South African President Thabo Mbeki's attempt to blame Britain for Zimbabwe's problems may convince leaders at the Southern African Development Community's (SADC) summit in Lusaka today. But it is unlikely to bring a peaceful resolution of the country's crisis any closer -- and is certain to deepen misgivings about perceived anti-Western tendencies in South Africa's international outlook.
The SADC asked Mbeki to mediate between Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe's Zanu-PF party and the opposition Movement for Democratic Change after a brutal crackdown on government critics, including the beating of MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai, caused international repulsion earlier this year.
But regional analysts say that despite claims to the contrary, Mbeki has made little progress in bridging the gulf between the two sides.
"He will put the best shine of his efforts, which are in all probability failing miserably, and that will suit the SADC because they don't want to do anything anyway," one observer said.
According to leaks to South African media, Mbeki's report backs Mugabe's claims that British-orchestrated sanctions are the principal cause of Zimbabwe's woes, including hyperinflation and accelerating economic meltdown, and that the government is effectively the target of a "regime change" plot hatched in London with US backing.
The Mbeki report says "the most worrisome thing is that the UK continues to deny its role as the principal protagonist in the Zimbabwean issue."
Britain harbored a "death wish" against the Mugabe government, it said.
Defending his policy of farm seizures, draconian price controls and nationalization of foreign-owned companies this week, Mugabe rehearsed the theme.
"If indeed we are a sovereign independent nation, we see no reason whatever why our empowerment programs should encounter undeserved opposition as comes from Britain regularly," he said. "Economic saboteurs do not have a place in Zimbabwe."
Britain denies trying to overthrow Mugabe, although it has made no secret of its hope to see a new leader in Harare. Yet while Mugabe's position is well-known in London, Mbeki's apparently anti-colonialist arguments and buck-passing will cause particular alarm in Washington.
The US until now has accepted South Africa's contention that "quiet diplomacy" is the way forward with Zimbabwe. Mbeki's failure to deliver is being set alongside a series of other foreign policy positions adopted by the government that run contrary to wider US and Western interests.
According to the New Republic magazine's James Kirchick, these include recent, friendly contacts between South Africa's intelligence minister and Ismail Haniyeh, the Hamas leader; support of Iran's nuclear program; and defending Sudan and Myanmar against proposed UN sanctions.
Mbeki and colleagues were the willing heirs to an "anti-imperialist intellectual tradition heroically opposed to the Western democracies," Kirchick said in the Los Angeles Times.
Western intelligence agencies fret privately about South Africa's alleged reluctance to help track Islamist extremists and suspect funds. According to one regional analyst, such hostile outside assessments fail to appreciate the driving force in sub-Saharan politics: the insistence on African sovereignty, which Mugabe exploits.
All the same, this week's expected failure to tackle the crisis will increase talk of rasher remedies.