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Nov 26, 2017

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, in contrast, 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.

Join the discussion. As Zimbabwe's largest source of foreign investment and the country's top trading partner, what role do you think China will play in this new Zimbabwean era without Robert Mugabe.

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