After HIV/AIDS, few issues have provoked as much controversy for South Africa's president Thabo Mbeki as the support which his government has given to the embattled regime of President Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe. The South African government has backed a regime in Zimbabwe which has compromised the goals of its own macro-economic strategy and its vision for continental renewal. It is only by exploring a complex hierarchy of objectives that one can begin to understand a policy fraught with inconsistencies. It will be argued here that the South African government's approach to Zimbabwe is rooted in continental ambitions, regional interests and national imperatives. Therefore one must look beyond an analysis which focuses primarily on the internal factors which have shaped policy to include the current government's vision of South Africa in Africa and within the changing global order.