Jean Baptiste Mateso, a university student and genocide survivor Saturday gave a painful account of his ordeal in April 1994, at the peak of the genocide that left over one million Tutsis murdered.
This was at Kigali Serena Hotel during the launch of the “One Dollar Campaign.”
His tear-jerking narration was a mere precursor to others yet to be heard as Rwandans mark the 15th commemoration of the 1994 genocide against Tutsis, this April.
“As you all know, the genocide that was committed against Tutsis had many consequences including people with different physical disabilities, widows and widowers, peoples houses ruined and, a massive number of Rwandans decimated,” Mateso began his testimony, visibly fighting back tears.
“Just before the genocide started, I was a young child. I was eight years old. I had parents, two younger brothers, two sisters, and an older brother.”
Unfortunately, all his family is no more – they were mercilessly killed, together with thousands other Rwandans and, only because they were Tutsi. Like many others Mateso’s story is heart wrenching.
“We used to live peacefully, together with the families that lived close to us but in that way of life there was a problem we regularly encountered,” Mateso said.
That problem, he was that some people among “our fellow Rwandans” often used degrading and dehumanizing words while referring to his kith and kin.
“People used to tell us degrading and dehumanizing words to our reference like snakes, cockroaches, in addition to calling us spies. And it did not stop there. What it concealed finally came to the shore towards the time of the seventeenth of April (1994).”
As he revealed, everyone was at home when the attacks and subsequent targeted killings in his home region – south Rwanda, started. People were taken out of their homes and, homes destroyed, belongings seized with houses oft set on fire.
“From there we fled to Ruhango Parish, in the present day Mbazi sector of Huye district, in the southern Province.”
• No water for you
In the three days spent in this ‘safe haven,’ Mateso and others who were all frightened and starving were denied access to water.
“During those days, while we were there, we were denied the right of even getting to the water places (amavomo) because they said that there was no reason a person who is meant to be killed should get drinking water since water would give the person life thus making it difficult to kill him,” Mateso said.
“I saw was a man hit me with a knife in the neck and leaving me for dead. I survived it, left the place and went to a compound nearby.”
“While there, I continued seeing how people were being killed and I was terrified. I got out thinking I would escape but all who were there, no one cared about my life as all of us were to die.”
When he ventured outside, he remembers seeing a man then known as Vincent, together with his group approach and hit him with metal on the forehead.
“Others hit me at the back of the head. My family and hundreds others were killed there and then.
Mateso said he and few others spent the day. The killers left them, as they were to die anyway.
“They (killers) had plans to go and kill people in another youth camp and they left us for dead.”
Another boy he was with, Mateso remembers, was killed by a passer-by when it was realized he was breathing.
Mateso only lives to tell this tragic story because he was assumed dead and thrown in a pit filled with corpses.