Reconciliation as genocide perpetrators in Bugesera are forgiven by the victims

Scars on her face and on her right shoulder is what reminds her of that dark day in 1994. On the fateful day, machete wielding militia cut her and left her for the dead. But like many who miraculously survived during the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, Claudette Mukamanzi, 36, lived to tell her story.
Claudette Mukamanzi, a Genocide survivor, hugs Jean-Claude Ntambara, ex-Genocide convict, after forgiving him at Nyamata Parish last Sunday. / Timothy Kisambira
Claudette Mukamanzi, a Genocide survivor, hugs Jean-Claude Ntambara, ex-Genocide convict, after forgiving him at Nyamata Parish last Sunday. / Timothy Kisambira

Scars on her face and on her right shoulder is what reminds her of that dark day in 1994. On the fateful day, machete wielding militia cut her and left her for the dead. But like many who miraculously survived during the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, Claudette Mukamanzi, 36, lived to tell her story.

During the Genocide, the mother of four, and resident of Nyamata Sector, Murama Cell, sought refuge at the offices of Kanzenze Commune, but it turned out to be a place where she almost lost her life. At the same place she was attacked by one Jean-Claude Ntambara and another man using machetes.

This was the brief testimony of Mukamanzi during the recent graduation ceremony of 166 genocide perpetrators who completed a six-month journey of healing, repentance and forgiveness at Nyamata Catholic Parish in Bugesera District.

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Alice Mukaruliza, a 46-year-old Genocide survivor, gives her testimony at Nyamata Parish as Claudette Mukamanzi leans on her shoulder. / Timothy Kisambira

“It is Ntambara who hurt me the most. I thought I would never forgive him,” Mukamanzi who was about 15 years old during the Genocide said. 

In the moving testimony, she said that for 22 years since her ordeal, no one else had approached her for forgiveness apart from Ntambara who did it recently.

“I was cut with a machete by seven perpetrators on different occasions. I know those who attacked me. I meet some and run away because I get appalled upon seeing them,” she said.

“Even though all my relatives were exterminated at the commune because of you and your ‘friends,’ I forgave you,” she told Ntambara during the ceremony.

Jean-Claude Ntambara is a resident of Nyamata Sector, Maranyundo Cell and was a police agent in the former Kanzenze Commune.  

Bugesera is composed of the former communes of Kanzenze, Ngenda and Gashora. 

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Ex-Genocide convicts light candles of hope at Nyamata Parish after being forgiven by Genocide survivors at Nyamata Parish last Sunday. / Timothy Kisambira

“I killed many people and I hurt many. I asked for forgiveness from those I managed to know. Anyone else to whom I did wrong can tell me and I apologise to them,” he said.  

Ntambara was given a 20-year-sentence by the Gacaca courts, but after seven years of doing community work he was set free. 

“I thank the Parish which gave us heart healing courses. In the past I would hide from those I hurt because I had a guilty conscience. But now, after reconciliation, I meet them and we hug one another,” expressed Ntambara.  

After Ntambara’s testimony, a certain Theoneste Hategekimana, a genocide perpetrator from Central Mwogo in Mwogo Sector, suddenly started singing. “Niba Uhoraho ari Amahoro Yanjye, nahisemo neza, Nyagasani turi kumwe”– meaning “if the Eternal [Lord] is my peace, I made a right choice as I am with the Lord.”

This is a man that tortured a 13-year-old boy called Christophe Ndayambaje in 1994.

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Christophe Ndayambaje gives a testimony at Nyamata Parish last sunday. / Timothy Kisambira

They reportedly tied the boy’s arms and legs, fastened stones on his body with ropes and threw him into Nyabarongo River thinking he would drown. 

“I committed genocide crimes and looted. I moved with shame everywhere I went, I was shunning meeting Ndayambaje’s relatives,” he said.

But when he eventually approached the boy’s relatives and asked for forgiveness, it was granted.

“The pardon they gave me was beyond belief.”

Survivor Ndayambaje recounted: “My survival from the Nyabarongo water was by sheer chance. River water threw me up thrice, and after pushing several kilometers, I ended up on its shore.”

He said that he was later saved by Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF) soldiers.

“I sincerely forgave this man (Hategekimana) without any cost, and now, my heart is at peace,” Ndayambaje said.

Nyamata Parish Head Priest, Father Emmanuel Nsengiyumva, said that as Bugesera genocide culprits have shown remorse and apologised as well as got reconciled with survivors, it was a candle of hope that will likely reach all over the country, noting that Bugesera was once the stronghold of genocide crimes.  

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Clerics pray for ex-Genocide convicts after being forgiven by Genocide survivors at Nyamata Parish last Sunday. / Timothy Kisambira

“The genocide crime is extreme because it tarnished the image of God which is within every person. The genocide crime far distanced you from God, so you have to restore your relationship with God by making another pact with Him,” he told the forgiven perpetrators.

The perpetrators pledged to break any connection with the evil and not forget that all people (Rwandans) are created in God’s image and that they will not commit crimes against humanity.

Ibuka representative in Bugesera District, John Rwikangura said that the perpetrators who received forgiveness should show that they deserve it through good behaviour and deeds.

“Having genocide survivors offering forgiveness during this period when there is genocide denial is heroic and should not be taken for granted,” he said.

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A PARISH BUILDING TURNED INTO A GENOCIDE MEMORIAL

Information from Bugesera District shows that before 1960, most of the current Bugesera area was uninhabited because of the Tsetse fly infestation but later the Tutsi were forced to live in that area.

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Father Nsengiyumva said the reason the Parish was turned into a Genocide Memorial centre, is because an estimated 10,000 Tutsi were brutally killed there during the genocide.

Remains of 45,000 genocide victims are buried there.

About two years ago, Nyamata Parish erected another Parish building just at about 50 meters from the former one.

“This place has now been exorcised,” Father Ubald Rugirangoga, the organiser of the Heart Healing initiative, welcomed the pardons. 

“Forgiveness is a precious gift that these genocide perpetrators have received from survivors,” he said.

editorial@newtimes.co.rw

 

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