Former Botswana president Ian Khama says the region must step in to resolve the Zimbabwe crisis as pressure mounts on President Emmerson Mnangagwa to hold talks with his rivals.
Khama, who was speaking in a Zoom meeting on the crisis in Zimbabwe organised by BW Zimbabwe Solidarity on Friday, said it was time for the Southern African Development Community (Sadc) to intervene.
The outspoken former president said nothing had changed in Zimbabwe since independence.
"Forty years after independence in Zimbabwe the only thing that's changed is the name of the country and leaders, in plain English, there's a crisis in Zimbabwe, not just challenges and that's why Zanu PF officials used the word crisis more than 40 times and Zimbabwean lives matter," Khama said.
"I call upon Sadc to urgently convene a special summit on Zimbabwe.
"If they don't do that they are culpable in the suffering of the people of Zimbabwe. "I call on civic society organisations in other countries to get involved."
Mnangagwa has been resisting manoeuvres by South African President Cyril Ramaphosa and the ruling ANC to initiate talks between Zanu PF and the opposition to solve the mounting political and economic crisis in Zimbabwe.
Pressure started mounting on the Zanu PF leader last month after security forces brutally stopped protests against corruption on July 31.
Several opposition activists were allegedly abducted for calling for the demonstrations while prominent journalist Hopewell Chin'ono and opposition leader Jacob Ngarivume were thrown into Chikurubi Maximum Security Prison for urging Zimbabweans to join the protests.
MDC Alliance deputy chairperson Job Sikhala is still detained at Chikurubi for the same reasons.
The ANC said it was worried that the problems in Zimbabwe would have a knock-on effect on South Africa and sought to initiate dialogue between Zanu PF and the opposition, but the move is being fiercely resisted by Mnangagwa who insists there is no crisis in the country.
Khama said his country Botswana had a duty to speak out on democracy and human rights issues in other countries in Sadc.
"We need to have a culture of accountability in Sadc and Africa," he added.
"Sitting heads of state, who commit atrocities should be held accountable including by (the International Criminal Court); victims can't wait forever.
"Many of the Africans that have been referred to the ICC have been referred by Africans themselves."
He said Zimbabweans had displayed tremendous tolerance over the years, and urged South Africa and Africa to resolve the crisis in Zimbabwe.
"It goes without saying that in the past, we had a Sadc-appointed mediator, now South Africa sent envoys which should be commended, but it is being rebuffed. "There is resentment for any outside initiative to bring parties together," Khama said.
"Zanu only want outsiders to talk to them only. Sadc and Africa must help peacefully resolve the crisis in Zimbabwe."
During his tenure, Khama consistently spoke out against human rights violations during the Robert Mugabe era.
He appeared to be warming up to Mnangagwa soon after the coup that toppled Mugabe in 2017, but has become one of the biggest critics of the new administration in Harare.
Khama said sanctions against government officials that violated human rights were justifiable.
"I agree that general sanctions harm the people, but targeted sanctions are necessary and effective against individuals including travel bans, account freezes and other measures so they know that what they are doing is unacceptable," he added.
The panel included Botswana's main opposition leader Dumelang Saleshando, unionist Ketlhalefile Motshegwa, academic Dama Mosweunyane and Bulawayo-based activist Mthulisi Hanana, who were unanimous that there was need for the region to urgently intervene in Zimbabwe.