Jean Pierre Rudasingwa was seven when his family and neighbours were hunted down day and night and killed – for being Tutsi – 21 years ago.
Today, however, the youth does not shillyshally when he advises Rwandans to unite and work hard to create a healthier and self-reliant nation.
The university graduate yesterday told hundreds of people assembled to commemorate the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi at Ruhanga Genocide Memorial in Rusororo, Gasabo District, that he has the Rwandan Patriotic Army (RPA) and the government of national unity to thank for his life and achievements.
“All I can do today is, urge my generation and all those who were not in the country during its gloomy past, to unite and improve our lives. Despite nearly all my family members being dead now, I must be a man, a better person,” Rudasingwa said.
He is now striving to make orphans and disadvantaged widows enjoy life.
“I want to help orphans and widows who are homeless. This is my mission and I must achieve it.
We are blessed with good leadership that encourages us to accomplish a lot,” he said.
Ruhanga Genocide Memorial, a former Anglican Church, now houses remains of 35,557 victims of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, including most of Rudasingwa’s extended family and former neighbours.
Ruhanga, one of the flat-topped hills covering the generally upland district, was “special” back then, survivors say.
They say it had a long tradition of resistance spurred by traditional customs and, as such, Interahamwe feared attacking it until April 7, 1994, when they started infiltrating and burning Tutsi houses in nearby hills.
On April 11, the killers finally sneaked past the defence lines mounted by Ruhanga youth.
“The military were brought in to weaken us and on April 11, things got worse,” said Vincent Ntaganira, a survivor working at the Prime Minister’s office.
He was equally at pains taking the gathering through the area’s history as well as shedding light on Genocide denial, which he urged Rwandans to strongly confront.
Genocide deniers warned
As he urged survivors to take heart and move on with life – a better life full of dignity – he also called on everyone to shun divisive politics.
“No one should hate another for who they are. Survivors are ready to forgive. Let’s all have a good heart, live together in harmony,” he said.
To survivors, he added: “Be strong and, live your life to the fullest. My chin was totally smashed but now I can afford to stand in front of you and smile.”
Ntaganira was emphatic when shedding light on Genocide denial, explaining how – among other things – it is deliberate, not an accident.
Genocide scholars say that denial, the eighth stage of genocide, always necessarily follows genocide and is among the surest indicators of further genocidal massacres. In an attempt to deflect their blame, perpetrators hide evidence and coerce victims into not speaking the truth.
Before the killings and denial, Ntaganira said, there are other stages as happened in Rwanda, such as dehumanising the Tutsi by depicting them as cockroaches (Inyenzi) in calculated rhetoric constructing a narrative to justify the mass slaughter.
As Rudasingwa and Ntaganira gave their testimonies, people held back tears. Others let them flow but the most painful scenes were the cases of trauma.
The Mayor of Gasabo, Steven Rwamurangwa, stressed that no one should put up with Genocide deniers.
“We have enough lessons and, as such, no one should be allowed to play around anyhow as they play down the Genocide after the deaths of a million of our people. What we need to do now is sow seeds of love and dignity as we remember and rebuild. We can’t change history but we have to accept our scars as they are,” he said.
Commemoration events are being held under the Kwibuka pillars of ‘Remember, Unite, Renew’, with a special focus on combating genocide ideology and denial of the 1994 Genocide.