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In Rwanda, a source of forgiveness after genocide

Sunday March 31 2019

Rwanda genocide victims

Josepha Mukaruzima, 70 (C), a Tutsi woman whose entire family was killed during the 1994 genocide, is pictured at Ruseke village. PHOTO | JACQUES NKINZINGABO | AFP 

AFP
By AFP
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RUSEKE,

A trickle of water flows out of a lush green valley in Rwanda, the two villages on either side of the life-giving spring living peacefully with each other for years.

Then the horrors of the 1994 genocide changed all that. Those on one side of the valley in the village of Giheta turned on their neighbours across the way in the village of Ruseke.

Gangs of machete-wielding men hacked their neighbours to death following the outbreak of inter-ethnic violence, a genocide in which over 800,000 mainly Tutsi people were killed between April to July 1994, according to the UN.

Today, that water source brings the people back together.

But 25 years ago, the tranquil valley, its rich farmland lined with banana, mango and avocado trees about 40 kilometres (25 miles) west of Rwanda's capital Kigali, became a killing field.

PROPAGANDA

Whipped up by extremist propaganda, the people of Giheta -- from the ethnic Hutu majority -- attacked their longtime neighbours in Ruseke from the Tutsi minority. Some 70 people were massacred.

"It was a big shock for us," said Daphrosa Mukarubayiza, 57, whose husband and son were killed. "These were people who we used to socialise and drink together with. We shared everything."

Elders in the communities spoke of how people would gather to chat as they waited for their water containers to fill, exchanging gossip and news, a peaceful place that brought everyone together.

After the genocide, both villages still relied on the water, but took it in turn to avoid having to meet, if at all possible.

Rwanda genocide victims

Jean-Claude Mutarindwa, 42, (R) a Hutu, and Daphrosa Mukarubayize, 57, a Tutsi woman, pose for a photo near a well-spring that sits in the valley that separates their villages at the border between Musambira and Nyarubaka sectors of Kamonyi District. PHOTO | JACQUES NKINZINGABO | AFP

ACT OF LOVE

Jean-Claude Mutarindwa, 42, was a youth from the village of Giheta when the genocide took place. Unlike his brothers, he did not pick up a machete to kill and that helped him lay the foundation for reconciliation.

"I told myself that since I was part of the village, I had a duty to participate in this act of love, asking them what we could do for them to forgive us," Mr Mutarindwa said.

"The task was complicated."

In 2005, the two villages relived the trauma of the killings when trials took place in the community-run courts called "Gacaca".

Rwanda genocide victims

Jean-Claude Mutarindwa, 42, a Hutu, poses for a photo near a well-spring that sits in the valley that separates two villages at the border between Musambira and Nyarubaka sectors of Kamonyi District on March 4, 2019. PHOTO | JACQUES NKINZINGABO | AFP

Rwanda genocide victims

Josepha Mukaruzima, 70 (C), a Tutsi woman from Ruseke village, whose entire family was killed, stands with Jean-Claude Mutarindwa, 42 (L), a Hutu from neighbouring Giheta village, at the border between Musambira and Nyarubaka sectors of Kamonyi District. PHOTO | JACQUES NKINZINGABO | AFP

RAPPROCHEMENT

That same year, the first concrete gestures of rapprochement also took place.

Mr Mutarindwa convinced his neighbours in Giheta to cross over to Ruseke and help them farm their fields.

"To ask for forgiveness was not easy at all: the first time we crossed to ask for forgiveness, we were about 100 people. Amongst us, people were afraid."

But when they came back home safely, the next time nearly 200 came. On the third trip, the whole village of Giheta came to help.

The two sides held a deeply emotional reconciliation -- and a big party -- in the centre of Ruseke.

Rwanda genocide victims

Joel Mugabowindekwe, a Hutu, whose house served to host meetings to plan attacks on neighbouring Tutsis 1994 genocide, is seen in his native Gitega village on March 4, 2019. PHOTO | JACQUES NKINZINGABO | AFP

Rwanda genocide victims

A girl fetches water from a well-spring in the valley that separates two villages at the border between Musambira and Nyarubaka sectors of Kamonyi District in Rwanda, that are now re-learning to share all they have, including the water. PHOTO | JACQUES NKINZINGABO | AFP

HUMANITY

For those in Ruseke, it seemed the right time to let go.

"I felt ready to forgive," said Mr Mukarubayiza, who knew Mr Mutarindwa since they had met at the same church. "In a gesture of humanity, I told Jean-Claude to ask his people to come to ask forgiveness."

After the ceremony of reconciliation, the children of each village led the way. Soon they were making friends across the shared waters of the spring. Life resumed its natural course.

Still, not everyone shares this optimism. Josepha Mukaruzima, 70, from the village of Ruseke argues that those who asked for forgiveness were not those guilty of the crimes.

Grudgingly she has accepted the situation, but feels true reconciliation requires more.

"It is far from being enough," she said. "It misses many things, it is superficial."