NORTH Korea’s football team is unwelcome in Bulawayo, activists in that region said on Thursday as they prepared protests against a country which they say helped President Robert Mugabe crush the local population between 1982 and 1987.
Government officials revealed on Thursday that North Korea had agreed to set up camp in Zimbabwe in late May ahead of the June 11-July 11 FIFA World Cup in neighbouring South Africa.
The Koreans are scheduled to play a series of friendly matches against Zimbabwe teams in both Harare and Bulawayo.
But the Koreans have been warned Bulawayo’s Barbourfields Stadium will be a “centre of resistance” should they venture into the region where rights groups say 20,000 civilians were killed by the 5 Brigade, a special-task army unit trained by instructors from the North Korean government.
The army unit, made almost exclusively of Shona-speaking troops loyal to Mugabe, was deployed in the Matabeleland and Midlands regions after Mugabe accused former liberation war comrades from the Zimbabwe People's Revolutionary Army (ZIPRA) of planning an insurgency against his administration.
Activists from the Matabeleland region are sharpening their knives for the visit of the Koreans.
Nkululeko Sibanda, a prominent former student leader said while the Koreans’ planned visit to Bulawayo “may bring a few economic benefits”, their trip was a “symbolic insult”.
“The relationship between Zimbabwe and North Korean was cemented by the blood of our kin. Symbolically, this is the best chance in more than 20 years we have had to defend our dead and our blood,” Sibanda said in an e-mail circulated to journalists, political parties and NGOs in the region.
Sibanda urged activists to “mobilise in any way possible against their arrival or for their removal from BF (Barbourfields)”.
“Barbourfields is the centre of our resistance – it is symbolic and cannot be tainted.”
Sibanda said while targeting the Koreans, campaigners should “not be seen to be targeting any Shona people ... it was not a tribal war but one mad man’s war against the Ndebele people. We should always make that distinction.”
The opposition ZAPU, whose supporters from the Ndebele minority in the region were the main victims of the Fifth Brigade, said it was “anxious to know the real motive behind the invitation of the North Korean national soccer team ... given the background where military instructors from that country were instrumental in training the murderous 5 Brigade that killed, raped, maimed, tortured and humiliated thousands of our supporters in Matabeleland and the Midlands.”
Methuseli Moyo, ZAPU’s spokesman, said: “Should the authorities decide to go ahead with their plan (to allow North Korea to visit), no one should blame the people if they decide to demonstrate their feelings in any way they may choose to.”
Moyo described the move to host the Koreans as a “glorification of Gukurahundi (Shona word for rain that washes away the chaff)” -- the code-name of the army operation in the region.
Moyo added: “In as much as Zimbabwe desperately needs to be part of the FIFA 2010 South Africa showcase, ZAPU feels hosting the national team of a country associated more with the emotive and evil Gukurahundi exercise, than for its footballing reputation, has nothing to do with tourism.
“It is simply a glorification of Gukurahundi, and an act of provocation to the victims of the military operation against unarmed, defenceless and innocent Ndebeles.
“ZAPU calls on those behind bringing the North Korean team to Zimbabwe to think seriously about the implications of this, and politely ask the North Koreans to go elsewhere. They are not welcome at all in Zimbabwe.”
Brilliant Mhlanga, another former student leader, academic and political commentator said: “The plan by the ministry responsible (Ministry of Tourism) to invite them to train in Bulawayo is in itself an insult to the people of Matebeleland, and to those who were brutalised by Robert Mugabe and the North Koreans’ private army.
“We cannot allow them to train and merry-make in our environment when the scar caused by the genocide continues to bleed to this day.”
Mhlanga said activists also planned demonstrations at North Korea’s matches and hotel in South Africa “as a reminder to the whole world that the genocide is not yet a closed chapter.”
Mugabe has said he regrets the darkest period in independent Zimbabwe’s history when his killer squads marched from village to village looking for “dissidents”. Thousands of people – accused of collaborating with the dissidents -- were driven from their homes, tortured, killed and some buried alive.
Joshua Nkomo, leader of the main opposition ZAPU, fled to England -- only returning after Mugabe declared a truce in 1987.
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