As the South African Foreign Minister, Alfred Nzo, warned that the Rwandan- backed rebellion had brought sub-Saharan Africa to "the brink of an unprecedented military conflict", President Mandela rejected the promise of soldiers and equipment Mr Mugabe had made to President Laurent Kabila of Congo (formerly Zaire) on Wednesday.
Mr Mugabe has split the 14-nation Southern African Development Community, chaired by President Mandela, with his false claim that military intervention was coming with SADC's unanimous support.
President Mandela was lobbying SADC members hard to support a diplomatic, not a military solution. He and his deputy, Thabo Mbeki, held talks in Cape Town with Sam Nujoma, President of neighbouring Namibia, who has already sided with Mr Mugabe.
Meanwhile in Harare, Mr Mugabe, still bitter at being usurped from power in SADC by Mr Mandela, had harsh words for his political rival. "No SADC country is compelled to help the DRC [Congo] and those countries which want to keep out can do so but should be silent about members who want to help." Mr Mugabe has accused Rwanda of invading Congo.
But Mr Mugabe, whose autocratic rule has sparked widespread opposition in his own country, is also being criticised at home for his plans to send Zimbabwean soldiers to Congo.
Mr Mandela yesterday spoke to Mr Kabila by phone and asked the Ugandan President, Yoweri Museveni, to issue a call for a ceasefire by rebel forces. Uganda is believed to be supporting the rebellion with its ally Rwanda. It is just over a year since Rwanda and Uganda helped Mr Kabila to oust the long-term dictator Mobutu Sese Seko in the hope that Mr Kabila would secure their borders from hostile forces.
As rebels continued to close on Kinshasa, the Congo capital, Mr Nzo warned that taking the city would be only the beginning of the crisis, not the end. The rebels are reported to be just 90 miles from Kinshasa. Analysts say they could take the city by this weekend.
Mr Mandela said yesterday he was calling a meeting of SADC and that he "wanted Robert Mugabe to be involved". While Mr Mugabe's offer of military assistance, backed by Angola and Namibia, promises to extend the rebellion into a regional war, South Africa insists that only diplomacy will bring a lasting solution.
"It is for the Congolese people alone to be given an opportunity to decide their own future," Mr Nzo said.
Last year, when it was Mr Kabila knocking on Kinshasa's door, South Africa was againbusy trying to bring about a negotiated settlement between the rebel leader and Mr Mobutu. Whatever success South Africa later claimed, the fact was that the situation was resolved through the barrel of the gun.
Rwanda's minority-led Tutsi government is backing the rebellion because the Hutus responsible for the 1994 genocide of 800,000 Tutsis are still using the eastern reaches of Congo as a base from which to launch attacks on Rwanda.Reuse content