its stand on Mugabe this time around, not least because SADC often bridles at any kind of outside intervention; and Mugabe blames sanctions and persistent imperial ambitions of white foreigners for his country's economic woes. Certainly someone has a lot to answer for: the former British colony now has a six-figure annual inflation rate, unemployment is 80%, and average life expectancy stands at 37 years.