As the nation continues to remember her dead of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, Martin Ntwali, a former Mukura Victory Sport player shares his experience of the conflict that claimed over a million lives 15 years ago.
Ntwali, a first division referee, joined Mukura senior team in 1990 from their junior side with three other players. His promotion to the senior squad came with luck as Mukura went on to lift the annual Habyarimana trophy in his first season.
“There was harmony in the team to the extent that the whole community in Butare had inter-married and there was nothing like Tusti or Hutu,” Ntwali told Times Sport.
According to Ntwali, the situation changed later in the season after the club president at the time, Paul Gakuba and his deputy John Kamugunga were arrested by government security operatives soon after Mukura had lost the final of the Pope Cup.
A month later, the duo was released tortured, unfortunately Gakuba died soon afterwards leaving the club in disorder. However, Mukura had plenty of club members, who organised themselves and looked for a replacement.
“In 1991, we played a league game against Etincelles away in Gisenyi and our bus was hit by stones accusing Mukura of having many Tusti players,” Ntwali said, adding that this showed that Gisenyi had already started practicing divisionism.
“But we carried on because I thought it would not bring any serious effect and we could always travel at night after playing these league games to avoid being attacked.
“Back at home in Butare, Genocide ideologies first emanated from the National University because there were many students from different parts of the country, who used to infect others with bad politics.”
Ntwali noted, “Otherwise, there was no bad blood in our team. We even played in a continental game in Arusha (Tanzania), hosted mini tournaments in Butare yet no one had ever pointed to the other describing him as a Hutu or Tutsi.”
On April 6, the night when former President Juvenal Habyarimana plane was downed, the striker sensed something strange.
“We were in a residential camp preparing for a friendly match against Rayon Sport the following day and the camp was stopped at midnight and we were told to go to our respective homes.”
On April 7, Ntwali and the rest of his team mates, who had stayed at their homes, were informed that nobody was allowed to leave where they were.
However, on that very night (April 7), Ntwali recollects, one of his team mates Bosco Kwomboka was killed and his body thrown in a nearby forest.
“We went into the forest, picked him (Kwomboka) and buried him but no sooner had we finished burying him than we saw hundreds of people fleeing towards the Rwanda-Burundi boarder as they escaped from the systematic killings that engulfed their villages.
Four days later, houses in their village (Ngoma) were set on fire and it was the last time he had from his good friends (Martin Rutegazihiga and Jean Paul Musisi) who sought refuge in a nearby church.
Ntwali lost his young brother Innocent Mutuyimana to the fires that were set on every Tutsi household.
“With God’s mercy, I and the people I was with managed to escape to Burundi where we sought refuge.
“However, while in Burundi, we faced another problem as the authorities in that particular area were we escaped to, wanted all of us to relocate to Zaire, now DR Congo but we stood our ground and were left to stay,” he recollects.
In 1996, Ntwali returned home from Burundi but was greeted with the shocking news of the death of so many of former team mates.
He carried his from where he had left and with the help of Alloys Kanamugire; the coach of Mukura then and one Jean Damascene Gasarabwe, the club became stronger than ever with the likes of a younger Jimmy Gatete in the squad.
Now a Grade One referee, Ntwali is urging fellow Rwandans to desist from the genocide ideologies and instead aim to build a better Rwanda.
Mukura is one of the oldest clubs in Rwanda. The club lost several administrators, players and fans during the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi.
Some of the victims include:
Club presidents: Paul Gakuba, Joseph Ndakaza, Atanase Kayitakire
Honorary Members: Evariste Kamugunga, Anastase Ndabikunzi, Sebalinda, Sylivier Karabaranga, Samputu, Ukobizaba, Daniel Nzigiye, Masobo, Nsonera and Terigali.
Coaches: Charles Sitake and Camille Kayihura.
Players: Justin Rudasingwa, Eugene Mugirwa, Kayiranga, Jean Paul Musisi, Michel Karemera, Alphonse Munyentwali, Atanase, Jean Bosco Tumukuze, Paul Halinditwali, Richard Kagabo, Martin Rutegazihiga, Theophile Rutagengwa, Christian and Innocent Mutuyimana.