Rising from the ashes of 1994

As we commemorate the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, two women recollect what happened. 53-year-old Henriette Makamurangwa Sebera and 20-year -old Jackie Gatera, were widowed and orphaned by the Genocide. However, these women, like many more women around the country, refused to let their future become dictated by their past. I was always on the run in bushes – MP Henritte Makamurangwa Sebera With several laws discriminating women at the time, I was motivated to go to advocate for the rights of women and today I’m happy that women enjoy these rights as stipulated in the laws.
MP Henriette Makamurangwa Sebera (L) and Jackie Gatera. The New Times/T. Kisambira, D. Umutesi
MP Henriette Makamurangwa Sebera (L) and Jackie Gatera. The New Times/T. Kisambira, D. Umutesi

As we commemorate the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, two women recollect what happened. 53-year-old Henriette Makamurangwa Sebera and 20-year -old Jackie Gatera, were widowed and orphaned by the Genocide. However, these women, like many more women around the country, refused to let their future become dictated by their past.

I was always on the run in bushes  MP Henritte Makamurangwa Sebera

 

With several laws discriminating women at the time, I was motivated to go to advocate for the rights of women and today I’m happy that women enjoy these rights as stipulated in the laws. I’m happy that I was part of this change. When I came back from Uganda in the 1980’s, I saw that women were backward to the extent that they were not given the opportunity to even go to school. If they did, they would only attend primary school and after get married.” Mukamurangwa discloses. 

 

Although I was born in Rwanda, I pursued my primary and secondary education in Uganda where I attended Mengo Senior Secondary School. 

 

I came back to Rwanda in the 1980’s after my Senior Six and got married and started working. Before the Genocide, I owned a stationery shop. After the Genocide I worked for Butare Red cross before I became a Member of Parliament in 1995. I survived the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi while staying in Butare province, the current Huye District. My husband and two children and other family members were killed but I survived with my eldest son. The story of my survival is too long to tell in such a short time. The entire time I hid in the bush but being a rainy season I decided to take my children to a convent with nuns, little did I know that they would be attacked and killed by the military alongside militias,” Mukamurangwa gravely narrates. 

My husband, brother and other family members were killed on April 21, 1994. 

Actually I had become a politician before the Genocide because I had joined the Liberal Party in 1991. After the Genocide we had lost most of our members so I started thinking about the need to stand in for those who had been killed. Because I felt I needed to do something for my country, when I was approached and asked to become a Member of Parliament. I didn’t hesitate to take on the role.” 

After the Genocide, many women became widows and there were orphans to take care of. We were really desperate; we immediately became the head of the families with all the atrocities that had happened to us. But then, we had to come together and bring our efforts together as widows and become strong and look after ourselves instead of sitting and lamenting. As a Member of Parliament, I encouraged women to get involved in decision making processes, which is partly why we have the 56% women representation in parliament. 

(The eloquent Mukamurangwa further says that the first time she walked into parliament in 1995, she was the 11th woman parliamentarian.)

We founded the Rwanda Women Parliamentary Forum (FFRP) with the aim of advocating for women rights and amended the laws to uplift the women in Rwanda. I’m proud of what we have achieved. The one thing that has kept me going and working hard despite the atrocities I witnessed is to make Rwanda a better place for everyone.

--

Jackie Gatera, Journalism Student 

The tragedy that struck Rwanda in 1994 left very many orphans and widows behind. Jackie Gatera’s entire family, with the exception of a sister, was killed.  

Born in Karongi District, Jackie Gatera was just 18 months old when the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi took place.  She was among those who survived the Bisesero massacres.

“I never got the chance to see my parents. In fact I got to know that I’m an orphan when I was in Primary One at Saint Joseph in Gisenyi. In Kinyarwanda, saying that your parents are deceased is ‘bitabye Imana’, loosely translated as God called them. As a child, I always believed that they would come back after talking to God. I would tell my classmates that my parents were coming back soon after meeting God. Little did I know that I would never see them again.

I heard the story about my parent’s death and my survival together with my sister when I had grown up.

When I was old enough to understand, the old woman that took care of us during the Genocide told me exactly what happened to my parents and how my sister and I survived. It’s a story I never want to talk about. The first time I heard it I cried for days. My elder sister was just four years old at the time, she was too young to see such horrific incidents.” 

It’s very difficult to know that you will never have parents to look after you. But you have to be strong and accept it. I would look at myself and my sister and feel the need to be strong for each other. It was after listening to the story about my survival and my parents’ death that I vowed to work hard so as to uphold my parents' legacy. Wherever my parents are, I never want them to see or feel that I’m a failure in life. I believe there is a great reason why I survived.

For instance this year’s theme for commemoration, ‘Striving for Self-Reliance’, encourages us, especially orphans of Genocide and the youth, to become independent. In fact, the youth have to be at the forefront of striving for self reliance. If we are to become independent and successful in life, we have to work hard and avoid self pity. It’s okay to mourn our loved ones but we also have to make them proud by succeeding in life. 

I attended Ordinary Level at Groupe Scolaire Notre Dame d’Afrique (GSNDA) before attaining an Advanced Certificate in Education at APPEREL in Nyabihu district. I was the best student in Senior Six in Nyabihu District in 2011.

As a child I always wanted to be a journalist. I believe in being the voice of the voiceless.  When I was a child I would listen to radio and I liked the way journalists reported issues. It is because of this that I’m currently pursuing a Bachelors in Communication and Mass Media at Mount Kenya University Kigali and I hope to be a great journalist one day.

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