North Korean statues open wounds in Zimbabwe

2010-09-30 07:21

Harare, Zimbabwe – The two North Korean-made statues were meant to honour a national hero, but people were so offended by Pyongyang’s links to a blood-soaked chapter of Zimbabwe’s history that one was taken down almost immediately and the other was not even 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 offence was intended by the choice of North Korea to make the statues, said Godfrey Mahachi, head of the state National Museums and Monuments. He said North Korea was chosen simply because it won the bid for the work, promising favourable 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 organised 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.

Organisers 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 had been paid $600 000 (R4.2 million) for the two statues, state media reported.

Mahachi said officials were considering where else to put the two 3m statues.

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

The Bulawayo statue is kept at the Bulawayo Natural History Museum for the time being, 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.

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