How football saved lives in ‘94

ONE million US dollars is what has been invested in TP Mazembe this season to make sure they defend their CAF Champions League title.
Rayon Sport players shake hands with APR players during a 2007 league encounter. Inset is Eugene Murangwa (File Photo)
Rayon Sport players shake hands with APR players during a 2007 league encounter. Inset is Eugene Murangwa (File Photo)

ONE million US dollars is what has been invested in TP Mazembe this season to make sure they defend their CAF Champions League title.

This is testament of how much the competition is valued and why clubs will do anything within their means to make sure they compete in Africa’s premier club tournament.

Back in 1994, Rayon Sport, one of Rwanda’s most celebrated clubs, was in business as far as the competition is concerned.

Kenya Breweries Ltd is what stood between the Blues and a place in the group stage of the competition but everything suddenly changed when the atrocious killings of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi took center stage in the country.

Today, Eugene Murangwa, who was Rayon’s goalkeeper and one of the country’s most celebrated players at the time, recounts some of the events prior and during the mayhem.

In the build up to the CAF Champions League tie, Murangwa and the rest of his teammates would train at Mumena stadium and then gather at Baobab restaurant, which was located in the heart of Nyamirambo (a suburb Kigali city) or at Café Rio to watch the 1994 Africa Cup of Nations (CAN) which was hosted in Tunisia and won by Nigeria.

Murangwa did not even have the slightest idea that his happiness would be reduced to tears and sadness in a few days.

He recalls, “On April 6 at around10pm at Baobab restaurant as we were watching the Africa Nations Cup, we heard a bomb blast and on our way home, rumours leaked that the blast had occurred close to Gregoire Kayibanda International Airport, now known as Kigali International Airport.”

That was the last time he saw many of his colleagues.
“Early the next morning (around 5am), I was woken up by sounds of bullets and bombs in my neighborhood. I still didn’t know what was going on until I turned on the radio (RFI channel),” he narrated to Zahabu Times, a local vernacular newspaper.  

He immediately rushed to check on his parents and siblings who lived close by.

“Everyone was okay when I got there. My father asked us to leave because he knew that the situation would only get worse but before we could leave, my mother asked us to pray to God for protection because we needed it at the time more than ever,” Murangwa, who is now based in England continued.

Murangwa and one of his team mates and a close friend called Nzayisenga stayed indoors for several weeks but their luck soon ran out when five ‘Interahamwe’ soldiers broke into their house.

“They ordered us to uncover the hidden guns but we told them we had no weapons in our house and that we were only mere Rayon Sport footballers.

“They ordered us to produce evidence that we were indeed Rayon players so I showed them my passport which I had used on one of the club’s trips to Sudan for a Caf tie but they insisted that they needed more proof.

“That’s when I rushed for my album and showed them one of the team’s group photos.”

“It was a strange feeling because at that point, even the most fanatic of Rayon followers did not give a damn whether the team took part in the Champions League. All that mattered was eliminating the Tutsi.”

Rayon went on to miss the tie granting Kenya Breweries Ltd a free pass to the next round.

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