Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe addresses the United Nations General Assembly, at the UN headquarters. File picture: Frank Franklin II/AP

Harare - Robert Mugabe, the African president who formed close relations with North Korea, mocked US president Donald Trump's statements at the UN General Assembly this week. 

But some Zimbabweans have reacted with astonishment as Mugabe, 93, depended on critical North Korean support when he was trying to establish a one-party state shortly after he came to power after the first democratic elections. 

Mugabe, who also referred to Trump’s hairstyle when he spoke out in New York, told the UN General Assembly he was “embarrassed” by Trump’s anti-North Korea statements in which the US president vowed to destroy North Korea if necessary because it was deploying nuclear weapons in the region. 

“Some of us were embarrassed, if not frightened, by what appeared to be the return of the biblical giant Gold Goliath. Are we having a return of Goliath to our midst, who threatens the extinction of other countries?” 

Mugabe asked Trump to "blow your trumpet toward the values of unity, peace, co-operation, dialogue and togetherness."

Douglas Mwonzora, a human rights lawyer, who is also secretary-general of the main opposition, the Movement for Democratic Change said he was shocked to hear what Mugabe said at the general assembly on Thursday. 

“Mugabe used North Koreans to create the 5th brigade (outside the Zimbabwe National Army) which killed thousands of opposition supporters at the time. We all saw North Koreans in Zimbabwe for years. Mugabe wants to make Zimbabwe into a North Korea in Africa, a pariah state.

“North Korea could start a nuclear war, and that’s the truth. I am sure Mugabe envies their culture and creation of a murderous dynasty and backwardness.”

Mugabe visited North Korea after independence and said he was “impressed" with the regime. Zimbabweans then began noticing North Koreans, usually in full military dress, in the streets of several cities, and learned they were training a new brigade, outside the formal Zimbabwe national army in eastern Zimbabwe. 

North Korean trained militants and formal groups of soldiers. But North Korea had some contact with Mugabe even prior to independence and former combatants said they learned to “cut peoples lips off” by North Koreans when they were trained in Mozambique during the war. 

Former  judge Chris Greenland, who was Zimbabwe’s first black judicial officer, but who now lives in Pretoria, told Independent Media earlier this year that former combatants from Mugabe’s war time forces told him, at the ceasefire period, of their relief when the war ended, not least because of the practices they had been taught to use by North Koreans at the time. 

North Koreans built the statue at Zimbabwe’s National Heroes Acre, where some of those who fought minority white rule are buried. 

In 2010, civil rights activists from Matabeleland - the province where the North Korean organised slaughter of civilians was concentrated - managed to stop the North Korean World Cup team from preparatory matches in the province’s capital, Bulawayo. 

Mugabe’s former close friend, Didymus Mutasa, then secretary for administration told journalists in Harare that North Korea was a friend to Zimbabwe after the death of Kim Jong 11 in 2011. "He was our great friend and we are not ashamed of being associated with him,” he said.

Mutasa eventually broke with Mugabe in 2014 after the two fell out when first lady Grace Mugabe decided to get rid of the then vice president Joice Mujuru, and Mutasa was seen to be in her camp.

Mugabe made many friends among the world’s best known dictators and invited them to Harare as he was making plans to create a one party state with the expiry of the British agreed constitution. 

He arranged a huge welcome for Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu and his wife Elena who was the first foreign leaders to be given the very rare honour of the Freedom of City of Harare.

Independent Foreign Service