Kwibuka20: They were pushed to their death down the rocky hill

When mass killings erupted in April 1994, almost half of Gicumbi District in the Northern Province was under the control of the Rwanda Patriotic Army (RPA).
Those who perished at Zoko hill were buried at Mutete memorial site. Currently the memorial hosts remains of over 1,000 Genocide survivors. Inset, Adrien Bagurijoro Rukundo. Jean P....
Those who perished at Zoko hill were buried at Mutete memorial site. Currently the memorial hosts remains of over 1,000 Genocide survivors. Inset, Adrien Bagurijoro Rukundo. Jean P....

When mass killings erupted in April 1994, almost half of Gicumbi District in the Northern Province was under the control of the Rwanda Patriotic Army (RPA).

This prevented the killing of Tutsi in most parts of the current day Gicumbi which then comprised Kiyombe, Mukarange, Cyumba, Kibali, Bwisige, Kinyami, Rutare, Giti, Buyoga and Cyungo communes.

However, widespread killings took place in Mutete, a mountainous area which was under the control of the then government forces (FAR). Tutsi who had gathered at a hill called Zoko were initially able to resist attacks from the Interahamwe militia but succumbed when reinforcement for the killers arrived on April 15, 1994. 

Current estimates indicate that over 1,000 Tutsis were killed at Zoko.  Some of them died after they were pushed downwards the steep slopes of the rocky hill.

Adrien Bagurijoro Rukundo, now 34 and a father of one, was among those who sought refuge at Zoko Hill and one of the few Tutsis who were lucky to survive.

Rukundo’s story.

“Before the Genocide, we lived together in harmony and shared everything as a community. There was no sign that one day, people would turn against their neighbours and murder them en-masse.

However, in the early 1990s, things started taking another twist and tensions flared up. People started getting arrested on accusations that they were sympathisers of the Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF).

I was still young, about ten years old, but I still remember how an old man called Apollinaire Gasanabo and another called Faranga were blindfolded and taken from their homes. They only returned months later and I heard at the time that they had escaped from prison with the help of friends.

But that was just the beginning. What happened in 1994 was simply unimaginable.  

When massive killings erupted, hundreds of Tutsis fleeing from the former sectors of Kavumu, and Mutete gathered at Zoko, an elevated hill that gives a wonderful view of the capital Kigali.

At the time, the hill was near a garrison of government soldiers. The commander of the garrison, one Nsengiyumva was reportedly reluctant to have his men join in the killings and had initially prevented them from participating in the pogrom. We felt we would be safe there, at least for a moment.

The night before we were attacked, the soldiers were moved from the area perhaps because of their apparent opposition to the Genocide. We woke up only to see new faces all around. These were people (soldiers) we had never seen before.

On that fateful day (on April 15), an attack was launched. We tried to resist but in vain. The soldiers first fired at us indiscriminately and the Interahamwe militia followed suite finishing people off with machetes, arrows and clubs.  

Everyone tried to scamper for safety but with no destination in mind. There was no escape route. Some people slipped down the stony hillside as they attempted to flee and died while others were pushed down the rocky hill by the militia. 

Among those killed was my father, Jean Baptiste Nkundabatutsi, and dozens of other close relatives.

Those who killed us were the same people we lived with in our neighbourhoods. They were not strangers. I and a few others miraculously survived. Only God knows how we escaped the killers.

New life

After the Genocide, we had to start life afresh. Our houses had been plundered, crops destroyed, property looted, animals taken and relatives killed. There seemed to be no more life.

But through several support programmes, we were given a chance to live again. For instance, through the Girinka (the One-Cow-per-Family) programme, we were offered cows which helped us improve our lives. 

As time moved on, we gained the courage to work. We started farming and invested our efforts in increasing production. The cows also helped us boost our agricultural production.

Apart from socio-economic growth, efforts have also been made to restore the ties that were broken by the Genocide. Killers were encouraged to own up, repent and seek forgiveness.

As a result, reconciliation took its course and our unity was cemented. There is nothing like genocide ideology in this area. Everyone has understood that divisionism, discrimination and hatred can only lead to loss of lives.

Today, we are able to sit together with those who killed our relatives. We share food and drinks, visit each other, support each other and some have even been exchanging cows as a sign of unity.

We have forgiven those who offended us and together, we are working to uplift our lives. Personally I have forgiven the people who confessed to killing my relatives.

That is part of our history and we cannot change it; rather we can work closely for a better future. I believe forgiveness, truth and unity are prerequisite conditions if we want to build our country.

We have attained a milestone in our lives in the past two decades. Today, it is clear that we will never experience the horrors of genocide again.” 

 

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