Day Four Rwanda…A Remarkable Lady

Day 4 A Remarkable Lady

On the outskirts of Kigali there is a Technical College which provides technical and vocational education to many young Rwandan adults. This school was formerly known as the John Bosco School. On the 11th of April 1994 three thousand people who took refuge in the school were massacred.

People made their way to the school to seek protection. The UN peace keeping force kept guard at the gates of the college from the outset of the genocide giving those inside a place of certain refuge from the surrounding slaughter. The militia had surrounded the area but the UN presence kept harm at bay.
On that fateful day, the 11th of April, the UN guard reported that they were standing down; according to the officer in command they were recalled. They left the school and headed straight to the airport. Someone somewhere decided that the UN no longer had a role to play and people were left to the mercy of the madness. The Commander of the forces, General Dallaire, was convinced that a team of five thousand troops would keep order on the streets. The cable he sent to the UN was ignored. He had reported to those in command that ‘something big’ was about happen. He knew of the distribution of arms and was told that the militia had been trained to kill one thousand people in twenty minutes flat. Obviously vested interests won out and Dallaire’s efforts were all in vein. The Rwandan people were never important in this outbreak. There is evidence to show that French soldiers trained the militia and other information reveals that President Mitterrand’s son was an arms dealer. When the genocide had come to an end President Mitterrand was reported to have said by the newspaper Le Figaro that ‘In such countries genocide is not too important’.
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Many of the people in the John Bosco school lay down in front on the UN trucks pleading with them to stay but the UN soldiers fired into the air and made their way straight to the airport. Then the slaughter began. People had been in the compound for four days at this stage; most were hungry and tired. For some strange reason the army commander put out the order that the people were not to be killed on the site. They were to be ‘rounded up’ those who worked for international offices and those who had Hutu identity cards were put to one side; the rest were ordered to march up a hill to a new location. Any that stumbled were shot or clubbed to death. Military jeeps kept the three thousand people together as they made their way to a new location.

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Today I met one who survived this tragedy. Out of the three thousand there were only one hundred survivors and of those one hundred only twenty did not suffer a permanent disability. The soldiers started by throwing grenades into the crowd and then opened up with ammunition. When they had run out of ammunition they invited the militia to make sure everyone was dead; they did so with the aid of clubs, spears and machetes. (Interestingly the guide at the museum earlier today told us that the government have just only recently finished paying off the bill for the machetes to China close on twenty years later).

The lady that spoke to us today told of a militia man standing on her chest and searching her pockets while she pretended to be dead. At another stage a militia man hit her on the head with a hammer three times again she feigned death. She heard her husband calling from the heap of bodies but could not move from the spot where she lay. She listened as babies cried and listened still as those babies cries died away during the long night that followed At one sage in the night she tended to one young child who wandered by. She motioned to him and the child asked to be held; she asked to be held as she had watched her parents and siblings fall dead beside her, ‘please hold me’. When morning came some survivors tried to get away but the militia shot them down. Again the militia rounded on the bodies; one took her by the hair and shook her looking for money in her pockets but she managed to remain lifeless convincing the assailant that she was dead.

It was the arrival of the Rwandan Patriotic Front who changed the circumstances and who saved the day. There were advancing to capture a nearby hill. They could not offer much in terms of food or medicine but they offered a chance to live.

The lady told us about what it is like to be a survivor of such a tragedy; so powerful was her testament that we didn’t get to hear it…the translator broke down in tears as she shared her story; he just let her continue as his eyes were filling over and over again. Some things were heard though. The fact is that as a survivor you feel you are constantly ‘cheating with life’; you act normal but you are far from normal. Healing doesn’t happen the pain is always there. It took ten years to even consider praying and thinking about God…God presence was notable by its absence.
These people were let down. The wars of other countries were fought on their soil and at their expense. The country is doing well now. Economic activity is encouraged but you do not have to scrape very deeply to find that most people are still afraid. They are afraid of what they saw and witnessed during the genocide; they are afraid of it because it still incites fear in them. They are conditioned to be afraid; the heavy presence of military and police is more about security than peace keeping. They are particularly afraid because they know they are on their own. Those charged with a duty of care turned on them in a manner most foul and savage. The international community refused to be there for them when they were needed and those among the UN forces that did want to help were overruled by a bureaucrat placed under political duress at a desk in New York. The Church was silent before, during and after; it is a church that wants people to pray but not to reflect. It is a church that has lived in the shadow of others and has never been brave enough to stand in the light.

The seven year old child who needed to be held is now a man and is presently studying in University.

A Memorial Garden was put in palce soon after the genocide in the spot where the three thousand were murdered.

A Memorial Garden was put in palce soon after the genocide in the spot where the three thousand were murdered.

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