Zimbabwe’s government has hit back at Botswana’s President Ian Khama following his comments asking President Robert Mugabe to step down.
Khama, in an interview with Reuters news agency on Wednesday, said Mugabe should step aside without delay for the sake of Zimbabwe and the region, comments that “shocked” officials in Zimbabwe.
“The government of Zimbabwe is shocked by this uncharacteristic behaviour on the part of President Khama. It is taboo in African etiquette and diplomacy,” Zimbabwe’s Information Minister Chris Mushohwe said in a statement on Friday.
“We sincerely hope that this will be the last time Botswana’s leader opens his mouth to bad-mouth President Mugabe and fellow African leaders. Why should President Mugabe be removed from office unconstitutionally as President Khama’s sentiments seem to suggest?”
Khama had said Zimbabwe needed new leadership to deal with a political and economic implosion that has dragged down the whole of Southern Africa since 2000.
“It is obvious that at his [Mugabe’s] age and the state Zimbabwe is in, he’s not really able to provide the leadership that could get it out of its predicament,” Khama said.
“They have got plenty of people there who have got good leadership qualities who could take over.”
Botswana is home to an estimated 100,000 Zimbabweans – a fraction of the three million believed to be in South Africa – although this is still enough to strain public services in a nation of 2.3 million people.
It has felt the full effects of its neighbour’s economic collapse under the weight of political violence and hyperinflation.
Although Zimbabwe’s economy stabilised in 2009 with the scrapping of the Zimbabwe dollar, a slump in commodity prices over the last two years has triggered a cash crunch, raising discontent in the country.
Factions of Mugabe’s ruling ZANU-PF party are locked in a bitter struggle to succeed the only leader Zimbabwe has known, but no clear potential successor has emerged.
Zimbabwe has been hit hard by anti-government protests over the past month.
Protesters have been calling on Mugabe, who has been in power since 1980, to step down.