KARONGI — Every year during the genocide commemoration, horrors of the 1994 Genocide in Rwanda become fresh in the minds of survivors.
Shedding off tears, Madalena Mukaremera, 55, recalls her terrible experience in the Catholic Church where she had sought refugee. "Though I survived, a number of scenes I watched in this church will keep lingering in my minds until I die," she said, pointing to the grave and remains at the Kerezia Memorial Site in Karongi district. "Imagine seeking safety at a place in the hope that people could be restrained because it’s God’s sanctuary but instead you are killed there," she wonders.
After Habayarimana’s plane was shot down, the situation got so tense in Kibuye. A number of Tutsis had been killed already. By then Karaka, a renowned agronomist advised the people to go to Gatwaro stadium or the Catholic Church for protection. "Little did we know that he was betraying us," said Rudoviko, another survivor of the Catholic Church massacres. "We came to our senses when a Tusti veterinary officer was burnt to death at the round about and Karara wasn’t bothered at all," Rudoviko continued.
He says that the first days of hiding at the church were fair though they were terrified. The situation reportedly changed the following day when a big group of Interahamwe attacked the Church. But the Tutsis tried to fight back using stones after learning that the government and leaders were not on their side.
"After the long day fight, my father gave us a bull as a token of gratitude for successfully repulsing the attackers," said Madalena. But the success was short-lived she explained. The next day which was a Saturday, Karara went to the Church and falsely assured them of total security. "His words are indelible in my mind. He told us not to worry that everything was being sorted out so that we could go back to our homes," said Madalena.
Karara’s intentions were later discovered that he had gone to ascertain the exact number of people in the church in order to know the number of Interahamwe he could deploy. In the meantime, father Senyenzi had also reassured the people in the Catholic Church about their safety, saying no one would enter and kill them. "The father had as well thought these people would be scared," Rudoviko said.
The last blow came that Saturday evening when Kaishima who was Prefe by then sent a letter to father Senyenzi ordering him to send the people who were hiding in the church. According to Madalena, the letter read: "send those cockroaches to the stadium or we put the whole church on fire." In the moments that followed, the father told all the people in the church to repent their sins, as he would pray to God to receive them. "I am not going to forsake you, I won’t send you to the stadium, lets wait and die here," Rukundo quoted the father as saying. The father reportedly prayed for the people, advised believers of other religions to try whichever prayer they could as he gave them Holy Communion. There after, Senyenzi led them into a catholic hymn but before they finished singing the bullets started pouring on the church building.
"I remember Father Senyenzi climbing to the highest tunnel of the church telling us we were still together no matter the conditions," recalled Madalena. She says this was the last time she saw the father and her family members. Any person who survived the shooting would later be tortured and cut to death by the Interahamwe. Other survivors sought cover at Home St John, another Catholic Church thinking they would be saved since there was a white man. Hiding in a closed room in the church gave them false confidence that they had conquered death. "By that time I had a little kid from our neighborhood. We heard Interahamwe suggesting to burn the whole house if nobody volunteered to open up but we didn’t," Rudovico said.
Later the door slummed open and Ruvete, one of the Interahamwe forced them to strip. "We thought that stripping and giving them all what we had would save us from death," Madalena says shedding tears of sorrow.
After the killers had taken all their belongings, they started ordering them to lay their necks so that they could chop their heads off which they obediently did. First to be cut was the little kid that Madalena had, but when her turn reached, a certain Agronomist she didn’t know restrained the killers, saying he wanted to interrogate them. "Out of 500 people we were only seven surviving," she said.
That unknown man reportedly led them to Rwagasirika side but on their way, they met another group of Interahamwe. The man ordered them to hide in the nearby bushes fearing he would not succeed saving them again. "We thought of returning to the church but it had already been burnt to ashes, we continued staying in the bush until the Inkotanyi-RPA soldiers came," said Madalena.
To her, Kibuye people were the worst during the genocide. "We reached an extent of having no option but plead with Ruvete to kill us with his sharp pang without passing through much agony," she said. The events at the church also extended to the Holy Mary’s statue, splitting it into two parts and its nose cut off, saying it was a Tusti, said Rudoviko. And most of the people involved in these killings were Christians.