Dancila Nyirabazungu, a survivor and one of curators of the genocide memorial at Queen of the Apostles Church of Ntarama, in front of hundreds of skulls on display where some 5,000 people were killed during the Rwandan genocide of 1994. - EPA
Survivors of the genocide in Rwanda have mixed feelings about the murderers.
IN those early months after the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, as the stunned survivors confronted an existence saturated in pain and despair, a saying took hold in Rwanda: condemned to live.
It was heard from parents who saw their children butchered, from Tutsis who eluded the Hutu machetes only to discover almost everyone they loved was dead. After the last genocide of the 20th century, they returned to their villages to be told they were the lucky ones. But many said they would have preferred to die than face a future haunted by what they knew.
“Surviving is not what we wanted,” said Madalena Mukariemeria, a few years after escaping a massacre of more than 11,000 Tutsis at a church in Kibuye, where her father was killed. “To have survived is not something to be happy about. We don’t hear among the survivors that it was good to survive.”
The suffering was made more acute for some Tutsis by seeing the murderers of their families walking freely on the streets or even living next door.
Rwanda still evokes passions far beyond its borders, not only over the genocide itself but about where the country is headed today under its authoritarian leader, President Paul Kagame, who is regarded by some as its saviour and others as an autocrat. But, little noticed outside the country, hundreds of thousands of the genocide’s survivors have gone on to reconstruct their lives in the two decades since that 100 days of frenzied killing.
In the early years, some mothers looked to their surviving children as the reason to go on. Others, who lost everyone, took in orphans in an attempt to rebuild a family. Mukariemeria did both. She cared for her own three children and seven orphans, among the few survivors of her and her husband’s extended family. Still, the legacy of genocide continued to intrude.
“We had a girl we adopted who was raped during the genocide and got AIDS and died. Another one met the killer of her father. She went and threw herself in the lake and drowned because of the pain of seeing him,” she said.
Others sought peace in forgiveness. Louis Rutaganira survived the slaughter in the same church as Mukariemeria by hiding under the dead. His wife and three of his children did not. Shortly afterwards, Rutaganira was struggling to imagine the future living in a town where much of the Hutu population showed no great regret for the genocide.