North Korea and Zimbabwe in World Cup controversy

Despite Zimbabwe not making it out of the second round of African World Cup qualifying, Robert Mugabe has still managed to turn the upcoming World Cup, hosted by neighboring South Africa, into a domestic political scandal. What a surprise. Apparently not having had its fill of international pariahs after Mahmoud Ahmedinejad’s visit last week, Mugabe’s ...

DESMOND KWANDE/AFP/Getty Images
DESMOND KWANDE/AFP/Getty Images
DESMOND KWANDE/AFP/Getty Images

Despite Zimbabwe not making it out of the second round of African World Cup qualifying, Robert Mugabe has still managed to turn the upcoming World Cup, hosted by neighboring South Africa, into a domestic political scandal. What a surprise. Apparently not having had its fill of international pariahs after Mahmoud Ahmedinejad's visit last week, Mugabe's government has also invited North Korea's soccer team to stay in the country prior to the World Cup. This move has brought back a decades old grudge between the two countries. 

Despite Zimbabwe not making it out of the second round of African World Cup qualifying, Robert Mugabe has still managed to turn the upcoming World Cup, hosted by neighboring South Africa, into a domestic political scandal. What a surprise. Apparently not having had its fill of international pariahs after Mahmoud Ahmedinejad’s visit last week, Mugabe’s government has also invited North Korea’s soccer team to stay in the country prior to the World Cup. This move has brought back a decades old grudge between the two countries. 

In 1982, 20,000 Zimbabweans were slaughtered by the army in Matabeleland province. It just so happens that the army brigade responsible was trained by North Korean military advisors.

Making the hosting offer even more insensitive were the original plans to base the North Korean team in Bulawayo, the second largest city in the country, located in — you guessed it — the region of Matabeleland. The locals were displeased:

Groups representing Matabeleland’s ethnic Ndebele minority had threatened to disrupt training sessions and games in Bulawayo, and organize protests among Zimbabweans based in South Africa.

Earlier today, Zimbabwe announced it would base the side in Harare — but insisted the change was not “politically motivated.” But it doesn’t look likely to appease the protesters. Methuseli Moyo of ZAPU, a small opposition party, told the BBC:

“It should be the concern of every Zimbabwean that North Korea trained those who perpetrated the atrocities. Even if they camp in Harare, we will still organise the protests.”

The North Korean side has enough problems already, having drawn Brazil, Portugal, and Côte d’Ivoire in this cup’s version of the “Group of Death.”

Andrew Swift is an editorial researcher at Foreign Policy.
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