With all due respect to Thabo Mbeki, who seems to have been the one elected by the Dar es Salaam summit to hold the bag full of Mugabe's garbage, it almost seems has if that whole convention of southern African leaders had been designed with the Chutzpah of the Week Award in mind. The lead paragraphs from today's First Post say it all:
The images of a grinning Robert Mugabe at yesterday's Dar es Salaam summit said it all: the other southern African leaders did not deliver the expected rebuke. All they came up with was that Thabo Mbeke of South Africa should try to mediate some sort of peace between Mugabe and his opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC). It's a tall order.
In the 48 hours before Mugabe left for Tanzania, the crackdown on the MDC intensified. The police picked up dozens of party members, including leader Morgan Tszangirai, taken at gunpoint from his HQ.
Another senior MDC member, Last Maengahama, was abducted by gunmen - assumed to be contracted by Mugabe's secret police, the COI - and dumped on farmland outside Harare after being severely beaten.
However, real chutzpah tends to involve more than waffling in the face of a need for substantive action. So this week's Award really ought to go to Mugabe himself, not so much for that grin as for the spin he managed to put on the whole episode after he returned to Zimbabwe. Here is the lead from the account Al Jazeera English prepared from their wire sources:
Robert Mugabe, the Zimbabwean president, has said that he acknowledged to his fellow African leaders that Morgan Tsvangirai, the opposition leader, had been assaulted, but added he deserved it.
Mugabe also made a rare acknowledgement of divisions within his governing ZANU-PF party on Friday, warning critics to keep their disagreements in-house.
Mugabe told supporters the day after returning from a regional summit in Tanzania: "Yes, I told them he was beaten but he asked for it.
"We got full backing, not even one criticised our actions," the president said.
"There is no country in SADC (the Southern African Development Community) that can stand up and say Zimbabwe has faulted. SADC does not do that, it is not a court but an organisation of 14 countries that co-operates with each other and supports each other."
This is not making lemonade from lemons. This is making Jonestown-style Kool-Aid and then claiming it was made from real fruit! The only greater act of chutzpah would be compelling Mbeki to drink that Kool-Aid!
By way of a post script, I should note that, while I was writing the above text, MacDonald Dzirutwe was filing a report from Harare for Reuters. There were a couple of items in this report that reinforced the decision behind this week's award. Most important is that Mugabe used the occasion of his return from Tanzania to start rallying support for running for another term of office in 2008. The other was another Mugabe quote in the spirit of the one reported by Al Jazeera English:
Of course he was bashed. But he and his MDC must stop their terrorist activists. We are saying to him. "Stop it now or you will regret it."