PRIME Minister Morgan Tsvangirai's Movement for Democratic Change (MDC-T) party faces a difficult task in marshalling support from regional political parties after several liberation movements stepped forward over the weekend to support President Robert Mugabe and his ZANU-PF party.
These include Mozambique's FRELIMO, Angola's MPLA, the Botswana Democratic Party and Tanzania's Chama Cha Mapinduzi whose representatives took turns to read out solidarity messages in support of ZANU-PF at the party's just-ended conference.
South Africa's Gwede Mantashe, the secretary-general of the African National Congress (ANC), set the tone for the seismic shift, describing the ties between the two liberation movement parties as "special" and offered to help ZANU-PF come up with "strategies" to win the next elections.
Elections in Zimbabwe are mooted for next year, and ZANU-PF resolved at its 12th annual people's conference in Bulawayo to end the "patch-worked" two-year-old unity government with the MDC factions.
Now, political observers are split over what the effect of Mantashe's comments would be for the MDC-T.
On the one hand, observers feel that given South Africa's mediation role in Zimbabwe's political crisis, Mantashe's comments may stoke up anew the prevailing perception in political circles of the ANC's bias towards ZANU-PF and fuel the attitude of suspicion towards the MDC-T -- already viewed as a Western-sponsored puppet party while others waiver off the MDC-T's cry of foul.
This perception of the MDC-T by South Africa's ruling party is a long-time held view and Tsva-ngirai has linked it in his biography, At The Deep End as the reason why the MDC-T came in as a junior partner in the February 2009 Gove-rnment of National Unity, brokered by former South African president, Thabo Mbeki.
Should Mantashe's comments signal the change of direction at Luthuli House, the ANC's headquarters, effectively the MDC-T would be isolated and its nominal gains scored this year likely to be reversed.
These include; the unusually tough stance adopted by South African President Jacob Zuma on President Robert Mugabe and his ZANU-PF party, who were fingered to have been responsible for a wave of political arrests, violence and crackdowns earlier this year against opposition members.
Asked to comment on the looming political isolation, Tabitha Khumalo, the MDC-T deputy national spokesperson said, "We are still waiting for the national leadership to come up with a position on the matter and we will advise accordingly".
But an off-the-record briefing to The Financial Gazette this week by a member of the MDC-T's national executive council revealed that the party had been rattled by the sharp turn of events, publicly in favour of ZANU-PF.
"It's in bad taste, how can the ANC utter such statements slanted towards their comrades and think that it won't affect the mediation process. That's just incredulous", said the senior MDC-T official who requested anonymity.
Rugare Gumbo, the ZANU-PF spoke-sperson, waived off the MDC-T's concerns and said, "There is no compromise on the part of President Zuma facilitating in Zimbabwe just because the ANC endorsed President Mugabe. The ANC and ZANU-PF share historical ties and the relationship that the two parties have are a very special one. The threat of neo-colonialism is strong in the region and it's good to have sister parties coming out to defend with us the liberation gains".
Gumbo also revealed that ZANU-PF had received an invitation to attend the ANC's 100th celebrations set for January next year, and its leadership was putting together a delegation that would be sent to South Africa.
Mantashe's statement came as a shocker against the background that on his last visit to Harare he had accused ZANU-PF of influencing suspended ANC Youth League leader, Julius Malema.
At government level Zuma, as a mediator in the Zimbabwean crisis, has not been soft on President Mugabe, unlike Mbeki who used "quiet diplomacy".
Some politicians within ZANU-PF, such as Jonathan Moyo, have in the past criticised and even insulted Zuma's mediation team.
On the other hand, Prime Minister Tsvangirai has been struggling to get South African Heads of State to support him in his efforts to co-govern Zimbabwe.
Tsvangirai failed to get former president Nelson Mandela's attention, and Mbeki was also not forthcoming. But Zuma has so far been balanced in his role as mediator. Exiled Zimbabwean, Everisto Kamera, wrote on his Facebook account in London: "I am shocked, perturbed, mystified and indeed gobsmacked by Gwede Mantashe's insinuation in a statement at the just-ended ZANU-PF conference in Bulawayo".
"I can't fathom the intended message in his statement. If my memory serves me right, it was Gwede himself who recently accused ZANU-PF of mentoring one Julius Malema but is today embracing the same Malema mentors? Is he suggesting that ANC intends to teach ZANU-PF to cleanly win elections or he is saying his party would want to see ZANU-PF winning? Someone help, I am confused and lost".
He added: 'Gwede owes it to Zimbabweans to explain in 'street lingo' what he actually meant otherwise a motion to recuse Zuma from being the mediator should be lodged urgently with the SADC."
But others like political analyst, Pedzisai Ruhanya, said he believes ZANU-PF will reject the offer.
Speaking from Copenhagen, Denmark political commentator, Munjonzi Mutandiri, said as a fellow former liberation movement, the ANC's offer to ZANU-PF did not surprise him at all. -- Additional reporting by SW Radio