Genocide survivors find healing in sports

NINETEEN YEARS after saving 118 people during the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, Tharcisse Sinzi, a renowned karate fighter says that sports is a reliable medicine for survivors of the tragic horror.
Karatekas during a past local competition. The New Times/Courtesy.
Karatekas during a past local competition. The New Times/Courtesy.

NINETEEN YEARS after saving 118 people during the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, Tharcisse Sinzi, a renowned karate fighter says that sports is a reliable medicine for survivors of the tragic horror.

Sinzi, a survivor of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, is as strong-minded and resilient as he was 19 years ago when he defended over 100 people against the killers.

“Whether you are happy or sad, doing sports will help you to recover from all the pain left behind by the Genocide,” he said.

“When the body is hurt, you end up having pain.

“You don’t have to give up in life when the going gets tough. Even though sports is done to keep one fit, it’s also a medicine that could be used by counselors.

“Even in times of trauma, I recommend people to engage in sports because it is the only way we will overcome the pain physically and psychologically,” added Sinzi.

Sinzi, 50, who has worked at the National University of Rwanda [NUR] as a Director of Estates Unit for 25 years, holds a black belt at the fifth Dan.

During this mourning period, he has been giving testimonies and teaching the youth on how to overcome Genocide trauma and focus on working hard to steer the country’s development.

“I am giving testimonies everyday at National University of Rwanda encouraging people not to give up but join hands despite our difficult past such that we live as one people in this country,” stated the father of three.

Saved lives

In Huye, some people know him through karate, but many have come to know him because of the heroic resistance he put up during the Genocide against the Tutsi – the bravery that was captured in a documentary film, ‘By the short cut’, produced by Daddy de Maximo Mwichira Mitali.

According to Sinzi, the 100 days of the Genocide during which over one million people were killed, was a chaotic situation. People were urged to stay in their homes following the shooting down of President Juvenal Habyarimana’s plane on April 6.

So Sinzi could only venture out on April 12 although the situation was still chaotic. That day, he decided to leave Butare and go back to his native area, Songa, near ISAR Rubona, a few kilometres from Butare town on the Kigali-Huye highway.

Unknown to him was the task ahead of him – to lead some form of resistance against marauding killers determined to exterminate the Tutsi in the area.

Between April 21 and 28, there were already 3,480 people from many parts of the southern region gathered at Songa, Sinzi recalls as he organised them to fight off the attackers.

Akanyaru River

By April 23, the situation remained uncertain. No one had any idea of what was going on, recalls Sinzi. Hutus and Tutsis moved together. It was later that things got clearer – only Tutsi were being hunted.

And by April 26, Sinzi and his group were the only Tuti remaining in Songa, thanks mainly to their decision to stay together.

Other people from Gitarama, Gikongoro and Kigali joined Sinzi’s group as information filtered through that Songa was a safe place for Tutsis to hide.

Yet the information was also likely to attract the killers to the place. And indeed, on April 28, at around 4.00 pm, helicopters and soldiers came and started shooting at them.

Yet strengthened by his karate training, Sinzi never gave up and went on organising and leading the surviving people even though there was no specific direction they could take along the struggle.

The long way was inadvertently leading them to Akanyaru River.

He says that it was not their intention to reach Akanyaru, but they found themselves there by God’s grace since they arrived at the river after they lost their way. By then, Sinzi had also lost his wife and child.

After days of building hope in them to continue in the face of adversity, Sinzi and a few others, who knew how to swim tried to cross the river to Burundi. However, not everybody made it across the river as some were attacked by Hippopotamuses while others feared to cross the river.

Of the 3,480 who gathered at Songa, only 118 managed to cross the river to safety in Burundi.

For Sinzi, 19 years after the Genocide against the Tutsi, only “love for each other” remains an important message that he has for all Rwandans as they rebuild the country.

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