- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 29, 2010

JOHANNESBURG | Lucy Dube recalls the day in the mid-1980s when her Zimbabwean village encountered Gukuranhundi — “the wind that blows away the chaff.”

“I was only 10 years old at the time, but I watched my parents, my grandmother and two of my brothers being locked into a hut by those soldiers,” she said. “They lit the grass roof, and I could hear my family screaming, but there was nothing I could do.”

Mrs. Dube said she had been sleeping at a friend’s hut less than 100 yards away. “If I had been with my mother, I would also have been killed.”

Troops of the 5th Brigade, a unit answerable directly to President Robert Mugabe and trained by North Korean “special advisers,” have long been accused of killing tens of thousands and leaving nearly 1 million homeless in the Gukuranhundi campaign to secure Mr. Mugabe’s political power.

Now demonstrators have vowed to bring activity in Zimbabwe’s southern city of Bulawayo to a halt if the North Korean soccer team is allowed to train at a local sports ground.

Players from Pyongyang, North Korea, are due to arrive in Zimbabwe on May 25, ahead of the World Cup soccer tournament in South Africa in June.

“We are not angry at the players themselves,” separatist leader Andrea Sibanda told The Washington Times. “Our problem is that the North Korean government trained the troops who committed genocide on our people.”

Mr. Sibanda is secretary-general of the Matabeleland Freedom Party (MFP), which campaigns on a platform of self-rule or full independence for the region.

Another Matabele pressure group, Ibhetshu Likazulu — whose name refers to the skirt of animal pelts worn by Zulu and Matabele warriors — confirmed that it would join protests against the North Korean team.

Mrs. Dube, a Matabele resident of Bulawayo, said she thinks her family was targeted because her father had been active in local politics.

“No one can deny that this happened,” she said. “The whole village was forced to watch and, after the fire, many were beaten and others were taken away by the soldiers, and we did not see them again.

“Now we must have the North Koreans here as our guests. I cannot live with that.”

In 1982, North Korean leader, Kim Il-sung, now deceased, sent a team of “special advisers” to Zimbabwe to train Mr. Mugabe’s 5th Brigade. Over the next five years, these troops committed a series of massacres in the south, the Matabele claim.

Mr. Sibanda said the Gukuranhundi campaign claimed up to 40,000 lives and left nearly 1 million people homeless, though human rights groups put the death toll at 20,000. With many of the bodies still in mass graves, there is no consensus figure.

Fifth Brigade commander Col. Perence Shiri now heads the Zimbabwean air force and is a close ally of Mr. Mugabe.

About 80 percent of black Zimbabweans hail from Mr. Mugabe’s Shona tribe. The Matabele arrived from South Africa in 1840, when the Zulu king Shaka exiled one of his generals, Mzilikazi, who then fled north with his followers.

The Matabele and Shona are unable to understand each other’s language and usually communicate in English.

Zimbabwean Tourism Minister Walter Mzambi said the government invited five teams — from England, the United States, Australia, Brazil and North Korea — to train in the country, and only North Korea accepted the offer.

Dismissing the threat of unrest, Mr. Mzambi said the Matabele might as well protest the German team. He told Voice of America that Germany had “really violated human rights in a big way.”

“The Holocaust did not happen in Zimbabwe,” he said.

Mr. Sibanda described the remark as “disgusting.”

“Making comments like that about the Holocaust or any genocide shows how little the minister cares about crimes against humanity,” he said.

Mr. Mugabe, 86, and his Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) have been in power since 1980. In 1981, his goal of a one-party state was opposed by the Matabele-dominated Zimbabwe African People’s Union (ZAPU), led by Joshua Nkomo.

Armed dissidents loyal to Mr. Nkomo attacked farms and military installations in Matabeleland. In response, Mr. Mugabe set up the 5th Brigade, but Mr. Nkomo, who died in 1999, claimed that many attacks blamed on dissidents were staged by government troops as an excuse for intervention.

In 1987, Mr. Nkomo dissolved ZAPU and joined ZANU-PF.

At elections in 2000, a new party — the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), led by Morgan Tsvangirai — came close to unseating ZANU-PF, after which Mr. Mugabe embarked on a violent land-reform program and set up a youth militia that his critics accuse of widespread rape and torture.

In March 2008, the MDC won a general election, but ZANU-PF refused to surrender power, forcing Mr. Tsvangirai to join a coalition government that now rules Zimbabwe.

While analysts agree that autonomy for Matabeleland is unlikely, with both ZANU-PF and the MDC against the idea, politics in the region has fractured. The ZAPU party has re-established itself and pledged to contest the next election, which could take place as early as 2011, and the MDC has split into two factions, the smaller of which is represented in Parliament by 10 lawmakers, all from the south.

But Mr. Sibanda said the fight for independence is far from over. “If a referendum was held today, a majority of Matabele would vote to have their own state,” he said.

“Genocide has that effect on people. You never trust anyone to rule over you again.”

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