What’s going on in Zimbabwe?  The war of words between ZANU and its opponents seems to be increasing in intensity.  Since re-discovering his backbone, Tsvangari seems to be determined to land more and more punches on ZANU and Mugabe.  Perhaps he thinks that it is best to get a few hits in first before the inevitable violent response.

Recently he has taken exception (rightly) to Mugabe’s appointees as Ambassadors and separately Governors.   He seems to have abandoned his earlier conciliatory tone and now – finally – seems to be speaking up for his constituency.  No doubt Tendai Biti is – at least in part – responsible for this.  Although part of Tsvangari’s strategy in playing the faithful Prime Minister to Mugabe’s Presidential Machiavelli was designed to re-assure ZANU that the MDC was not automatically a bad thing, he was probably also seeking to keep SADC on board in support of the Global Political Agreement (GPA).  But SADC seems to be wilfully looking the wrong way.  They are apparently blind to Mugabe’s excesses whilst careless of the corner in which Tsvangarai and his allies increasingly find themselves trapped.  Instead of working to ensure that elections are held in Zimbabwe which reflect the will of the many and not just the (elite) few, SADC seems to have rallied around a call to remove the restrictive measures placed on about 100 of Zimbabwe’s most prolific cleptocrats.

Previously, the focus of wider frustration was Thabo Mbeki, South Africa’s former President and SADC’s Zimbabwe mediator.  His strategy of quiet diplomacy was widely thought to have failed, but perhaps more accurately might be best accused of serving South African interests first and everyone else’s last or not at all (surely at least partly in the job description for a President of an independent state).  He has been replaced by his successor in the Union Buildings, Jacob Zuma, but the effect seems pretty much the same.  Zuma’s only major success on Zimbabwe was to win agreement amongst the Harare political elites for elections in 2011.  But now officials close to the election process in Zimbabwe say that the chances of successful elections being held in 2011 are slim.  Better, they seem to say to wait until 2012 – although what will be different then is not very clear.

What will it take to avoid the next round of credibility sapping political upheaval in Zimbabwe?  Probably not more words from outside Africa, but real pressure – that hurts – on SADC member states.  The trouble is that the EU is trying very hard not to upset the South Africans at the moment, and all the countries of the region have alternatives partners waiting to mark their cards and lead them to the dance floor.  So an increase in righteous indignation looks likely to matched by a decrease in any form of effective action.

Whilst ordinary Zimbabweans are preparing for a pre-election period (which already seems to have started) characterised by an increasing level of “sticks and stones”, perhaps the main problem is going to be that unlike in the much repeated rhyme, the words will hurt a great deal too.