News that the MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai - who on any legitimate basis should already be running Zimbabwe - has felt obliged to withdraw from this week's election in the face of the most appalling campaign of intimidation by Zanu-PF is an indictment not just of Robert Mugabe and his henchmen, but of his closest comrade Thabo Mbeki as well.
That Mbeki has failed to persuade his friend to run a free and fair election shows the utter bankruptcy of his policy of silent engagement. And his failure is not only likely to result in renewed misery for millions of Zimbabweans, but also for his own countrymen who face the prospect of a further influx of refugees from Mugabe's tyranny.
The time has come for Southern African countries to act (preferably with some support from the United Nations, though few would hold their breath waiting for it). If that means Mbeki persuading Mugabe that he can leave now that he has "won", so be it. At least his friendship might do the country a favour. But inaction can surely no longer be an option. Which means that South Africa must show leadership in supporting the Zimbabwean people in their time of need.