More disturbing is the fact that this misplaced hope also exposes fundamental flaws in the South African government's understanding and approach not only to the crises in that country, but also to how the democratic process needs to be deepened and who should be at the centre of change there.
Since their defeat in the elections preceding this Friday's sham presidential runoff vote, Robert Mugabe and the ruling Zanu (PF) have simply reverted to type. A systematic campaign of terror and torture has all but reversed the gains that were the unintended consequences of electoral reforms ushered in as part of measures that the Southern African Development Community (SADC) put in place to ensure a degree of respectability in a deeply flawed electoral process.
As matters stand in Zimbabwe, it is clear that any semblance of a democratic process to determine who governs that country has been perverted. The decision on the part of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) to withdraw from the runoff hardly comes as a surprise and rips the carpet from under those who still wrongly argue for some sort of government of national unity.
It is instructive to note the language used by the South Africans involved in the behind-the-scenes maneuvering. Mbeki, who met both Mugabe and Morgan Tsvangirai last week, said: "From our point of view the leadership of Zimbabwe should get together and find a solution to the challenges that face Zimbabwe." On the face of things, there can be nothing wrong with this statement. But it ignores that it is the Zimbabwean people, and not its political leadership, who should be at the centre of the process.
The distinction between the political leadership and the people broadly is not simply an academic point or a matter of semantics. Especially not when one unpacks the historical context of Zimbabwe's liberation from colonialism and its struggle to rid itself of a kleptocracy headed by a former liberation movement that has turned on its own people.
The Zimbabwean people have spoken through the ballot more than once. Each time their message was clear. Which is why the South African government's insistence on some sort of government of national unity between Zanu (PF) and the MDC is misplaced and out of step with the democratic decisions taken by the Zimbabweans themselves.
Yet Mbeki and his advisers continue to press the case for Zanu (PF)'s inclusion in a future government. No wonder Mugabe believes only God can remove him from power. This twisted logic is no doubt informed by Mbeki and Mugabe's shared notion of vanguardist and forced hegemony and their belief that leaders are anointed, rather than elected. In truth, Mugabe and Zanu (PF) have long lost the right to be called liberator or liberation movement.
In April this year, the South African Communist Party succinctly described what ails Zimbabwe in its publication, Umsebenzi Online: "The principal cause of the deteriorating situation in Zimbabwe is that of a degenerating national liberation movement, which once fought a heroic struggle, but is now paying the price of being trapped in state power that is not buttressed by the people's will." The party went on to say that it was important that SA and SADC "do not pander to the whims of the Zimbabwean elites", and should allow the realisation of democratic aspirations of the poor people of Zimbabwe. Failure would set a bad precedent for the SADC region, if not Africa as a whole.
As the continent and the rest of the world holds its collective breath in anticipation of what happens in Zimbabwe next, Mbeki and his advisers would do well to note that unless the Zimbabwean people are instrumental in the reshaping of Zimbabwe's political and economic future, democracy in Zimbabwe will only end up being shortchanged. We dare not let that happen.