President Ian Khama of Botswana has called on Robert Mugabe, his Zimbabwean president, to step aside and allow a new leadership in the country.

Speaking on Wednesday in Gaborone, capital of Botswana, Khama said the call had become imperative because the political and economic implosion in Zimbabwe since 2000 is dragging down the whole of southern Africa.

The British-trained former general said the 92-year-old president, who came to power after independence from Britain in 1980, should accept the reality of his advancing years and retire.

“We are talking about a 92-year-old man and there’s just so much you can do at that age to try and keep up,” he said.

“They have got plenty of people there who have got good leadership qualities who could take over.

“It is obvious that at his age and the state Zimbabwe is in, he is not able to provide the leadership that could get the country out of its predicament.”

Khama said the instability in Zimbabwe was damaging Botswana’s efforts to wean itself off mining, which accounted for 20 per cent of GDP and nearly 60 per cent of exports.

He said the sit tight syndrome and unrest in Zimbabwe was forcing more and more Zimbabweans to leave their country.

Khama said Botswana is home to an estimated 100,000 Zimbabweans and a fraction of the three million believed to be in South Africa.

“Botswana’s jails held significant numbers of Zimbabweans,” he said.

“It is a big concern; it is a problem for all of us in the region and it is a burden. There’s no doubt about that.”

Botswana, the world’s largest producer of diamonds, shares 800 km of border with Zimbabwe.

The country has felt the full effects of its neighbour’s economic collapse under the weight of political violence and hyper inflation since 2000.

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