Sky-blue is associated with hope and a church extols belief. Put the two together and you have a powerful symbolism that won’t be missed from kilometres away.
St Peter’s Anglican Church of Midiho, in Mukarange Sector, Kayonza District, did just that. The sky-blue theme of its roofing would all but inspire profound belief.
However, to many survivors of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi and other citizens, the colour and church itself have done little to dispel the shroud of mystery surrounding the fate of some 200 people killed at the scene 23 years ago.
The church is now open to worshippers but survivors in the area everyday live with the grief of not having been able to accord a decent burial to their loved ones killed at the church during the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi.
There is no dispute that over 200 people were killed from the church in 1994, survivors and some Genocide perpetrators say, but no one seems to know where the bodies are buried.
When the Genocide broke out on April 7, 1994, many Tutsi who worshipped from the church and others from the neighbourhood sought refuge at this church.
However, according to witness accounts, after just four days, Interahamwe militia struck and many who were inside or around the church were killed.
While in many cases the victims’ remains were located and accorded decent burial, it is not the case for those at Midiho.
Their remains have never been recovered and during every commemoration period, the story is rekindled but the killers who took the last charge of the bodies remain conspicuously silent.
Who knows what?
Residents name many suspects in the extermination of the Tutsi at Midiho church and others who could know the whereabouts of the remains but none has come forth to point to the precise location.
Thomas Kanyangoga, a famous wealthy man in Kayonza town in the 1990s, is known to have been an influential member of the Anglican Church in the area.
He was convicted of genocide by Gacaca courts and sentenced to life imprisonment – which he is currently serving in Nsinda Prison in Rwamagana District.
No one has ever revealed the whereabouts of the bodies of the Tutsi whose death he was convicted of.
Another man, Nzabandora Sebicuncu, is said to have been the one who ordered for the disposal of the decomposing bodies from the church during the Genocide.
However, as soon as this information came to light, he disappeared and his whereabouts remain unknown.
A one Hakorimana is one of the people who were allegedly hired by Sebicuncu to remove the rotting bodies from the church in return for meat from a slaughtered cow that had been looted from a Tutsi family.
“Three of us joined other Interahamwe to pile the bodies on two tarpaulins in the church courtyard. Bodies were collected from inside the church and other structures on the premises,” he said.
However, Hakorimana said before the bodies could be buried, they realised that their meat reward was being shared by other militiamen.
“We rushed for the meat and abandoned the bodies the way they were and didn’t return there,” he said.
Using the testimony by Hakorimana, the local leaders working with residents tried to map out an area on the church premises where the bodies could have been buried.
Residents contributed funds to hire a digger to excavate a suspected spot but nothing was found.
Alfred Byiringiro, a geotechnical engineer at Rwanda Transport Development Agency (RTDA), said by using a Ground Penetrating Rader (GPR), one can see what is beneath the earth several metres deep.
Byiringiro said there are signs that should be looked for in trying to find the mass grave where the victims could have been buried.
“If such bodies were buried in the earth 23 years ago, leaving other factors constant, there is a likelihood of a depression on the surface. As bodies decompose, they contract, so the ground sinks,” he said, adding that when such hollow is near a house, the house is likely to develop cracks as land tends to move toward the hollow.
The current church pastor, Saveri Nyamuhanzi, said one of the three latrines caved in on the night of April 6.
However, while there could be reasons to believe the bodies were buried on the church premises, some observers think they could have been scattered in various graves some outside the church compound.
Eastern Province governor Judith Kazayire said before embarking on excavation that is not backed by reliable information, it was important to do some soul searching to identify the precise information.
According to Kanzayire, it was impossible that from the entire village, nobody knows where the victims are buried, adding that fear should not triumph over truth.
“Ndi Umunyarwanda teaches us to embrace our history just the way it is. We believe that the people who have the information will at last come forth and reveal the truth,” said the governor.
Kanzayire said authorities are ready to deploy any expertise that can help in the discovery of the whereabouts of the remains so that the victims are accorded a decent burial.