17 April 2010

Zimbabwe: North Korea Face Hostile Reception in Matabeleland

TOURISM Minister Walter Mzembi has begged for peace from activists in Matabeleland in the wake of planned protests against the government's invitation of the North Korean soccer team to camp in the country ahead of the June soccer World Cup in South Africa.

The team is expected in Zimbabwe on May 25.

But activists from Midlands and Matabeleland provinces feel the presence of the North Koreans in Zimbabwe would be a "symbolic insult" and are already planning massive protests against the team.

The activists some of them based in the Diaspora said wounds of the Gukurahundi atrocities inflicted by the North Korean-trained Fifth Brigade which killed an estimated 20 000 civilians were still fresh.

They have threatened a series of protests at the team's camp, their hotel and matches in South Africa.

Zapu spokesperson, Methuseli Moyo, yesterday said the invitation of the North Koreans was "very provocative and insensitive".

The Gukurahundi massacres targeted Zapu supporters after President Robert Mugabe deployed the army to fight "dissidents".

"We are totally against bringing the team to Zimbabwe, the reason being the fact that they trained the Fifth Brigade which went on to kill tens of thousands of our supporters. Having a team flying the North Korean flag is very provocative," Moyo said.

In an interview yesterday, Mzembi appealed to his "uncles" from Matabeleland not to mix sport with politics, and allow national healing to take place.

He added that there were vast economic benefits associated with the visit by the Koreans.

"As Minister of Tourism, my brief is to invite teams to come to the country, and only one team (North Korea) responded," said Mzembi.

"The basis of my invitation which we extended even to England and the United States was that sport must remain the bridge for people-to-people contact, probably the only bridge that has remained standing even when nation states are in a state of fallout.

"I wouldn't want to make this a political issue; it is purely a sports issue."

But Moyo said if that was the idea, then North Korea was a wrong choice.

"North Koreans are not known to be tourists, I don't think bringing them will attract anyone to visit Zimbabwe.

"It is basically a continuation of the friendship between Zanu PF and North Korea," argued Moyo.

"It is actually insensitive for the inclusive government at the time of national healing to bring a team that is known to Zimbabweans more for its evil association with Gukurahundi exercise than for its footballing and tourism reputation.

"If they come to Bulawayo, we will do all in our powers to make them aware we are not happy."

Mzembi however said the invitation was within the spirit of national healing.

"What has happened to madzisekuru angu (my uncles) to always put themselves in a position of the vanquished? It is not good to relive acrimony.

"The language these days is on national healing, we have to find each other as a people.

Mzembi said as the government they had not determined whether or not the North Koreans would go to Bulawayo during their visit.

Contributing to an online forum, exiled former student leader Nkululeko Sibanda said there was need to "to defend our dead and our blood".

"The relationship between Zimbabwe and North Korean was cemented by the blood of our kin," said Sibanda, urging activists to "mobilise in any way possible" against the North Koreans.

UK based Zimbabwean academic and activist Brilliant Mhlanga said the North Koreans should not be allowed "to train and merry-make in our environment when the scar caused by the genocide continues to bleed to this day".

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