A young girl’s tale of the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi

“Though we were not wealthy, our parents strived to give us a decent life with the little they earned” As we commemorate the victims of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi for the15th time, we should also take time to reflect on the survivors.
She survived to tell her tale so we say ‘Never Again’.
She survived to tell her tale so we say ‘Never Again’.

“Though we were not wealthy, our parents strived to give us a decent life with the little they earned”

As we commemorate the victims of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi for the15th time, we should also take time to reflect on the survivors.

It is still hard to imagine that the genocide took place but that is the reality whether revisionists and negationists admit it or not. Over a million lives were lost in cold blood; many others were left with both physical and mental wounds.

The nation had to start from scratch to rebuild itself and slowly but steadily is finding its feet. We should commemorate those we lost while remembering those that survived.

The only way to beat the negationists and revisionists is by bringing out the survivors’ tales. It’s in this breath that we let Yvonne Wibabara tell her sad ordeal.

“Living with both my parents and my five brothers and my older sister, our family was a happy one,” narrates Yvonne Wibabara a genocide survivor from the Ntarama church slaughter.

“Though we were not wealthy, our parents strived to give us a decent life with the little they earned.”

She looks visibly calm and composed but her eyes betray a hidden sad demeanour which persisted throughout the interview. She continues her story below:

From the time I started differentiating bad from good, I could hear distant killings and people saying it’s the Tutsi being targeted. But that never bothered me much because it used happen far away from home.

I was 9 years old and a Primary 3 pupil in Nyamata Primary School. We used to play a variety of games with other children and as kids we enjoyed both our school and domestic lives. Since we were many at home, we were never bored.

My father was called Francois Gatsinzi, he was a Psychosocial doctor who worked in Nyamata hospital. My mother was Auditor Mukagaga who was a teacher. However, my dad had another wife and kids in a different village.

I remember one evening fear gripping everyone at home. That day dad had told us not to go to school but he did not give us a specific reason.

I could see buses full of people from Kigali flocking our town and wondered what was going on. I didn’t know that the killings had started.

That night on April 9, my mother told us to go into hiding. My brothers and I joined other people who were fleeing. We sought refuge in Ntarama church where my father and mother later joined us.

We were many people who had sought refuge in the church.  The Interahamwe militia armed with machetes, big sticks, clubs and spears attacked us in the church and started killing everyone.

They hacked my father, mother and brothers to death but somehow I managed to stay alive. Afterwards I got up from beneath the dead.

I looked around and found my twin brother fortunately still alive. Some other people who had come to the church after the Interahamwe had left had also escaped being killed.

We stayed in the church contemplating on how to flee to a safer place. However, that same night they attacked again and started hacking everyone they could find.

My twin brother was not spared (she breaks down and sobs but manages to continue). I was also hit on the head with a spiked piece of wood and fell down. Probably thinking I was dead, they threw me on top of the dead bodies.

They cut my twin brother’s arms and legs but did not finish him off. Afterwards I came back to him and found him breathing but chocking with tears. He was in a lot of pain. He asked me to bring him water because he was very thirsty.

There was nowhere to get water at that time. He insisted that all he wanted was water, even from a stream. I looked for water from a stream and brought it to him and went back into hiding but checking on him.

He had lost a lot of blood but he stayed alive for a week. However, one evening I came back and found him dead. I covered him with my wrapper (gitenge) and went back into hiding.

I found a group of other survivors. They included children, women and one man called Bahena. It is this man who took care of us. Some other men from Nyamata also found us there.

They rescued us and some other five kids. Two of my brothers were also rescued. My eldest brother at the time was covered in blood because he had been hiding under dead bodies.

A Tutsi man who had also escaped the Ntarama massacre told the rest of the men that he was going to take care of me and that he would be with me wherever he went.

So he carried me on his back since I was too weak to walk. We hid in a swamp but the Interahamwe still found us. We ran for our lives and in the confusion I could not find my brothers.

My head wounds were rotting at that time and they had maggots in them. So after we had settled a little bit, the people I was with tried to clean the wounds.

We kept on running and whenever I got too tired to run, the man carried me on his back. One time the interahamwe ambushed us. They killed almost everyone in the swamp but my brother managed to escape.

Because he couldn’t run with me he left me and they caught me. They made me carry a pot on my hurting head saying it would help me die faster.

Later they found out the hiding place where my brother and other people were. They called upon them to come out. They said they would not harm them. With a lot of coaxing and reassurances, my brother and the rest came out of their hiding place.

They knew my brother, so they said to him, “We are going to kill you first and finish your sister later.” They killed the others first and came to my brother after. They hacked while every one of them (the interahamwe) was laughing at him.

They fetched water and put it into a tank and lit a fire. All this while they laughed and mocked me on how awfully they were going to kill my brother. He was still alive by then.

They heated the water with firewood and when the water reached boiling point they put him into it and closed the tank. After an hour they removed him. His whole body was white.

They threw him next to me and said they wouldn’t bother killing me; after all I was going to die. That’s where the other man who had initially carried me found and took me with him.

After just a small distance, we bumped into another bunch of armed interahamwe who stopped us and hacked him in cold blood. They left me with his dead body (breaks down in tears). Everytime I remember the way this kind man was killed I cry.

By this time the interahamwe were being pursued by inkotanyi forces (Rwanda Patriotic Army). So that’s where the inkotanyi picked and took me to their camp.

That’s how I lost my entire family in the genocide. I heard that the family of my father’s second wife was also butchered and thrown in a latrine.

To be continued....