Category: International Written by Associated Press
UNLIKELY AMBASSADOR--Flamboyant former NBA star Dennis Rodman, fifth from right, poses with three members of the Harlem Globetrotters basketball team, in red jerseys, and a production crew for the media upon arrival at Pyongyang Airport, North Korea, Feb. 26. (AP Photo/Kim Kwang Hyon)
by Jean H. Lee
Associated Press Writer
PYONGYANG, North Korea (AP) — Former NBA star Dennis Rodman brought his basketball skills Tuesday and flamboyant style — neon-bleached hair, tattoos, nose studs and all — to the isolated communist country with possibly the world's drabbest dress code: North Korea.
Arriving in Pyongyang, the American athlete and showman known as "The Worm" became an unlikely ambassador for sports diplomacy at a time of heightened tensions between the U.S. and North Korea. Or maybe not so unlikely: Young leader Kim Jong Un is said to have been a fan of the Chicago Bulls in the 1990s, when Rodman won three championships with the club.
Rodman is joining three members of the Harlem Globetrotters basketball team for a Vice Media production to air on HBO in early April, Vice founder Shane Smith told The Associated Press in an exclusive interview before the group's departure from Beijing.
Smith said the Americans hope to engage in a little "basketball diplomacy" by running a basketball camp for children and playing pickup games with locals, and by competing alongside top athletes of North Korea — formally known as the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.
"Is sending the Harlem Globetrotters and Dennis Rodman to the DPRK strange? In a word, yes," said Smith, who is host of the upcoming series. "But finding common ground on the basketball court is a beautiful thing."
Rodman might seem an odd fit for an impoverished country where male fashion rarely ventures beyond military khaki and growing facial hair is forbidden. During his heyday in the 1990s, Rodman was a poster boy for excess. He called his 1996 autobiography "Bad as I Wanna Be" — and showed up wearing a wedding dress to promote it.
Shown a photo of a snarling Rodman, piercings dangling from his lower lip and two massive tattoos emblazoned on his chest, one North Korean in Pyongyang recoiled and said: "He looks like a monster!"
But Rodman is also a Hall of Fame basketball player and one of the best defenders and rebounders to ever play the game. During a storied, often controversial career, he won five NBA championships — a feat that quickly overshadowed his antics for at least one small North Korean group of basketball fans.
Rodman's is the second high-profile American visit this year to North Korea, a country that remains in a state of war with the U.S. It also comes two weeks after North Korea conducted an underground nuclear test in defiance of U.N. bans against atomic and missile activity.
Google's executive chairman, Eric Schmidt, made a surprise four-day trip to Pyongyang, where he met with officials and toured computer labs in January, just weeks after North Korea launched a satellite into space on the back of a long-range rocket.
Washington, Tokyo, Seoul and others consider both the rocket launch and the nuclear test provocative acts that threaten regional security.
North Korea characterizes the satellite launch as a peaceful bid to explore space, but says the nuclear test was meant as a deliberate warning to Washington. Pyongyang says it needs to build nuclear weapons to defend itself against the U.S., and is believed to be trying to build an atomic bomb small enough to mount on a missile capable of reaching the mainland U.S.
Vice, known for its sometimes irreverent journalism, has made two previous visits to North Korea, coming out with the "VICE Guide to North Korea." The HBO series, which will air weekly starting April 5, features documentary-style news reports from around the world.
The Americans also will visit North Korea's national monuments, the SEK animation studio and a new skate park in Pyongyang.
The U.S. State Department hasn't been contacted about travel to North Korea by this group, a senior administration official said, requesting anonymity to comment before any trip had been made public. The official said the department does not vet U.S. citizens' private travel to North Korea and urges U.S. citizens contemplating travel there to review a travel warning on its website.
In a now-defunct U.S.-North Korean agreement in which Washington had planned last year to give food aid to Pyongyang in exchange for nuclear concessions, Washington had said it was prepared to increase people-to-people exchanges with the North, including in the areas of culture, education and sports.
Promoting technology and sports are two major policy priorities of Kim Jong Un, who took power in December 2011 following the death of his father, Kim Jong Il.
Along with soccer, basketball is enormously popular in North Korea, where it's not uncommon to see basketball hoops set up in hotel parking lots or in schoolyards. It's a game that doesn't require much equipment or upkeep.
The U.S. remains Enemy No. 1 in North Korea, and North Koreans have limited exposure to American pop culture. But they know Michael Jordan, a former teammate of Rodman's when they both played for the Chicago Bulls in the 1990s.
During a historic visit to North Korea in 2000, then-Secretary of State Madeleine Albright presented Kim Jong Il, famously an NBA fan, with a basketball signed by Jordan that later went on display in the huge cave at Mount Myohyang that holds gifts to the leaders.
North Korea even had its own Jordan wannabe: Ri Myong Hun, a 7-foot-9 star player who is said to have renamed himself "Michael" after his favorite player and moved to Canada for a few years in the 1990s in hopes of making it into the NBA.
Even today, Jordan remains well-loved here. At the Mansudae Art Studio, which produces the country's top art, a portrait of Jordan spotted last week, complete with a replica of his signature and "NBA" painted in one corner, seemed an odd inclusion among the propaganda posters and celadon vases on display.
An informal poll of North Koreans revealed that "The Worm" isn't quite as much a household name in Pyongyang.
But Kim Jong Un was a basketball-crazy adolescent when Rodman, now 51, was with the Bulls, and when the Harlem Globetrotters, an exhibition basketball team, kept up a frenetic travel schedule worldwide.
In a memoir about his decade serving as Kim Jong Il's personal sushi chef, a man who goes by the pen name Kenji Fujimoto recalled that basketball was the young Kim Jong Un's biggest passion, and that the Chicago Bulls were his favorite.
The notoriously unpredictable and irrepressible Rodman said he has no special antics up his sleeve for making his mark on one of the world's most regimented and militarized societies, a place where order and conformity are enforced with Stalinist fervor.
But he said he isn't leaving any of his piercings behind.
Associated Press writer Matthew Pennington contributed to this report from Washington. Follow AP's bureau chief for Pyongyang and Seoul at www.twitter.com/newsjean.
Last Updated on Tuesday, 26 February 2013 07:41
Category: International Written by Associated Press
BLADE RUNNER--Oscar Pistorius and Reeva Steenkamp are seen at an awards ceremony in Johannesburg, South Africa in 2012. (AP Photo/City Press, Lucky Nxumalo)
(GIN) – With all eyes on the tragedy of a woman’s life lost and an Olympic hero hauled into court on murder one, a poignant fact remains hidden in the drama: South Africa put strict gun control laws on the books in 2004 and cut gun crime by more than 20 percent.
Unlike in the U.S., owning a gun is conditional on a competency test and several other factors, including background checking of the applicant, inspection of an owner's premises, and licensing of the weapon by the police. Minimum waiting period frequently exceeds 2 years from date of application.
Approximately 6 million civilians own guns in South Africa – about 12% of the population - but estimates of sales on the black market could make the real number twice that.
The strict laws were unable, however, to prevent Oscar Pistorius, Olympic and Paralympic sprinter and double amputee, from amassing a deadly collection of guns and for allegedly murdering his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, as she hid in the bathroom.
Pistorius was a known gun enthusiast. In January, he applied for six separate firearm licenses, according to the online paper IOL, namely a Maverick shotgun, a Winchester shotgun, a Mossberg Shotgun, a Smith & Wesson Model 500 revolver, a .38 Special revolver and a Vector .223 rifle.
The range of weaponry shocked defense analyst Helmoed Heitman. He said he could not understand what the need for these firearms would be. A Vector .223 rifle, for example, is so powerful that its bullet carries on for a thousand metres, he said, adding, “If you shoot a burglar and you miss, you can hit somebody else 300 meters away.”
South African gun lobbies, with such unlikely names as The Justice Alliance of South Africa, have been seeking to weaken the gun law. "The only effective way to protect yourself against intruders is by using a gun. Either directly, or indirectly by summoning armed response or the police," said Wouter de Waal of Gun Owners of South Africa.
Meanwhile, Pistorius has been charged with premeditated murder and released on bail raising concerns that the White and wealthy Blade Runner is being treated more favorably than the 160,000 inmates incarcerated in Africa's most overcrowded prison system.
Far from the courtroom drama that has gripped South Africa, the family of Pistorius' slain girlfriend, Steenkamp, has struggled with its own private deluge of grief, frustration and bewilderment. The victim's relatives also harbor misgivings about efforts by the Olympian's family to reach out to them with condolences. Pistorius, meanwhile, spent Feb. 23, at his uncle's home in an affluent suburb of Pretoria.
Last Updated on Sunday, 24 February 2013 17:28
Category: International Written by Associated Press
ONE BILLION STRONG--Actress Thandie Newton, right, reacts with playwright and charity founder, Eve Ensler, during a photocall for One Billion Rising, the charity which aims to tackle violence against women, at the Institute of Arts in central London, Tuesday, Feb. 5, 2013. (Photo by Joel Ryan/Invision/AP)
AP Entertainment Writer
LOS ANGELES (AP) — Thousands danced in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Hundreds chanted in South Africa, carrying signs and candles. The Philippines held a 24-hour dance party. Scores of students in India gathered for a candlelight vigil.
Last Updated on Friday, 15 February 2013 09:29
Category: International Written by Courier Newsroom
‘HUMAN PROP’--A picture of a Namibian San man, which was photographed in the Namib Desert with international model, Emily DiDonata during Sports Illustrated swimsuit 2013 photo shoot in Namibia.
(GIN) – The much-awaited swimsuit issue of Sports Illustrated magazine has waded into a public relations nightmare with its display of bikini-clad White models prancing alongside Africans carrying spears or Chinese paddling rafts in cone shaped hats.
Last Updated on Thursday, 21 February 2013 07:21
Category: International Written by Associated Press
NEW REALITY SHOW--In this Wednesday, Feb. 6, 2013 photo, Swati Dlamini, left, and Zaziwe Dlamini-Manaway, granddaughters of Nelson and Winnie Mandela, pose during an interview in New York. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)
by Alexandra Olson
Associated Press Writer
NEW YORK (AP) — The newest reality television show is in some ways like any other: mother and daughters, sibling rivalry, family gossip and talk of Big Grandpa, who is very strict but loves it when his great-grandchildren are around making a racket. But that's where the twist comes in: Big Grandpa is Nelson Mandela, the anti-apartheid legend.
"Being Mandela," a new series premiering Sunday on COZI TV, invites U.S. audiences into the lives of Zaziwe Dlamini-Manaway and Swati Dlamini, the fashionable, 30-something granddaughters of Mandela and Winnie Madikizela-Mandela. The 94-year-old former South African president, who recently was treated for a lung infection and had surgery to remove gallstones, does not appear in the series but his controversial ex-wife — "Big Mommy" to her grandchildren — does and seems to relish it.
If the Mandela clan seems like an odd subject for a reality show, the granddaughters make no apologies.
"We get asked this question a lot. Is this not going to tarnish the name and is this not going to be bad for the name?" Swati Dlamini said in an interview with The Associated Press in New York, where she and her sister were promoting the show. "But our grandparents have always said to us, this is our name too, and we can do what we think is best fitting with the name, as long as we treat it with respect and integrity."
The 13-episode first season follows the two women as they try to carry on the family legacy while juggling motherhood in Johannesburg.
The sisters, who spent most of their childhood in exile in the United States, make an emotional visit to the prison on Robben Island where their grandfather spent 18 of the 27 years he was imprisoned by South Africa's white-ruled government. Zaziwe meets the guard who she says smuggled her into prison as a baby so Mandela could meet her.
Let in on the secret, prison guard Christo Brand recalls initially refusing to allow Mandela to see his grandchild, according to his memoir at the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory.
Then, Brand says, he gave in, though he feared he might lose his job. "I gave him the baby, he had tears in his eyes while he held her ..." he says. "Mandela never told anyone about this. When we walked back to the prison section, he told me how important the moment was, to touch something small."
The sisters, along with two brothers, also become the latest famous names to launch a fashion line, called "Long Walk to Freedom" in honor of their grandfather's autobiography. Their lives are special and glamorous and they know it. They hope that U.S. audiences — COZI TV is a new network launched by NBC Owned Television Stations — will see a vibrant and modern side of South Africa through their eyes.
They also bicker. The family, especially Madikizela-Mandela, loves to gossip about when Swati, the single mother of a 4-year-old daughter, is going to get married. Swati is furious when Zaziwe, despite being sworn to secrecy, blurts to their grandmother that her sister is dating someone. Zaziwe, 35, is married to an American businessman and has three children.
The sisters are the daughters of Zenani Mandela and Prince Thumbumuzi Dlamini of Swaziland. But parents everywhere will delight in seeing that being royal doesn't help them face toddler tantrums or get older children out of bed and into school uniforms.
Big Grandpa and Big Mommy are into the show, the sisters insisted.
Mandela will definitely watch it, they said. The Nobel Peace Prize winner apparently sort of likes reality TV.
"You'll be interested to know that he loves 'Toddlers and Tiaras,'" said Swati, laughing in reference to the TLC series about child beauty pageants.
"Because of the kids! He just loves children," Zaziwe added quickly.
The sisters said their grandfather is "happy and healthy."
Zaziwe showed a Feb. 2 photograph of Mandela at home, flashing his familiar smile, with his youngest great-grandchild on his lap — Zaziwe's one-year-old son. The picture is a rare public image of Mandela, whose last appearance on a major stage was during the 2010 World Cup soccer tournament in South Africa.
Mandela, who always lamented his long separation from his family during his imprisonment, is happiest these days when his offspring are running around being loud, his granddaughters said.
"We're in and out of the house. We're loud and he loves the noise," Zaziwe said.
The granddaughters say their grandfather — to the world, a symbol of integrity and magnanimity — holds the family to high standards and sets rules for when the children should be home and when dinner should start.
"He's a very strict person. Most people wouldn't think that but he really, really is," Zaziwe said.
The sisters are closer to Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, who divorced Mandela in 1996. Their adoring description of their grandmother as the doting matriarch stands in contrast with her checkered public image. Beloved by many poor urban blacks, Madikizela-Mandela also faces accusations that she and her bodyguard unit committed 18 killings in the 1980s. She denies it.
"She's fun. She never says no to us. I don't think I've ever heard my grandmother say no to us," Zaziwe said.
Still, the series shows Big Mommy clearly taking charge of the family. She marches into the hospital room where Zaziwe gave birth to Zen with a list of possible names for the baby boy.
The sisters say it was only after Mandela retired from public life that they started to get to know their grandfather.
"Our grandfather always told us that he belongs to the country and he's of service to the country and he doesn't belong to us as a family. And that's the sacrifice he's made for the country and that what he's told us as far as I can remember," Swati said.
AP Entertainment Writer Lauri Neff contributed to this story.
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Last Updated on Friday, 08 February 2013 16:48
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