Susa Village: Inside the battle against hate

Some of housing units in the Unity and Reconciliation Village of Susa, home to over 1700 households. Photos by Régis Umurengezi.

After surviving the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, Xaverine Nyinawinkindi made a personal vow; making sure she avoids, crossing paths with those people who killed her loved ones.

Genocide literally left her the lone survivor in what was a big family; both her parents and siblings were killed in a killing spree in which over a million people were killed countrywide.

Left alone, Nyinawinkindi, who had over 10 siblings, hardly had anyone with whom to share the grief she felt in the aftermath of the Genocide.

Xaverine Nyinawinkindi, a Genocide survivor, who stays in Susa in Musanze District.

For close to 15 years, she fulfilled her vow, albeit with hardship, because that meant isolating herself from the rest of the community.

“I couldn’t cope in any way with anybody whom I thought belonged to the same group as the perpetrators,” she said.

Chantal Uwimbabazi (left) is a member of the historically marginalised group who stay in Susa Village. 

Then, as fate would have it, she found herself among the people that would be resettled in a new reconciliation village that was built in Muhoza Sector in Musanze District.

The village is known as Susa.

She was resettled there in 2009 and, here, she found herself having to live with the same people she had tried to avoid for over a decade.

The village is home to over 1,700 residents drawn from Genocide survivors, perpetrators who completed their jail sentences, members of the historically marginalised, communities, as well as ex-combatants, most of whom injured during the liberation war.

Susa village was built to foster unity and reconciliation among the beneficiaries, as well as promote their socio-economic welfare, because brought together, it was easier to mobilise resources towards supporting them.

Nyinawinkindi and neighbours in the village told The New Times that living in close proximity has not only helped them bury the hatchet but has also enabled them to work together for a common good and this has made a difference to their lives.

But for a while they used to think that reconciliation was not possible.

This feeling was shared not just by Nyinawinkindi and other survivors in the area, but also those who perpetrated the Genocide against the Tutsi, owing to the seed of discord that had been sowed by successive regimes prior to the Genocide.

“Besides my resistance to integrate, I never did anything of economic value; I had sort of given up on myself. I was alone and I did not have any plans of starting my own family once again, so working was useless, or so I felt,” said Nyinawinkindi, who currently works with an estate management company based in Musanze.

She added, “As days went on and following engagement with various officials who tirelessly visited us in the village, I realised that living a miserable life is what exactly those that killed my loved ones wanted; it came to my attention that resentment was not good for me but also for my loved ones who died in the Genocide.”

Anastase Rukundo, 70, a Genocide perpetrator who has served up his sentence and now lives in the village, said, “I had never believed I could live just next to a family from the victims’ side.

“We are now as brothers and sisters; we support each other in our day-to-day endeavours and strive to lift each other from poverty as a sign of liberation that has been brought by the good leadership that our country has,” he added

Beating abject poverty

The residents of this village said they have since set out to exploit all opportunities the country offers so as to overcome poverty, stressing that their efforts have started bearing fruit.

Chantal Uwimbabazi, from the historically marginalised group who lives in the village, said that her livelihood is improving thanks to the cattle she received four years ago under the ‘Gir’Inka’ programme, which the Government introduced in 2006.

“I am no longer that kind of woman who used to beg on the street,” she said, adding, “We are gradually kicking out poverty because while in here (in the village) we get to learn from our neighbours how to engage in economic activity,” she said.

Besides owning cattle, Uwimbazi is an employee at one of the hotels in Musanze.

Speaking to The New Times, Jean Pierre Manzi, the executive secretary of Muhoza Sector, said the village has so far met the expectations of fostering unity and reconciliation among others.

“As grassroots leaders, we always make sure we regularly check on the social cohesion of residents in the reconciliation village and currently there are no major incidents,” he noted.

Manzi added that Susa residents have made tremendous progress by leveraging the infrastructure in place, including roads, electricity and access to clean water, among others.

“What is more interesting is that residents live in harmony regardless of their different backgrounds; they have overcome their differences to strive for development not just for themselves but the community in general.