By Martin Plaut
BBC News, Africa analyst
Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe fought against white rule in Rhodesia
For southern African leaders meeting in Swaziland under the auspices of the Southern African Development Community (Sadc), the election crisis in Zimbabwe may be proving a headache.
But the grouping has its origins in dealing with intransigent regimes, as it was set up during the struggle to end white rule across southern Africa.
In 1969 the states of southern and central Africa came together in Zambia and signed the Lusaka Manifesto.
This began with a ringing declaration, which became known as the Lusaka manifesto.
"By this manifesto we wish to make clear, beyond all shadow of doubt, our acceptance of the belief that all men are equal, and have equal rights to human dignity and respect, regardless of colour, race, religion or sex," it said.
"The truth is, however, that in Mozambique, Angola, Rhodesia, South-West Africa, and the Union of South Africa, there is an open and continued denial of the principles of human equality and national self-determination."
But although it declared it would work for the extension of these principles across Africa, it did not back the African National Congress's (ANC) call for an armed struggle to end apartheid in South Africa.
South Africa's leader Thabo Mbeki is Sadc's Zimbabwe mediator
The ANC was deeply disappointed. But gradually the situation changed.
Swapo was fighting in Namibia (then South-West Africa), Frelimo in Mozambique, the MPLA in Angola and Zanu and Zapu in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe).
The "Frontline States" bordering on white-ruled regimes came under increasing attacks from the Rhodesia and South Africa.
Their infrastructure was destroyed, their people killed.
In July 1979 nine countries - from Tanzania to Lesotho - came together to found the Southern African Development Co-ordination Conference (Sadcc), in the Tanzanian city of Arusha.
Sadcc's main aim was "to reduce member states' dependence, particularly, but not only, on apartheid South Africa".
With the end of white rule in Zimbabwe in 1980 and South Africa in 1994, the organisation - now called the Southern Africa Development Community - admitted both states and looked for a new role.
The Sadc peace brigade was formed last year
Today it is a cornerstone of the African Union (AU) and one of its regional organisations.
As such, it leads African policy towards the region and looks to improve economic development in southern Africa.
Based in the Botswana capital, Gaborone, it holds annual summits with key decisions taken by the Troika, consisting of the past, present and incoming chairs of the organisation.
Sadc also has a security and military function.
In 1998, for example, Sadc authorised the deployment of South African and Botswana troops to end a crisis in Lesotho.
It is also tied into the African Union's emerging Standby Force, designed to give the AU the capability to respond to conflicts through the deployment of peacekeeping forces and to undertake occasional interventions.
The Sadc chiefs of defence staff and police chiefs approved the formation of a Sadc Standby Brigade (Sadcbrig), which includes police, in July 2004 in Lesotho.
This received the blessing of Sadc heads of state shortly thereafter. Sadcbrig was officially launched in August 2007.
While Sadc's current chairman, Zambia's President Levy Mwanawasa, has called Zimbabwe an "embarrassment", other leaders in the region are reluctant to break ranks with President Robert Mugabe. Some still seeing him as a hero of the fight against colonialism.
Zimbabwe's neighbours are all affected by the country's economic decline over the last eight years but it is nevertheless unlikely that the region's leaders will unleash the new force in Zimbabwe.