Southern African leaders announced an emergency summit to discuss the Zimbabwe crisis today as Jacob Zuma, the president of South Africa's ruling party, broke ranks with President Thabo Mbeki and issued his country's toughest criticism to date of Robert Mugabe.
Mr Mbeki has remained silent on Zimbabwe, despite having powerful leverage over President Mugabe because of Zimbabwe's economic dependency on South Africa. But Mr Zuma said Zimbabwe's elections were now totally "discredited". A defiant Mr Mugabe has pledged to proceed with the run-off presidential vote on Friday.
Mr Zuma's African National Congress said it was "deeply dismayed by the actions of the government of Zimbabwe, which is riding roughshod over the hard-won democratic rights of the people of that country.
"As democrats, the ANC cannot be indifferent to the flagrant violation of every principle of democratic governance."
The statement was in sharp contrast to Mr Mbeki's silence on Zimbabwe, where a campaign of terror orchestrated by Mr Mugabe prompted the opposition leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, to pull out of the election. And it marked a break between the two movements which were once close allies in the struggle against white rule in southern Africa.
Mr Mugabe's opponents made a threat last night to campaign for a boycott of the 2010 football World Cup, to be hosted by South Africa, in protest at Mr Mbeki's support for "tyranny".
It was not clear whether Mr Mbeki will attend today's Southern African Development Community (SADC) summit in Swaziland, even though he is the mediator on Zimbabwe for the 14-nation group.
It comes as international attention is focused on the reaction of African leaders, after the UN Security Council – including South Africa – issued an unprecedented and unanimous condemnation of the violence on Monday night.
Mr Zuma called for urgent intervention by the UN and SADC, saying the situation in Zimbabwe was out of control. But he did not explain what he had in mind. British officials have denied that there are any plans for armed intervention by outside powers.
The SADC chairman, Zambia's President Levy Mwanawasa, has clashed with Mr Mbeki over his mediation of the crisis. He complained this week that President Mbeki was not keeping him informed of the process and he had to rely on his own intelligence reports for information. This was after Mr Mbeki visited Mr Mugabe last week. The Zambian leader, who has been one of the African leaders to speak out against Mr Mugabe, said he had tried to contact Mr Mbeki but the latter had not returned his calls.
Violence continued to ravage Zimbabwe as Mr Mugabe's thugs kept up the electoral violence despite the withdrawal from the contest of Mr Tsvangirai, leader of the Movement for Democratic Change.
A close Tsvangirai ally, Lovemore Madhuku, chairman of the civic group, the National Constitutional Assembly, became the latest victim of the violence when militias invaded his rural home in remote Chipinge and tear-gassed villagers in their huts before burning down nearly a dozen of the homes.
Mr Madhuku said his brother, Claris, had been arrested and was being held in custody without charge. Dozens of villagers had been heavily beaten.
Yesterday morning, the family of the MDC's national organising secretary, Elias Mudzuri, was attacked by men in military uniform in in Zaka, in Masvingo province.
Other reports of violence were being reported from across the country. "Their strategy is clear. They want to destroy the MDC forever," said Mr Madhuku.
Mr Tsvangirai sought guarantees for his safety. He is in the Dutch embassy where he had fled after a tip-off that the army was going to arrest him at his home on Sunday. He held talks at the embassy yesterday with two of President Mbeki's envoys, the South African Local Government Minister Sydney Mufamadi and legal adviser Mojanku Gumbi.
Mr Mbeki has been pushing for a government of national unity and wants Mr Tsvangirai and President Mugabe to meet to discuss the details. However Mr Mbeki failed to have the run-off cancelled, and a senior South African government official said South Africa was resigned to the fact that the election would proceed. A unity government could be discussed only after the run-off, the source said.
Mr Mugabe for the first time publicly stated that he was ready to open discussions with the MDC but only after the run-off. He told party supporters that he could not cancel the election now because it was a legal requirement.
It is thought that Mr Mugabe wants to be declared winner of the run-off so that he can enter any talks from a position of strength. But the fact that he will now be the only contender is likely to make any negotiations very difficult and a unity government impossible.
Mr Tsvangirai told reporters the Dutch had allowed him to remain in the embassy for as long as he needed. "I am not being chased away and my hosts have said I can stay for as long as I don't feel it's safe to leave," he said. But Mr Mugabe denied that Mr Tsvangirai was in danger. "Tsvangirai is frightened. He has run to seek refuge at the Dutch embassy. What for? These are voters, they will do you no harm. Political harm, yes, because they will vote against you. No one wants to kill Tsvangirai."
On the blogs: the mood inside Zimbabwe
Morgan Morgan Morgan. You only had five days to go. No doubt Mugabe and his cronies are out celebrating right now, all the violence and intimidation has paid off. Morgan you had to press on regardless there was a reason why people were voting for you – they want change. But to pull out so close to the finish line is absurd. You are letting people down.
Bev Clark on Kubatana.net
The MDC needs to immediately set down some demands to test the political will of our neighbours and international supporters. Let's start by asking South Africa to impose full sanctions, both economic and travel, on Zimbabwe, sending Mugabe a very clear message that enough is enough.
Shumba on Sokwanele.com
Well it looks as if the toothless tiger [the UN] meows again. Action will only be taken when the whole country is awash with blood.
James Hall on Kubatana.net
I think Morgan has been battered in to submission and did not have the courage of his convictions. Why would he be prepared to negotiate a deal with someone he considers a monster? What deal will they come up with?... Could he not have participated in this election under protest?
Timba on Sokwanele.com
Mbeki's legacy is entirely tied to the 2010 World Cup. He doesn't have anything else to show for his presidency. By organising a grassroots threat of boycott of the World Cup, we might finally be able to see some action.