Despite SADC?s lack of public criticism last week of Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe, one analyst says African leaders probably talked tough in private meetings. Chris Maroleng is a senior researcher with South Africa?s Institute for Security Studies. From Pretoria, he spoke to VOA English to Africa Service reporter Joe De Capua about the SADC meeting.

?I think that?even though the communiqué from the Southern African Development Community (SADC) seemed to come short of criticizing President Robert Mugabe openly, none of the analysis that I was aware of gave the impression that the Southern African Development Community was poised to public criticize President Robert Mugabe. However, we are also reliably informed that behind closed doors that there was robust debate and a clear indication to President Mugabe that his misbehavior in terms of his abuse of opposition political activists and civil society activists, was unacceptable. And that President Mugabe would be advised to prepare for elections in 2008,? he says.

Maroleng says that means following SADC guidelines to ensure the elections are free and fair. He also thinks it?s significant that South African President Thabo Mbeki was chosen as a mediator to help open a dialogue between the opposition MDC (Movement for Democratic Change) factions and the ruling ZANU-PF Party.

Asked about Mbeki?s ability to mediate in the current political atmosphere, the analyst says, ?There have been questions raised about (Mbeki?s) acceptability by the opposition, who have raised questions whether he?ll be able to do this since he has failed in the past to steer Robert Mugabe onto a course that would lead to an opening up of democratic space in that country. But more importantly, I think the Movement for Democratic Change has criticized President Mbeki on the basis that they believe him to be partisan in favor of ZANU-PF. However, in my opinion I think President Mbeki of South Africa is still well placed to provide some kind of mediation, mainly due to the fact that he seems to be acceptable more importantly to President Mugabe and ZANU-PF.?

Maroleng says he expects Mugabe to seek re-election next year and win a landslide victory, in part because of the divisions among the opposition.