Confirmation of Robert Mugabe’s ouster prompted revelry on the streets of Harare. “The Goblin has gone!” raved one.
Thousands of miles away in Beijing – for years Mugabe’s most powerful backer – there were no obvious signs of jubilation.
“China respects Mr Mugabe’s decision to resign,” foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang told reporters, praising his “historic contribution” to Zimbabwe’s liberation. “He remains a good friend of the Chinese people.”
But experts believe China’s leaders will be both relieved and contented to see the back of “Comrade Bob” – a suspicion reinforced by the approving tone coverage of his demise has taken in the Communist party-controlled press.
“We need change in our country,” China’s official news agency Xinhua – whose correspondents’ dispatches are expected, above all else, to reflect the party line – quoted one Zimbabwean teacher as saying of Mugabe’s resignation.
“We’re very happy,” another Zimbabwean told party mouthpiece the People’s Daily. “Finally things will change.”
Ross Anthony, an expert in China-Africa relations from South Africa’s Stellenbosch University, said that while Beijing had backed Mugabe since his days as a Marxist revolutionary in the 1970s, it had increasingly seen him as erratic, an embarrassment and a threat to Chinese investments.
A case in point was Mugabe’s controversial indigenisation law, which required all foreign companies to be controlled by Zimbabweans and was a particular blow to Chinese interests in its diamond industry.
“I imagine there are quite a lot of officials in Beijing who will be happy to see Mugabe go,” Anthony said.
Since the curtains began to fall on Mugabe’s 37-year reign last week, Beijing has done little to hide its view that its longtime ally was a difficult customer.
In an article for Xiakedao, a social media account run by the People’s Daily, Zhang Weiwei, a former interpreter for Deng Xiaoping, recalled a tetchy 1985 encounter between Mugabe and the Chinese leader.