The Murambi Technical School lies on a flat land. The overlooking hills are covered with green grass. The grass is rich and matted. Terraces line these lovely hills; that you cannot see the soil.
But there is more than meets the eye; behind this astounding beauty lies a gruesome tale, punctuated by sobs and cries, a tale that ends in emptiness.
The buildings were meant to house a model technical school in the region but sadly this was never to be. During the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, Murambi Technical School became a killing field of thousands of innocent people who sought refuge from the marauding Intarehamwe killers, who were bent on exterminating the Tutsi.
“We were kept here for two weeks without food or water,” recalls Emmanuel Murangira, a Murambi survivor.
“The killers waited until all the Tutsis hiding in various places had gathered at the technical school. We were duped by local leaders into believing that we were going to be protected while here.”
Felecien Semakwabo, the then bourgmestre (Mayor) of Nyamagabe commune features prominently in this era.
“He was among the most active people who mobilised people to be killed. He led many Tutsis into the killing trap at Murambi,” said Murangira.
Gikongoro provides a good picture of how the Genocide was planned over the years. Survivors talk of the killings in 1963 where many Tutsi were killed in Bufundu area, the hundreds of Tutsi who were killed and dumped into the Rukarara and Mwogo rivers.
And in 1963, those who sought refuge in the neighbouring churches like Kigeme and Cyanika survived. But this was not the case in 1994.
“We were turned away by priests,” says Murangira. At the Gikongoro Diocese, Monsignor Augustine Misago, told the Tutsi who had fled there to relocate to Murambi where he said that they would be better protected. This was a lie. He led them to their killers,” said a crestfallen Murangira.
Monsignor Augustine Misago was arrested after the Genocide. He was later released after being acquitted of genocide charges.
On April 21, 1994, after two weeks of starvation (water connection had been cut off by the Interahamwe), the Tutsi camped at the school were served with their ‘last super’.
“We were served with rice that night. The meal was followed by an early morning attack that left thousands dead,” recalled Juliet Mukakabanda, who had just given birth.
Murangira, describes the April 21, 1994 attack as ferocious.
“Grenades were hurled at us. There was shooting all over. Women and children could be heard wailing. Blood was flowing on verandas, in classrooms; dismembered bodies lined all the pathways. It was a terrible sight,” he says.
Twenty-four rooms filled with preserved bodies of some of the dead explain the carnage at Murambi. Just in the middle of a pile of the remains of children lies a sheet of paper on which a poem is written.
The poem ‘Ryama mwana wanjye (sleep my child) by Paul Benjamin was translated by Jean Francois Gisimba, a Genocide survivor. And did they try to put up resistance?
“Yes we did,” Murangira was quick to respond. “We used stones to repulse previous attacks but the attack on April 21 could not match the fire power from guns and grenades,” says Murangira, whose skull was almost shattered by a bullet.
Murangira, who now works at the memorial site, says that he finds a peace of mind while there.
My five children and wife are buried here. I live with them and it is my duty to ensure that they rest in piece. One thing though still haunts him; he could not save his ever curious son, Charles Muyimana.
“He asked me when we would return home, where our cows were and if we were being killed because we were Tutsis. I was powerless, speechless; he was killed before I had given him an answer. That conversation still haunts me until today,” he said with as tears welled up in his eyes.
Murangira does not hide his disappointment with the French troops that arrived at Murambi in July 1994.
“They brought bulldozers and covered all the mass graves so as to conceal the remains of those killed at Murambi. They cautioned people against revealing the mass graves to the FPR- Inkotanyi forces,” he said.
And indeed, on one of the mass graves, the French troops constructed a volley ball playing field, just beneath lay the bodies of thousands of Tutsis that they had purportedly come to save.
The scenes at Murambi are not for the faint hearted to see. Why priests killed their flock, why leaders killed those they led, why husbands killed their Tutsi wives and children, why neighbours killed those they shared salt in the crudest of ways, as Vassilij says in Arthur Koestler’s Darkness at Noon, ‘only God knows’.