In Mwurire, we refused to die like dogs and fought the killers – survivor

Bisesero hills and the heroic resistance of Tutsis who had taken refuge therein in April 1994 is not the only folklore that depicts such brave resistance of the Tutsi against the Interahamwe militia; there are other places where fleeing Tutsis defended themselves against the killers.
Mwurire was a scene of fierce battle between Tutsis and militiamen for most of the first two weeks of the Genocide. (Jean-Pierre Bucyensenge)
Mwurire was a scene of fierce battle between Tutsis and militiamen for most of the first two weeks of the Genocide. (Jean-Pierre Bucyensenge)

Bisesero hills and the heroic resistance of Tutsis who had taken refuge therein in April 1994 is not the only folklore that depicts such brave resistance of the Tutsi against the Interahamwe militia; there are other places where fleeing Tutsis defended themselves against the killers.

Mwurire in Rwamagana is one of them. The hill became a scene of fierce battle between Tutsis and Interahamwe militia for the first two weeks of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi. The resistance was only overcome on April 18, 1994, when soldiers “armed to the teeth” stormed the area. More than 26,000 of the helpless Tutsis were then killed.

Survivors of Mwurire still pride themselves in not having “given their throat to be cut off by the killers.”

Jean Marie Vianney Rutareka was at Mwurire when Tutsis organised resistance against the militiamen and, on the fateful day when those he fondly calls ‘darling comrades’ were massacred, he was lucky to survive. He told Jean-Pierre Bucyensenge his story.

When killings started after the death of President Juvenal Habyarimana on April 6, 1994, thousands of Tutsis fleeing from several areas found their way to Mwurire hill. 

You might wonder why Tutsi gathered here, a place that apparently had nothing special. There was no school, no church, no public facility or any building to shelter them. 

It was all because while other areas had been savaged by killings, Mwurire remained calm. Its leader, Jean Bakundukize, had opposed the killings and had told his superiors–who were instructing him to order the murder of Tutsi–that they [the Tutsi] were people like others who didn’t deserve to be killed. 

He paid the price for defying the henchmen with his life. He is a hero that we respect.

At the time, Tutsis fleeing from Nzige, Gahengeri, Rubona, Bicumbi and Rutonde, among other areas, gathered here. On our arrival, local militiamen started attacking us. 

So we organised a resistance. A courageous man, one Guide Karenzi, volunteered to be our commander and coordinated our resistance.

A real battlefield

In the beginning, we resisted militiamen who had arrived from Muvumba, Nyakariro, Nkungu, Munyaga, Kigabiro and Gishari for days.

We organised ourselves into small groups to ensure we ably fought the killers. With only sticks and stones, we bravely battled militiamen who were armed with machetes, clubs, spears and arrows. 

Water and food soon became scarce but that didn’t dampen our courage. We knew our survival depended on our resistance. We fought from dawn to dusk. The only time of respite was when it rained and the killers went to take cover. We used that time to take a breather.

Young men were always at the forefront while old people and women supplied stones. It was a joint battle. We also prayed to God, imploring him to save us and that did comfort us a lot.

We had occupied a strategic position; on top of a hill. That put us at an advantage and made it easy for us to drive them back. Whenever they attacked, we sprayed them with stones.

It was a real battlefield. We were determined to live and we had hope that the killers would give up. We faced them couragiously everyday. Many among us died as we fought off the killers.

We were not cowards. We didn’t die like dogs. Had we had weapons like them, we would have defeated them.

Soldiers firing from trees

On the morning of April 18, dozens of government soldiers arrived. Some soldiers shot at us from an opposite direction, while others climbed trees to get vintage shots at us. It looked as if they had received specialised training.

From 10am, they sprayed bullets on us until dusk. Bullets were coming from all directions. People fell like tree leaves. It was horrendous.

The most courageous among us–our leaders–were the first to be killed. So others were discouraged and started running. Militiamen then attacked with machetes, clubs and other weapons. People were killed like flies. It is as if the heavens had abandoned us; the skies had fallen upon us.

It is by luck and God’s grace that some of us managed to escape.

On April 20, the Rwanda Patriotic Army (RPA) took control of the area, saving those who were still alive. I was rescued from a bush I was hiding in and taken to  safety in Rwamagana town.

We lived in a makeshift camp under the protection of RPA soldiers until August 1994 when we were told it was safe to return to our homes. There was nothing to build on as we started life afresh. Our houses had been demolished and property looted. It was starting a new life from scratch. 

At the beginning, we established makeshift huts. But as days moved on, light seemed to appear at the end of the tunnel, thanks mainly to a supportive government that had enacted good policies and developmental programmes. We regained hope and started working hard. 

The Government of National Unity gave us reason to believe that no one would bother us again, steal our property or kill us again. And we believed.

Today, we have picked on with our lives. Our children go to school, we have access to health services and enjoy the nation’s achievements.”

 

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