The Zimbabwean Cabinet on Tuesday was to take up the highly sensitive question of to whether the country should invite North Korea's soccer team to train in the country through the World Cup in neighboring South Africa, amid demands by Matabeleland regional activists that the team not be welcomed.
Objections have to do with the fact that the Zimbabwean Fifth Brigade, accused of committing massacres during the 1980s Gukurahundi conflict between rival liberation forces in Matabeleland, was North Korean-trained.
Education Minister David Coltart, senator for the Bulawayo constituency of Khumalo, said it is not yet clear if the North Koreans will train in Zimbabwe during the 2010 World Cup next month in South Africa.
Coltart said that while it is unfair to blame the young soccer players for the Fifth Brigade massacres in the Midlands and Matabeleland regions in the 1980s, the government should take into account the demands by regional Matabeleland activists that the North Korean team not train in Zimbabwe.
Coltart told VOA Studio 7 reporter Gibbs Dube that there is no need to open up old wounds by hosting a team whose presence in the country may provoke political disturbances. “It is important that we deal with this issue in a sensitive manner so that we don’t allow a visit like this to inflame passions or re-open wounds,” Coltart said.
Brilliant Mhlanga, a member of the Matabeleland activist group Ibhetshu Likazulu, said the North Korean soccer players would not be welcome in Matabeleland or anywhere else in Zimbabwe. He said would be a "symbolic insult" to have the North Koreans train in Zimbabwe as the Fifth Brigade atrocities remain unresolved.
“Our wounds are still fresh and it is even more insulting to the spirit of those whose innocent blood was shed after undergoing the most horrific, evil and satanic acts ever committed in the history of modern day Zimbabwe,” he said.
Historians estimate that more than 20,000 people, mainly of the Ndebele ethnic group, were killed by soldiers of the Fifth Brigade in a purge of supporters of then-opposition leader Joshua Nkomo, head of the Zimbabwe African People's Union, which later merged with the Zimbabwe African National Union of Robert Mugabe.
Nkomo became Zimbabwean vice president under the Unity Accord which ended the fighting.
President Robert Mugabe has described the massacres as “an act of madness,” he has failed to publicly apologize for atrocities or provide compensation for the families of civilians killed by government troops.