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How a pair of North Korean-built statues reopened ethnic wounds in Zimbabwe

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All great artists have their critics. Ask a group of (apparently nameless) North Korean sculptors, whose two bronze depictions of the Zimbabwe freedom fighter Joshua Nkomo – displayed in Nkomo’s hometown of Bulawayo and in the nation’s capital of Harare – were dismantled after heavy criticism.

It probably didn’t help matters that North Korea helped to train the notorious fifth brigade, the elite unit sent to crush Nkomo’s ZAPU rebel group in his native Matabeleland region in the early 1980s. By the time Nkomo surrendered in 1987 and joined the government of his former lieutenant, President Robert Mugabe, 20,000 civilians had been killed in Mugabe’s infamous “Gukurahundi” operation. (Gukurahundi means, "the early rain which washes away the chaff before the spring rains”).

To have North Korean sculptors create an image of Nkomo was seen by some Zimbabweans, and particularly those of Nkomo’s Ndebele ethnic group, as insensitive. But Zimbabwe government officials say the North Koreans simply made the best bid.


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