Three tales of Rwandan Genocide
Author: Collected by Ferdinand Katendeko
Originally Published at Peace and Conflict Monitor on: 04/19/2004
‘Living among the dead’
In 1994 in the village of Nyarubuye, Rwanda, the Hutu majority went on a killing spree in the local church, slaughtering neighbours and friends. Flora Mukampore lost 17 members of her family and saw her neighbour doing the killing. This is her story.
We used to go to church with them and they taught us together that committing murder is a sin and God punishes those who kill.
We thought that no one would dare come to attack us at the church because the church is a holy place.
[When the killers arrived] our men were ready to fight, even though they didn’t have any weapons, so they died standing. You would not think that they were all going to get killed because they were very many. We did not think they would get killed.
Drenched in blood
My neighbour Gitera was there. Imagine someone leaving their home, knowing the possible victim’s name and their children’s names.
They all killed their neighbours’ wives and children.
All the people they were cutting fell on me because I was near the door. I had too much hair but it all was washed with blood.
My body had been drenched in blood and it was getting dry on me so killers thought I had been cut all over. They thought I was dead.
I lay down on one side with only one eye open. I could hear a man come toward me and I guess he saw me breathe. He hit me on my head saying: “Isn’t this thing still alive?”
Immediately I heard my entire body say “whaa”. Something in my head changed forever. Everything stopped.
Afterwards, when the cold wind blew. I woke up. But I did not realise that there were bodies around me. I did not remember what had happened.
I just thought they were normal people and so I slept among them like we had slept before the killers came.
Later I heard the girl say : “She is rotten. It’s all over for her. Does she look human to you? ”
Then I realised that all the people around me had decayed.
When they sat me up I realised there were maggots and I started removing them off myself.
Can you imagine living with the dead? At some point God helped me and made me unconscious because if I wasn’t, there is a possibility that I would have committed suicide.
But, I wasn’t conscious and anyway killing oneself needs energy. Can you imagine. People died on the 15 April and I lived among them until the 15 May?
Massacre at Nyarubuye church
By Fergal Keane
The killers came on a spring afternoon, as many as 7,000 men crowding down the narrow lane towards Nyarubuye church.
Nine days earlier the plane carrying Rwanda’s Hutu President, Juvenal Habyirimana, had been shot down flying into the capital Kigali.
Within hours the slaughter of members of the Tutsi minority as well as moderate Hutus had begun.
Among the killers marching to the church were Gitera Rwamuhuzi and his friend Silas Ngendahimana.
The Tutsis, including Flora Mukampore, had fled to the church believing they would be safe.
The local Mayor, Sylvestre Gacumbitsi, gave orders to the police to shoot, and then the peasants moved in to kill – hacking, slashing and bludgeoning their neighbours to death. Between five and ten thousand Tutsis were killed.
When I reached the scene weeks later the rotting bodies lay twisted terribly, skulls smashed open, faces frozen in the last terrible expression of violent death. How could men do this, I asked myself.
It is a question that has haunted me for a decade. Ten years after the slaughter I met some of the killers. Most are in jail but will soon be released under the government’s Gacaca programme after confessing their crimes and apologising.
Gitera Rwamuhuzi is the most confident of his group and the natural leader. He smiled and shook my hand warmly.
He is an intelligent, complex man – and a ruthless killer. Before the genocide he was a local criminal gang enforcer and is said to have killed as many as 100 people, with his gang responsible for 300 deaths.
He has confessed only to three murders. “Whoever is telling you that story is exaggerating to try to make my name look bad,” he says.
Gitera describes lying on the ground at Nyarubuye while the soldiers opened fire. He saw a Tutsi man trying to escape from the church and ran over and struck him on the head, killing him.
He blames Satan, a common theme among the prisoners. Responsibility is passed out of their hands to some supernatural force. There are no guilty men, only victims of dark forces.
But he also believed he was going to be killed by the Tutsis. “We thought that if they had managed to kill the head of state how were we ordinary people going to survive?” he says.
Gitera describes killing his next door neighbours.
“They looked traumatised. They were people who had lost weight because they had not eaten for days. After killing the mother the toddler fell by her side,” he says, crying. Cyasa Habimana refuses to be photographed with the others, believing he is a man of greater substance. He also reads from his diaries, believing they justify him.
The Interahamwe militia group leader says he was a tool of more powerful men. He is cunning but with no imagination, an ex-army sergeant with a reputation as a hard man and a good organiser. He was persuaded to train the Interahamwe by an army colonel.
Cyasa does not blame the devil. He says the colonel gave him a new set of tyres for his truck and threatened to kill him if he did not comply.
He says he was not at Nyarubuye but was involved in attacks elsewhere in the area in which thousands of Tutsis died.
To the survivors, Cyasa was a monster, devoid of pity. He is now under sentence of death.
By Justin Kiyimba
I was staying in a rented three-bedroomed house in Remera near Amahoro National Stadium, and hardly five kilometres from the airport. I had a houseboy who was a Hutu.
On April 6, 1994, I was in the house in the evening when I suddenly heard a very loud bang, followed by absolute silence. Hardly an hour later, shooting started everywhere. I rang a friend who was staying in Kicukiro suburb of Kigali. He told me there was shooting going on around his place as well. By 10:00pm, there was shooting all over.
At around 3:00am, a friend called and asked me: “Have you heard the news? It looks like president Juvenal Habyarimana has been killed.” I immediately developed cold feet. In the morning, the Interahamwe-armed Hutu youth were on rampage. They had started the ritual killing that very night. They sought for people everywhere including under the beds. They even snatched their victims from the hands of UN forces.
There was a radio station that used to incite people – that: “You people, what are you doing? The graves that we dug are not yet full.” It seemed like the Habyarimana government was preparing for the eventuality of a massacre.
From the weapons they used, the clubs they flaunted and the machetes they carried against the Tutsis and moderate Hutus, it could not have been hatched overnight. Not all Hutus were bad, though. Only there was already this animosity between the Hutus and the Tutsis mounting.
Unfortunately, one’s identity card indicated whether he or she was Hutu, Tutsi or Twa… There were also particular features to show that one was either Hutu or Tutsi.
They went an extra mile to know in which house each Ugandan or any other foreigner was staying. That was how bad the situation was for us. My houseboy then told me that Suudi, a driver of Kagera River Basin, had been killed. Later I learnt that Suudi used to move with the Tutsis, and because of that, he was regarded an outcast among the Hutus. The same day, I heard people screaming from my neighbour’s home. There was wailing. The shooting reigned supreme. My neighbour had seven kids, a wife and his mother, most of them were massacred, but he managed to escape.
Before the genocide, soldiers of the Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF) were stationed at the parliament building. But they had now been moved to occupy a place near my house, which had a brick fence. We could not dare come out all this time. After three days hiding in the house, I heard people banging my door almost breaking in and shouting “Omugande alimo” (is this Ugandan in?). Somehow, I summoned enough courage and in the little Kinyarwanda I knew, I told them to wait for me to open for them. On opening, I met six soldiers armed to their teeth, their fingers hungry on the trigger and raring to go. Their magazines were swang around themselves like necklaces.
About six Interahamwe youth, well armed with machetes, guns, axes and clubs with nails on them gave guard to the soldiers. After leading them through the back-door into the sitting room, I knelt at my coffee table and started praying. My end had finally come, so I thought. I waited for the last hour that never came. But I heard one of them say in Kinyarwanda that “let us not kill this man, but let him show us where the RPF are.” I had a Uganda flag on my television. As a Ugandan, the soldiers thought I was hiding the RPF soldiers.
The Interahamwe remained in the sitting room as I led the soldiers into the bedroom. By the time the genocide broke out, we were only three in the house – the houseboy, myself and our dog. (His wife, Margaret and family were in Uganda.) The soldiers and Interahamwe spent over two hours ransacking the house, turning it upside down and pulling down all sorts of things, wardrobes, wall units and anything they could set their eyes on. When they were leaving finally, they took away a big radio and many other things. When they took my small radio, I thought oh my God, I am going to be in darkness, no radio, and no telephone.
My telephone was now cut off, the last telephone I had was with my son in the United States, and I was cut off from the outside.
Thank God! Hardly an hour later, they (soldiers) came back saying: “We are bringing back this radio so that you don’t think we had come to steal your things.” They had fidgeted with the radio and broken something. But good enough I later managed to get it working.
I used to tune only to BBC Focus on Africa and switch it off to save the one set of battery I had.
There was no electricity and no water running anymore. Good enough, it was a rainy season and we used rainwater. We had some little food in the house and at the time, the soldiers were only interested in looting beers and not any foodstuffs. This saved us from possible starvation had they chosen to loot the food.
For the little food we had, beans, posho, rice and sugar, we had to bury them and were using them sparingly. I used to take porridge at about 11:00am with my houseboy and dog, and some light meal at 3:00pm. I could not bathe everyday.
We were living in a government-controlled area; and there were roadblocks and shooting going on everywhere. I could not go out. All the time I was lying down in the sitting room, always reading the Bible.
I stayed in Rwanda like a person who had been sentenced to death, only waiting to die, though never knowing when. There were bullets and bombings throughout the place, everytime.
They were stray bullets, not aimed at me. At one time sitting behind the house, a long range bomb dropped near me. I was covered with soil.
Another time I was standing by the door when a bullet ripped through the door and missed me narrowly. I don’t know how I survived. Anybody could have walked in and killed me. I could have died of hunger if we didn’t have some little food stocked in the house. And my blood pressure had shot up.
My rescue was as miraculous as those of Peter and Daniel in the Bible. After over two months indoors, I wrote a letter to the UN forces, who were always driving past my house, to rescue me.
I had arranged all the things that I wanted to carry, including the diary on which I had been writing all the daily incidents. But when the time came, I picked only my blue jacket, leaving all the things remaining in the house.
They first took me to the airport where I stayed in the lounge (glass house) as the battle went on, bullets shattering the glass windows. The Ghananian soldiers gave me good food.
I was in the airport for a week, until the RPF took over the airport. Then they went to check the runway to see if it was safe for the plane to take off or land. It was in the first week of June when we left Kigali in a UN transport plane to Nairobi, before connecting to Uganda on Kenya Airways. Everybody could not believe I had left Kigali alive. They thought I was long dead.
I did not believe it either. Never did I think I would ever walk out of the place alive.