Former Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe was long described by Chinese leaders as their ‘old friend’ in Africa. Mugabe’s relationship with the Chinese dated back half a century when China supported anti-colonial guerrillas with weapons and training. Longstanding relationships like this are very important to Chinese officials, far more so than in other governments, but as the dramatic political upheaval in Zimbabwe demonstrates, even old friendships have their limits.
Zimbabwe’s newly-appointed president Emmerson Mnangagwa is a familiar face in Beijing. Like his former patron, he too spent a lot of time in the 1960s in China, training with Chinese officials and using their largesse to fight for independence from the British. After his relationship with Mugabe soured in November 2017, Mnangagwa fled to Beijing in the run-up to the military’s take over of the government.
Mnangagwa represents the kind of political change that officials in Beijing are much more comfortable with than the the volatile populist uprisings that swept across North Africa and the Middle East in 2011. Mnangagwa represents change but not too much change because of his strong ties with the ruling ZANU-PF party as well as the military — both of who also have longstanding relationships with the Chinese.
Steven Gruzd is a leading Zimbabwe political affairs analyst at the South African Institute of International Affairs in Johannesburg where he leads the governance and foreign policy programs. Gruzd joins Eric & Cobus to discuss the dramatic political upheaval in Harare and what role, if any, China played in the ascension of Emmerson Mnangagwa to the presidency.
- South China Morning Post: Mugabe’s exit will make Zimbabwe even closer to China, say Chinese analyst by Kinling Lo
- Chatham House: How Influential Is China in Zimbabwe? by Dr. Alex Vines
- The Guardian: China turns its back on Comrade Bob to embrace change in Zimbabwe by Tom Phillips
Steven Gruzd first joined SAIIA in April 2003 as the Research Manager on the NEPAD and Governance Programme, and became Head of the successor programme on Governance and the APRM, in May 2008. He rejoined SAIIA in this capacity in October 2013, having spent two years as Senior Researcher and Diplomatic Liaison at the SA Jewish Board of Deputies. From 1999-2003 he worked as a researcher and research coordinator at the Centre for Development and Enterprise. He has published widely on governance and the African Peer Review Mechanism, and keenly follows African political developments and South African foreign policy. He hosted a magazine talk show on the 101.9 ChaiFM community radio station, and has made numerous radio and television appearances. Steven holds an MSc from the London School of Economics and Political Science in International Relations and a BA (Hons) in International Relations from the University of the Witwatersrand.