When news agency reports flashed pictures of Robert Mugabe and Tsvangirai, the rival Zimbabwean political leaders in a handshake, it was an event of seismic proportions as this was the first time the two men had been in the same space for more than ten years.
It is good that Thabo Mbeki sat between them because Mr. Mugabe would have had his rival arrested or worse, if they had been alone.
If I had not seen television pictures of the event I would not have believed it. The two men had met to sign a memorandum of understanding for talks aimed at ending Zimbabwe's nightmarish political crisis.
The deal was immediately hailed as a good thing by the African Union and the usual suspects.
The main beneficiary of the deal was not Tsvangirai or even Mugabe but Thabo Mbeki, the apostle of "quiet diplomacy" who had taken the flak for Nero-ishly doing nothing while Zimbabwe literally burned.
While the picture of Mugabe and Tsvangirai shaking hands is truly historic in the literal sense, its importance for the development of democracy and human rights in Zimbabwe is not as simple as the optimists are making it out to be.
Indeed, on the wider African perspective, that picture spells a definite backward march for Africa's search for democracy and good governance. One can understand why the "do nothing" brigade of the African Union would hail this as progress.
The AU, which was supposed to usher in a new Africa by departing from the old back-scratching old boys club camaraderie of the OAU, has reverted to type except that like an alcoholic in remission, the old habit is now stronger than ever.
To put it bluntly, I think that the talks towards possible power-sharing in Zimbabwe is a disgraceful attempt to regularise a coup d'etat and the poor MDC opposition has been railroaded into going along with it.
You can't blame the opposition for going along with this charade because the only alternative is more intimidation, beatings, and even death of its supporters. On the face of it, we all have to applaud these talks that are designed to bring the violence to an end and perhaps restore sanity and common human decency to Zimbabwe.
On that score, it appears churlish to cavil at what some would say is a minor and theoretical detail about democracy. But it is not that simple.
Perhaps, I need to set out my case in the simplest terms. Zimbabweans went to the polls on March 29 this year. Before the election, Mr Mugabe's ZANU PF tried to intimidate the voters into voting for them; Mugabe even stated that the opposition would not be allowed to take office even if they won the elections. Within three days of the general elections the results of the parliamentary vote were published. It showed that the opposition MDC would be the biggest single party in Parliament.
Then the long wait for the presidential poll results started. The whole world waited. And waited. And waited.
It would be six weeks before the "results" would be declared. We may never know what happened during the six lost weeks but we must all feel free to speculate. According to some credible sources, the Zimbabwe military high command offered to stage a coup in order to prevent the MDC from talking power while Mugabe leant heavily on the election officials to bend the results.
After an apparently interminable wait the results came, and lo and behold, showed that although the MDC had beaten the highly fancied Mugabe machine to second place, there was still the need for a second vote because the opposition had fallen short of the fifty per cent required for outright victory.
In the meantime, ZANU PF militia and state security forces set upon opposition members in a manner showed that the second round of the presidential election would not only be a farce but would be fatally dangerous for the opposition.
The MDC withdrew from the election which Mugabe went on to "win". A day after this shameful joke he was sworn in as President.
Now, installed as "President", Mr. Mugabe is willing to talk to the opposition and possibly share power with them.
Now, rewind to January 2008, this time in Kenya , President Mwai Kibaki and his main rival Raila Odinga squared off in the presidential poll in late December last year. Early results showed that the President was losing badly to his rival. So what happened next?
Of course, the results stopped coming out except for a few parliamentary results. In the end the electoral authority was forced to declare Mr Kibaki the winner. This led to widespread rioting across the nation in which hundreds of people lost their lives while hundreds of thousands lost their property or were displaced.
The fallout still continues to affect millions of Kenyans. Eventually, after negotiations moderated by Kofi Annan, the two rivals agreed to share power with Raila serving in the newly minted position of Prime Minister while Kibaki continues as President.
In both Kenya and Zimbabwe, a compromise is being elevated into a democratic principle and may become a dominant format in Africa. This is dangerous.
As we all know, African leaders want to rule for life. Last week, there were reports that Uganda's Yoweri Museveni is plotting to go for yet another term in office. The man has been head of state since January 1986, a total of 22 years now. One would have thought that his most creative presidential years were behind him.
So, given the huge temptation for African presidents to go on for life, what stops all of them from adopting the Kibaki-Mugabe model of democracy since it is becoming a tried and tested method of staying in power.
After all, the seven-step pattern to election stealing is clear:
Step 1: Organise the elections, even with observers present
Step 2: Arrest the electoral commissioner or take him to a long dinner just to delay the results
Step 3: Intimidate the opposition, if possible arrest your main rival
Step 4: Cajole the Chief Justice to swear you in or swear yourself in, if push comes to shove
Step 5: Attend AU Summit where you are hailed by fellow presidents-for-life
Step 6: Agree to negotiate and shake hands with your rival
Step 7: Share power as the senior partner
Perhaps we should take heart. The Roman Scholar, Pliny the Elder said famously that Ex “Africa semper aliquid novi" - There is always something new out of Africa.
This could be Africa's novel contribution to the development of democracy in the world. But it makes you wonder why people even bother to vote in some countries.