Archive for the ‘Zimbabwe’ Category

Zimbabwe signs $5m contracts with DPRK for statue and museum

Wednesday, March 12th, 2014

According to the Christian Science Monitor:

The cost of Bona Mugabe’s wedding on March 1, attended by the heads of state of South Africa, Zambia, and Equatorial Guinea at Mugabe’s private home in Harare’s plush Borrowdale suburb, cost $5 million.

Just after the wedding, plans leaked out that Mugabe’s Zanu (PF) government clandestinely signed North Korea, one of its old friends, to build two statues of Mugabe at an estimated cost of $5 million.

The statues were commissioned by the minister of local government, Ignatius Chombo.

One is a nearly 30-foot high bronze image worth $3.5 million to be placed in Harare; the other is a $1.5 million version to be placed in a $3.8 million museum to be built in Mugabe’s rural Zvimba home, in Mashonaland West. Building statues of leaders is something North Korea has considerable experience doing.

Read more about the story at Bloomberg and Bulawayo 24.

I have documented many of North Korea’s Africa projects on this web page.  See here.

Read the full story here:
Mugabe splashes $5m on N. Korea statues
Christian Science Monitor
Mxosili Ncube


Mansu Studio statue in Zimbabwe to be replaced…

Thursday, May 12th, 2011


UPDATE 2 (2011-5-12): Zanu-PF has decided to re-erect the Nkomo statue.  According to the Zimdiaspora:

The controversial statue of the late vice president Joshua Mqabuko Nyongolo Nkomo will be re-erected in Bulawayo’s city centre after Zanu PF bigwigs agreed to put up the giant North Korean designed effigy.

Zanu PF officials said President Robert Mugabe appointed Environment Minister Francis Nhema who is Nkomo’s son-in-law to be in charge of the raising of statue along Main Street.

The statue was removed last year following widespread outcry by the Nkomo family but latest details show that the family has backtracked following Nhema’s persuasion. The soft-spoken Nhema is married to Louise Sehlule, one of the late nationalist’s daughters.

In the past two months, sources said Nhema, who chairs the Joshua Nkomo Foundation, has been making frequent visits to Bulawayo where he also met senior politicians to lobby for the re-erection of the statue, which drew anger from the Nkomo and Bulawayo community because it was made in North Korea—a country known for training the notorious 5th Brigade soldiers who killed over 20 000 civilians, raping 60,000 women.

Nhema met vice president John Nkomo, politburo members, Joshua Malinga, Eunice Sandi and Angeline Masuku as he drummed up support for the statue to be re-erected.

After the uprooting of the statue, it was later agreed that it would be put at the Joshua Mqabuko Nkomo airport on the outskirts of Bulawayo but there were reservations that the public would not be able to view it since it will be kilometers away.

“It’s a matter of time before the statue is put back along Main Street. Zanu PF doesn’t want to be seen as failures by conceding to pressure from the Nkomo family and the people of Matabeleland,” said a top Zanu PF official.

The latest revelation to re-erect the statue comes against a backdrop of efforts by former Zipra commanders to block the move, saying Mugabe, 87, should first return Zipra buildings to its rightful owners. Some of the buildings include Magnet House, which houses the dreaded CIOs in Bulawayo.

Although Nhema was not answering his mobile phone Thursday, a politburo meeting Wednesday vowed that the statue would be erected again.

UPDATE 1 (2011-1-23): The statue was mentioned in this New York Times article

ORIGINAL  POST (2010-9-17): According to

Public anger over a decision to allow a North Korean firm to make a statue of a Zimbabwean freedom fighter resulted in government plans to take it down before its unveiling, according to reports Thursday.

The three-metre bronze statue of Joshua Nkomo had been under threat by the family of the deceased leader of the Ndebele ethnic group. They had vowed to tear it down, angered that the Zimbabwean subsidiary of a North Korean company had created it.

In the mid-1980s, North Korean military instructors, invited by President Robert Mugabe, trained a brigade that went on to kill thousands of Ndebele citizens during a low-intensity insurgency.

‘It was highly insensitive of the government to have hired the North Koreans to produce the statue without consulting Nkomo’s family or the people of Matabeleland,’ said political analyst Grace Mutandwa. ‘Let’s just say the North Koreans are not the Ndebele’s favourite people.’

After its completion, the statue remained covered by a black cloth on a plinth until Home Affairs Minister Kembo Mohadi removed the shroud Wednesday, announcing plans to dismantle it ‘with immediate effect.’

Originally, Mugabe had planned to participate in a public unveiling of the statue.

In the 1960s, Nkomo became the first national leader of the fight by blacks against the white minority government of Ian Smith. He led a rival faction to Mugabe’s in the 1970s before independence in 1980 and Mugabe’s election as prime minister.

Shortly after, Mugabe accused Nkomo and his ZAPU party of being behind an insurgency and launched a crackdown in western Zimbabwe, in which thousands of civilians were killed or disappeared. Nkomo died of prostate cancer in 1999, aged 82.

This is not the first time this year the Ndebele have protested over North Korea’s relations with Zimbabwe.

The North Korean national football team had been due to train in Bulawayo before the World Cup in neighbouring South Africa in June and July, but the visit was called off after Ndebele groups vowed to disrupt their training.

And according to Zimeye:

[A] statue of the late Vice President Joshua Nkomo was unveiled on Wednesday, but a minister said it would be immediately pulled down “following objections by his family and the Bulawayo community”.

A family spokesman said the statue, mounted at the intersection of Main Street and 8th Avenue was “small and pitiful”.

Home Affairs Minister Kembo Mohadi met Nkomo’s family for four hours on Tuesday as he unsuccessfully tried to reach an agreement on the three-metre-tall bronze statue which was erected over a month ago, and remained covered in a black cloth until Wednesday.

The meeting in Harare was also attended by Vice President John Nkomo, a relative of the late nationalist leader who died in July, 1999. Mohadi revealed John Nkomo was joined in the objections with the rest of the family.

Mohadi, who attended Wednesday’s unceremonious unveiling, said: “I have come here with bad news … to tell you that we will pull down and dismantle this statue with immediate effect.

“From the day when this statue was erected, the family objected and we have been receiving calls as to when the statue will be dismantled.

“We made extensive consultations and apparently Vice President John Nkomo shares the same sentiments with them, and as such we are complying with the wishes of the Nkomo family to remove the statue.”

Mohadi has refused to say where the statue was made and at what cost, although some reports say it was cast by a North Korean artist. It will be removed to the National Museum.

A senior government source revealed Mohadi had spoken to President Robert Mugabe after the tense meeting with Nkomo’s family.

“The President told Mohadi to ‘leave them (Nkomo’s family)’. He also said he was disappointed with John Nkomo for failing to take a principled stand,” the source said.

Mohadi, whose ministry commissioned two statues – the other designated for Harare – appeared to take the failure to get the statue to stand in Bulawayo personally.

He said: “It is unfair to myself and the ministry because we thought this was a government project that we initiated in honour of Dr Nkomo, but because the family objects to it we find it proper to concede to their plea and have no option but to abandon the project.

“With me, it is the end of the project indefinitely and I do not think we will do anything about it. The budget on it has been wasted.”

Mohadi disclosed contents of an August 31 letter he received from Nkomo’s daughter Thandiwe outlining 11 points of objection.
The family said there was no consultation on the final prototype, characteristics, and proposed locations of the statue.

“The statue itself is very small and pitiful, hardly a street statue at all nor the landmark and monument that it should be,” the family added.

The design of the statue said nothing about Nkomo and his historical legacy, the letter went on, and the size and colour of the 1,2 metre pedestal it was installed on “does not match the lofty stature of the late Father Zimbabwe.”

The family said it was not objecting to the principle of immortalising Nkomo with a statue, but wanted adequate consultations before work on a new one commenced. The family also wants the statue installed at the Joshua Mqabuko Nkomo International Airport in Bulawayo.

The planned erection of a second statue in Harare — already mired in legal troubles — now appears unlikely to go ahead. The owners of the Karigamombe Centre, the proposed site of the statue, have obtained a court order stopping the erection.

This story was eventually picked up by the Associated Press on September 29th:

The two North Korean-made statues were meant to honor a national hero but people were so offended because of Pyongyang’s links to a blood-soaked chapter of Zimbabwe’s history that one was taken down almost immediately and the other has not been erected.

Besides, at least one of them didn’t even resemble Joshua Nkomo, a former guerrilla leader known as “Father Zimbabwe” who died in 1999 at the age of 82.

That the statues were designed and made by North Koreans is an affront to Zimbabweans who blame North Korean-trained troops loyal to President Robert Mugabe for massacring thousands of civilians as the government tried to crush an uprising led by Nkomo in the 1980s. The uprising ended when Nkomo signed a unity pact in 1987 and became a vice president.

No offense was intended by the choice of North Korea to make the statues, Godfrey Mahachi, head of the state National Museums and Monuments, told The Associated Press. He said North Korea was chosen simply because it won the bid for the work, promising favorable prices.

One of the Nkomo statues was erected briefly last month in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe’s second-biggest city, on the site where a statue of British colonial era leader Cecil John Rhodes once stood. Nkomo’s family called his statue artistically “ineffectual.”

While there were no organized protests, criticisms were widespread before the unveiling. Nkomo’s relatives were quoted in newspapers complaining that they had not been consulted. Simon Dube, a Bulawayo businessman, said the Nkomo statue was shrouded under a black cloth under police guard. Dube, who glimpsed it, said the statue’s head was too small for Nkomo’s famously heavy and imposing build.

Organizers kept the police on hand during the unveiling ceremony and took the statue down within hours.

The other statue was to have been placed in the capital, Harare, outside an office tower known as Karigamombe, which in the local Shona language means “taking the bull by the horns and slaying it.” Some saw that as adding insult to injury: the symbol of Nkomo’s Zimbabwe African People’s Union party and his former guerrilla army was a rampaging bull.

Home Affairs Minister Kembo Mohadi said that despite the kerfuffle, the North Koreans have been paid their $600,000 for the two statues, state media reported.

Mahachi said officials are considering where else to put the two 3-meter (10 foot) statues.

“We still have to look at different options. They might go to museums, but that will be discussed to reach a final decision,” he said.

The Bulawayo statue is for the time being kept at the Bulawayo Natural History Museum, where the deposed statue of Rhodes is also kept.

Nkomo spent his adult life fighting colonialism and was also imprisoned for a decade for his political activism against white rule in Rhodesia, as Zimbabwe was previously called. “Father Zimbabwe” spearheaded black nationalist resistance to white rule well before Mugabe came on the scene. Nkomo’s image has appeared on postage stamps and the Bulawayo international airport has been named after him.


Zimbabwe restocks Pyongyang Zoo

Friday, May 14th, 2010

UPDATE 3: We are starting to see some price data come out of this story.  According to  the Times Live of South Africa:

However, conservationists, led by Johnny Rodrigues, the chairman of the Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force (ZCTF), slammed the plan. They fear that many of the animals will not survive the long journey, let alone conditions in the impoverished communist state’s zoos.

In a telephone interview, Chadenga said the animals had already been paid for.

“The North Koreans paid for these animal species. This is a business deal, and we have an obligation to meet our side of the deal. For instance, the two baby elephants were sold for US$10,000 each. From the sale of the other animals, we might raise the other US$10,000.”

He dismissed concerns over conditions in Korean zoos.

“The North Koreans paid to facilitate a trip of our officers to determine the conditions in that country. On their return, they gave us a satisfactory report, and that is when the capturing of these animals started.”

He said Zimbabwe had an over-population of elephants . “We have more than 100000 elephants in our national parks. We will sell them to anyone if they approach us .”

UPDATE 2:  According to the AP (Via New York Times):

Wildlife authorities in Zimbabwe  on Wednesday defended the decision to sell two baby elephants and other animals to North Korea, and they said veterinary experts were satisfied that North Korea was equipped to care for them. The two 18-month-old elephants each cost $10,000. Officials said the other animals purchased by the North included breeding pairs of giraffes, zebras, antelopes, hyenas, monkeys and birds.

Vitalis Chadenga, the head of the wildlife department, called the deal “purely a business arrangement” for financially struggling Zimbabwe; he said it involved surplus species in the western Hwange National Park. But Johnny Rodrigues, the head of the independent Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force, criticized the arrangement. “We understand North Korea does not have a good record in animal rights,” he said.

UPDATE 1: According to iol South Africa:

Zimbabwe is preparing to send wild animals to a North Korean zoo, state media said on Monday, a move likely to anger groups protesting at Pyongyang’s role in training an army unit accused of killing thousands of people.

The National Parks and Wildlife Management Authority (NPWMA) said it was processing an application from North Korea to ship elephants, giraffes, zebras, warthogs, spotted hyenas and rock dassies to a zoo in the hermit state.

NPWMA director general Vitalis Chadenga told the state-owned Herald newspaper the national parks authority had sent experts to North Korea to verify whether the zoo was appropriate for the wild animals.

“This is a pure business arrangement with no directive from government … North Korea is paying for the animals as well as meeting the capture and translocation costs,” he said.

“We are satisfied that the recipients of the animals are suitably equipped to house and care for them,” said Chadenga, denying that the move was decreed by Mugabe.

Chadenga was not immediately available for direct comment.

ORIGINAL POST: According to the Guardian:

Zimbabwean president sending giraffes, zebras, baby elephants and other wild animals taken from a national park to zoo in communist state, conservation groups say.

Two by two, they were caught and lined up as an extravagant gift from one despotic regime to another.

According to conservationists, the Zimbabwean president, Robert Mugabe, will send a modern-day ark – containing pairs of giraffes, zebras, baby elephants and other wild animals taken from a national park – to a zoo in North Korea.

The experts warned that not every creature would survive the journey to be greeted by Mugabe’s ally Kim Jong-il, the North Korean leader.

There are particular fears that a pair of 18-month-old elephants could die during the long airlift.

Johnny Rodrigues, the head of the Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force, said elephant experts did not believe the calves would survive the journey separated from their mothers.

The animals were being kept in quarantine in holding pens at Umtshibi camp in the park, he said.

Rodrigues added that officials opposed to the captures had leaked details to conservationists.

They reported that some areas of the 5,500 square mile park, the biggest in Zimbabwe, were being closed to tourists and photographic safari groups.

“We fear a pair of endangered rhino in Hwange will also be included,” he told the Associated Press.

He said conservation groups were trying to find out from civil aviation authorities when the airlift would begin, and were lobbying for support from international animal welfare groups to stop it.

Zoo conditions in North Korea, which is isolated by most world nations, did not meet international standards, he said. Two rhinos, a male called Zimbo and a female called Zimba, given to Kim by Mugabe in the 80s, died only a few months after their relocation.

At the same time, other rhinos given to Belgrade zoo in the former Yugoslavia died after contracting footrot in damp and snowy winter conditions.

Rodrigues said: “This new exercise has to be stopped. People under orders to do it are too scared to speak out.”

Read the full story here:
Conservationists protest as Robert Mugabe sends ‘ark’ of animals to North Korea
The Guardian
David Smith


Zimbabweans planning to protest DPRK football team (canceled)

Monday, April 19th, 2010

UPDATE 4: The DPRK has canceled its football team’s visit to Zimbabwe.  According to the Times Live of South Africa:

The North Korean squad had been due to arrive in Zimbabwe on Tuesday to train and play friendlies against local teams before moving onto South Africa, where the World Cup kicks off on June 11.

But a senior source in the power-sharing government of President Robert Mugabe and former opposition leader, Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, said the visit was called off after it provoked outrage among supporters of Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change (MDC).

UPDATE 3: Zimbabwe continues to put off  deliberation.  According to Voice of America:

Cabinet discussion of whether Zimbabwe should invite the North Korean soccer team to train in the country through the June-July World Cup period has been put off to next Tuesday as President Robert Mugabe and Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai are in Tanzania for the World Economic Forum, a ministerial source said.

Education, Sports and Culture Minister David Coltart told VOA Studio 7 reporter Gibbs Dube that the Cabinet will review the decision by the Zimbabwe World Cup 2010 Committee to invite the North Koreans.

“I presume that if the issue has to be discussed by Cabinet, it will be discussed on Tuesday and as far as I am concerned that team has not yet confirmed that it will be training in this country,” Coltart said.

Political commentator Samukele Hadebe said the North Korean team visit should be canceled to promote healing and reconciliation among Zimbabweans traumatized not only by political violence during the 2008 elections but by older episodes like the 1980s Gukurahundi purge of rival liberation activists in the Matabeleland region.

UPDATE 2: It is possible Zimbabwe could back out of the plan since they have yet to confirm a date. And according to the Guardian:

Zimbabwe’s sports minister, David Coltart, said the dates of the North Koreans’ visit were still to be confirmed. “It is important that the Zimbabwe government deals with this matter in a very sensitive way and does not ignore the history of North Korea here, and does not do anything that might inflame passions or reopen old wounds,” he said.

But he added: “I don’t think it is right to attack a group of young players for what happened 27 years ago in this country.”

Strangely…I met Coltart in Washington a few years ago. He was an MP representing Bulawayo at the time.

UPDATE 1: A Zimbabwe perspective:

Boycotting North Korea solves nothing
Tendai Huchu

The people of Zimbabwe, more than any other nation in Africa, seem pathologically unable to come to terms with their past. As a nation we share the same psychological symptoms of people who have suffered abuse as children.

At the moment there are calls by some for the people of Matebeleland to boycott the visit by North Korea’s football team on May 25 for warm up matches before the World Cup. They site the Gukurahundi massacres in the mid 1980’s as the reason the North Koreans should be boycotted. These people forget that aggressive attempts to court teams like Brazil to Zimbabwe were rebuffed because of our current circumstances. A lot of countries want nothing to do with us but the North Koreans have agreed to come. They could have gone directly to South Africa like everyone else and found facilities there far superior to anything we can offer.

That the Gukurahundi atrocities were a great tragedy in the history of our nation is beyond debate. This is still an issue we have yet to come to terms with, but exactly how boycotting a team we have invited can help redress our past is difficult to understand. North Korea like Zimbabwe is an undemocratic state. These footballers have no influence whatsoever on their government’s policies, especially those from twenty years ago. The majority of them would have been toddlers or not even born when we were slaughtering each other in the 80s. It is absurd to punish these players for something that they had nothing to do with whatsoever. We are quick to protest when New Zealand and England boycott our cricket team because of their differences with the Mugabe government, yet here we are proposing to do the exact same thing to the North Koreans.

The Observer newspaper in the UK quoted Bulawayo-based activist Effie Ncube saying that the invitation is a “profound insult” because of North Korea’s role in training the Fifth Brigade. This is a typical Zimbabwean attitude of blaming everyone else except ourselves for things that have gone wrong.

The North Koreans are a people we should sympathize with. There are too many similarities between them and us to mention. Like us they depend on handouts from the international community or else they would starve. We, better than most other nations, know what it is like to be isolated from the rest of the world. We know what it is like to live under a government which has no regard for its citizen’s rights and opinions. This is an opportunity to show solidarity to a people who have many similar problems to our own.

We can continue to be a bitter and angry people who constantly look back at the past, not taking responsibility for our actions and blaming everyone else for the things we have done to one another or we can move on. The North Koreans are not our enemy, they have never been. Sport is supposed to bring people together, not to divide them. There is nothing that can be gained by protesting against the North Korean football team for something they had absolutely no involvement in. They deserve to be shown our true Zimbabwean hospitality. We can only pray that the future of both our nations is going to be better than the past we are leaving behind.

ORIGINAL POST: According to Times Live of South Africa:

Zimbabwe’s tourism minister has appealed to activists in the western provinces of Bulawayo to drop plans to protest against the North Korean football team’s scheduled camp in the country during the World Cup.

The presence of the team from the dictatorship of President Kim Jong Il has stirred up strong emotions over the massacre in the early 80s of an estimated 20,000 civilians of the Ndebele speaking people of western Zimbabwe, carried out by soldiers of the Zimbabwe army’s notorious Fifth Brigade who were trained by North Korean instructors.

Groups have threatened to carry out protests against the team in the western city of Bulawayo and in South Africa where over a million Zimbabwean exiles from President Robert Mugabe’s rule now live.

“We are totally against bringing the team to Zimbabwe,” said Methuseli Moyo, spokesman for the Zimbabwe African People’s Union party. “Having a team flying the North Korean flag is very provocative.” The team is due in Harare on May 25 and is set to play friendly matches against the Zimbabwe national team in the capital and in Bulawayo, but activists have warned they would make Bulawayo’s Barbourfields stadium a centre of resistance against the North Koreans.

Tourism minister Walter Mzembi was quoted Sunday in the weekly Standard newspaper as appealing to the groups not to mix politics with sport and to allow national healing to take place.

“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 fall-out,” he said.

“I wouldn’t want to make this a political issue. It’s purely a sports issue.” He said he had extended invitations to the major teams in the World Cup, including Brazil, England and the United States, but North Korea was the only team that had responded.

The North Korean [5th Brigate] instructors were brought to Zimbabwe in 1983 at the request President Robert Mugabe to form a new brigade of the army, composed exclusively of Shona-speaking veterans of Mugabe’s civil war guerrilla army, to put down a limited insurgency against Mugabe’s rule by Ndebele-based guerrilla veterans.

The Fifth Brigade troops immediately developed a reputation for savage brutality, butchering children and pregnant women to deny the guerrillas support among the population of rural areas where they operated.

Military experts say that the Fifth Brigade’s methods were starkly different from the rest of the country’s largely British-trained army.

Mugabe, held responsible for the massacres, has only referred to the murderous period in the country’s history as a moment of madness. Demands for acknowledgment of the brutality are rising round the country, but two weeks ago police forcibly closed down an art exhibition portraying the suffering of the period, and arrested the artist.

Additional information: 
1. Here is a satellite image of Barbourfields stadium.  (I visited Bulawayo in 1996 and it was a lovely town at the time).

2. Last I read North Korean laborers were building football stadiums in South Africa for the World Cup.  This was in dispute and I do not know whether it has been confirmed or disproven.

3. North Korean laborers built Zimbabwe’s Heroe’s Acre.  Here is a satellite image of it.

4. And just for fun, here is a satellite image of Robert Mugabe’s retirement palace.  If you view the location in Google Earth, you can scroll through historical imagery to see this and neighboring houses under construction.


DPRK emigration data

Monday, March 1st, 2010

Josh points out this table from the UNHCR (originally published by RFA):


Click image for larger version.


DPRK relic in Zimbabwe

Tuesday, February 3rd, 2009


National Heroes Acre is a burial ground in Harare, Zimbabwe for all Zimbabweans who have been declared a hero by the Government.

The Government started work on the Heroes Acre in 1981, one year after Independence. The design and artwork used at the site was done by seven artists from the Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea and ten Zimbabwean Artists.

Over 250 local workers were involved in the project at the height of construction. The black granite stone used for the main construction was quarried from Mutoko; a rural area situated about 140km Northeast of Harare. The Heroes Acre is protected under the Natural Resources Act.

See the Site on Wikimapia here

Learn more about the site here.

*This location will be added to the next version of North Korea Uncovered (North Korea Google Earth).  If readers are aware of other construction projects the DPRK has supported, please let me know.  I am especially interested in locating the North Korean restaurants in China, Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, and Bangladesh.  Are there others?


Zimbabwe’s 5 Brigade

Tuesday, January 29th, 2008

Last night I attended a presentation by The Honorable David Coltart of Zimbabwe, Shadow Justice Minister and Member of Parliament for Bulawayo South.   Aside from the sad story he told of the disastrous toll the policies of Zanu-PF and Robert Mugabe are taking on the lives of Zimbabwe’s people, he mentioned the role that President Kim il Sung of North Korea played in facilitating Comrade Mugabe’s rise to power…

The full story can be found in the report  “Breaking the Silence.”

Starting on Page 45 of the report:

…in October of 1980, an agreement was signed between Prime Minister Mugabe and President Kim Il Sung, in which North Korea offered to train and arm a brigade for the newly independent Zimbabwe.

The First News of this agreement in the Zimbabwe media was almost a year later, in August 1981, when 106 Korean instructors arrived to begin training the brigade. Prime Minister Mugabe then announced that the Korean-trained brigade was to be known as the 5 Brigade.”

This squad was colloquially named ‘Gukurahundi’ which is Shona for “the rain that washes away the chaff before the spring rains,” and it was separate from the normal Zimbabwe National Army. 

The 5 Brigade soldiers made it clear themselves that they should be regarded as above the law.[…] answerable to nobody but Mugabe.

In addition to Korean-made equipment,

5 Brigade had completely different communication procedures: their codes and radios were incompatible with other units. Their uniform was also different, its most distinctive feature by the time they became operational in 1983 being their red berets. […]The use of AK-47s, recognized by their distinctive bayonets and curved magazines,is another distinguishing feature. In addition, the 5 Brigade traveled in a large fleet of vehicles which were Korean in origin, although this fleet did not last long, falling to pieces on the rough Zimbabwean terrain.

The 5 Brigade’s brutal activities are outlined in the report, but essentially they were used to eliminate rival political parties that could threaten Mugabe’s (and ZANU-PFs) control of the state.

UPDATE: from the Marmot’s Hole:

“What is historically known is that six months after independence in October 1980, Mugabe signed an agreement with the brutal communist dictatorship of North Korea, for assistance in training a new army brigade to deal with internal dissidents. 5 Brigade (here and video of the North Koreans and Zimbabwean soldiers), as it came to be known, wore different uniforms, with distinctive red berets; it used different equipment, transport and weaponry. Codes and radios were incompatible with other units. It is likely that the same North Korean instructors that became known to the press some time later, had also been entrusted with the training of the Maltese government’s own Special Mobile Unit.”


Trendy London welcomes North Korean art

Tuesday, July 31st, 2007

Asia Times
Michael Rank

Above the chic shops and arcades of London’s Pall Mall, the flag of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea wafts incongruously in the wind. Look inside, and portraits of the Great Leader and the Dear Leader stare out at you.

No, the North Korean army hasn’t marched across the River Thames, but Pyongyang has established a small cultural enclave in London’s West End in the form of the first major exhibition of North Korean art in the Western world.

Curator David Heather says he first got the idea after meeting a North Korean painter at an art exhibition in Zimbabwe in 2001. “I got chatting with Mr Pak and he invited me to Pyongyang,” said Heather, making it all sound surprisingly straightforward. But the 45-year-old financier admits that mounting the exhibition was “quite a challenge … very time-consuming” and also admits that he has no great knowledge of art or the international art market.

He describes the surprisingly extensive exhibition of about 70 artworks as “an opportunity for people to see art from what is a secretive and protective society at first hand”.

The show ranges from apolitical landscapes and ceramics to a vast, blatantly propagandistic battle scene celebrating the routing of the US Army in the Korean War, as well as hand-painted posters on such unexpectedly diverse themes as “international hero” Che Guevara and “say no to sexual slavery in the 21st century”. This is a clear reference to Korean and Chinese “comfort women” who were forced into prostitution to serve Japanese soldiers during World War II.

Heather brought over three of the artists to London for the opening of the exhibition, including Pak Hyo-song, whom he had met in Zimbabwe and who has two dramatic – if highly un-North Korean – wildlife paintings of zebras and lions on show.

Pak spent five years in Zimbabwe as representative of the Mansudae Art Studio, North Korea’s leading group of official artists, whose activities include designing monuments and propaganda posters on behalf of foreign, mainly African, governments.

Pak’s dramatic if not entirely lifelike oil paintings seem to have been influenced by the well-known British African wildlife artist David Shepherd, and sure enough, the 47-year-old “Merited Artist” told Asia Times Online at the opening party that he was a great fan of Shepherd.

He is undoubtedly the only North Korean artist to have had a one-man show in Europe, after Heather mounted an exhibition of 15 of his paintings in Wiesbaden, Germany, in 2005.

The London opening featured a remarkable mix of people. It was was a rare chance for the three North Korean artists and normally elusive members of the North Korean Embassy in London to mix socially with South Korean diplomats, art collectors and business people as well as with British Foreign Office officials, members of Britain’s tiny pro-Pyongyang New Communist Party, and at least one aging Moonie.

Heather said he had hopes of bringing the show to Paris, Berlin and even New York, and that only a few days after the opening he had already sold 50 posters at 250-300 pounds sterling (US$500-600) each, as well as two large paintings priced at several thousand pounds.

The sum of 300 pounds may sound like a lot for a none too subtle North Korean poster by an anonymous artist, but propaganda art is highly fashionable nowadays, with Chinese posters from the 1960s and 1970s fetching hundreds of dollars in London and New York. Given that the North Korean posters are hand-painted while the Chinese pictures are mass-produced prints that originally cost a few cents, the North Korean versions may turn out to be rather smart investments.

Heather said he had “no idea” how much he had invested in the exhibition, including renting a gallery on one of London’s most expensive streets for six weeks. “I don’t do it to make or lose money,” he said, but he clearly takes pride in being “a good negotiator”.

He said the North Koreans are “very direct and straightforward” and that “they are very open to ideas”. He has visited Pyongyang just once, in 2004, and conducted most of his negotiations in Beijing. Heather said he had bought 150 artworks, which he would show in rotation. Pricing the pictures was difficult, as this was the first time North Korean works of art were being sold in the capitalist West, he noted. “It opens up a new market which wasn’t there before.”

The biggest and most expensive picture in the exhibition is called Army Song of Victory and is priced at 28,000 pounds. A collective work by seven artists, it shows a Korean People’s Army brass band celebrating as US troops flee in the Battle of Rakdong River in 1950. A spokeswoman said the gallery was considering an offer of 21,000 pounds on the opening night.

Heather said he had received “a lot of help” from the North Korean Embassy and the British Foreign Office, and quiet encouragement also from the South Korean Embassy, which was anxious to see what North Korean art was all about. He has taken the North Korean artists to the Houses of Parliament, the British Museum and the historic city of Bath – despite the floods covering much of western England – and invited them to his home for a traditional British dinner of roast beef and Yorkshire pudding.

Heather has clearly formed an excellent rapport with the North Korean Embassy, and has even played golf with one of its diplomats on a course near London. “He’s sort of average like me. He has played on the Pyongyang golf course; it’s mainly for the elite,” Heather explained.

But holding an art exhibition is just the beginning, and Heather is now hoping to bring a 150-member North Korean orchestra over to London next year. “I’m hoping they will play in the Royal Albert Hall or Royal Festival Hall,” he said, referring to London’s two biggest concert halls.

This may not be quite as far-fetched as it sounds. Heather is working on the orchestra project with British soprano Suzannah Clarke, who has given several concerts in Pyongyang and is one of North Korea’s few foreign celebrities. Her rendition of “Danny Boy” is said to be especially popular with North Korean audiences. Given her fame and his business prowess, it’s an unlikely plan that just could come off.

Artists, Arts and Culture of North Korea runs at La Galleria, 5b Pall Mall, London SW1Y 4UY, until September 2.


Former N. Korean smuggler named ambassador to Italy

Tuesday, April 24th, 2007


A senior North Korean diplomat who was deported from Zimbabwe a decade and a half ago for smuggling rhino horns out of the country has been named the country’s new ambassador to Italy, according to the North’s official media Tuesday.

In 1992, Han Tae-song, now a career diplomat in his mid-50s, was expelled from the southern African country on suspicion of being engaged in illicit trafficking in rhino horns.

Since then, Han has worked in the field of international organizations at the North’s Foreign Ministry, specializing in United Nations affairs, the Korean Central News Agency reported.

North Korea and Italy established diplomatic ties in January 2000.