At about 8p.m on March 18, 1997, insurgents from the ex-FAR/Interahamwe militia that had sneaked into Rwanda from eastern DR Congo attacked Nyange Secondary School, killing seven students in cold blood.
The brutal attack was reminiscent of the senseless killings witnessed during the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi. In the same locality of Nyange, a Catholic priest, Athanase Seromba, had presided over the unthinkable: bulldozing Nyange church (for which he was vicar) and effectively killing more than 2000 Tutsi who had taken refuge inside the place of worship.
And so, three years after the Genocide the schoolchildren at Nyange came face-to-face with the remnants of a relentless killing machine that had already claimed the lives of at least one million Rwandans. The attackers, who formed part of a broader insurgency in several parts of the country at the time, were on a mission to “complete the job”.
They callously demanded the innocent teenagers to separate themselves along ethnic lines: Tutsi here, Hutu there. Courageously, these helpless children stood up to their attackers and said no to their wicked demand. The kids bravely responded, “We are all Rwandans”.
By taking that heroic stance in the face of adversity the schoolchildren knew very well they had sealed their fate; but they realised someone needed to rise to the occasion and speak for the truth, for justice and for humanity, even as it meant that in so doing they risked paying with the ultimate price.
Many lost their dear life as a result. Seven of them. Twenty years after that cowardly attack, we reflect on the high ideals of these Senior Five and Six Nyange students – the departed and the living – who stood up against division, hatred and genocide. The then youngsters remain our shining armour.
By choosing unity over division and unequivocally proclaiming their allegiance to Rwandanness, Sylivestre Bizimana, Chantal M. Mujawamahoro, Beatrice Mukambaraga, Helene Benimana, Seraphine Mukarutwaza, Valens Ndemeye, and Ferdinand Niyongira (may their souls rest in peace) and their colleagues that survived the attack inspired a generation of Rwandans who continue to share in the belief that this country can put its tragic past behind and forge a great future together as one people.
By rejecting genocide ideology, sectarianism and bigotry, the Nyange Heroes (as the teenagers later came to be known under the Imena category of the National Heroes) laid the foundation for a movement of young and older Rwandans that today actively promote Nd’Umunyarwanda – a campaign that underlines the importance of a common Rwandan identity as opposed to any divisive, narrow-minded identity.
Today, thanks in part to the Nyange Heroes, we have a generation of Rwandans that are committed to build a united, hopeful and prosperous future – for all Rwandans and one that allows every Rwandan to maximise their potential.
To the young generation, in Nyange Heroes you have youthful compatriots to continue drawing inspiration from; they embody heroism, patriotism, and love for compatriots and mankind. They did not die in vain.