The reign of terror in Zimbabwe hit a new low for atrocities last week. Militias associated with Robert Mugabe have begun burning family members of the political opposition alive. Armed thugs looking for the head of the MDC in Mhondoro satisfied themselves with mutilating and murdering his wife instead, and it wasn’t the first such attack for Mugabe’s goons:

The men who pulled up in three white pickup trucks were looking for Patson Chipiro, head of the Zimbabwean opposition party in Mhondoro district. His wife, Dadirai, told them he was in Harare but would be back later in the day, and the men departed.

An hour later they were back. They grabbed Mrs Chipiro and chopped off one of her hands and both her feet. Then they threw her into her hut, locked the door and threw a petrol bomb through the window.

The killing last Friday – one of the most grotesque atrocities committed by Robert Mugabe’s regime since independence in 1980 – was carried out on a wave of worsening brutality before the run-off presidential elections in just over two weeks. It echoed the activities of Foday Sankoh, the rebel leader in the Sierra Leone civil war that ended in 2002, whose trade-mark was to chop off hands and feet.

Mrs Chipiro, 45, a former pre-school teacher, was the second wife of a junior official of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) burnt alive last Friday by Zanu (PF) militiamen. Pamela Pasvani, the 21-year-old pregnant wife of a local councillor in Harare, did not suffer mutilation but died later of her burns; his six-year-old son perished in the flames.

The UN and the South African Development Community has sat mostly silent while Mugabe rigged election results in order to conduct an unnecessary run-off between himself and Morgan Tsvangirai, who won the first round of voting. Since then, Mugabe and his henchmen have harassed and imprisoned Tsvangirai and conducted a campaign of terror against districts that voted for MDC in the first contest. Now they have resorted to murder, and not just murder but brutality that demonstrates Mugabe’s thirst for power.

What has the international community done? They invited Mugabe to a food conference while he blocked food to his starving citizens. Mugabe dined in Rome on elegantly prepared meals while he denied subsistence foods to Zimbabwe because he feared the influence of foreigners so close to the election. He wants to use the food shipments to extort votes for the Zanu-PF party in order to win the run-off election.

The very fact that Mugabe still receives invitations from the UN and that the SADC hasn’t demanded his resignation shows the impotence and uselessness of both organizations. Special blame falls on South Africa’s Thabo Mbeki, who has squandered his nation’s moral standing by defending Mugabe while he brutalizes Zimbabwe. South Africa owes its freedom in part to an international consensus that isolated its previous racist government, but now can’t be bothered to even criticize the murderous regime on its own border.