His dream was to build a good house for his siblings and support them throughout their education – Sylvestre Bizimana was among Inyange students killed for defying orders by defeated government militia.
Three years after the 1994 genocide against Tutsi was stopped by Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPA) rebels, the defeated Hutu militia (Ex-FAR) routinely crossed back from DR Congo to terrorize communities inside Rwanda.
Bizimana was 22 years when the militia then locally known as ‘abacengezi’ crossed from neighbouring DR Congo and surrounded Nyange School. The militia ordered Hutu students in their dormitories to separate themselves from Tutsi students.
However, students defied the militia orders saying; ‘We are all Rwandans’. The militia immediately killed all defiant students on spot while 19 sustained fatal injuries. Bizimana was training to become a teacher.
KT Press tracks the life of Bizimana before he was murdered. His brother and sisters still live in Kagarama sector, Kicukiro district of Kigali city.
Their parents were brutally killed in the 1994 genocide against Tutsi- Bizimana was the eldest of six siblings, they looked upto him as family caretaker.
Valens Nsekanabo, the second born says his brother was his best friend and has been inspired by his dream for pursuit of education and keeping the family bonded. “He was my biggest advisor not just a brother but a friend,” Nsekanabo remembers.
After losing his parents, Bizimana had challenges of raising tuition and changed from one school to another. He moved from Kagogo to Shyira to Rilima secondary schools and finally settled at Nyange School in former Kibuye province.
Bizimana’s love for education was exceptional – his neighbourhood mostly remembers him for slapping a boy (Janvier) who had refused to go to school yet he had all.
“For example when he had trouble getting school fees, he suggested that I drop out of school for him to complete his studies and later help the family in life after school,” said his brother Nsekanabo.
Nsekanabo agreed to drop out of school to enable his elder brother continue with education – He later pursued technical studies specializing in electricity.
When the militia attacked Nyange school, Bizimana had three days earlier visited his siblings at home in Kicukiro.
“He came to visit us when he escorted one of the sick students to Kigali. He told us to be strong and wrote a letter to us all,” Nsekanabo said.
The letter contained strange messages – it was as if he was aware that these were last moments of his life.
“Be strong and take care of each other with love. From today you (Nsekanabo) are the family head. I will visit our young brother in Rambura when I come back. But my dream is to build a good house for you all,” the letter read in parts.
Bizimana was very close to his death date but the family knows that he had everything planned – he wanted a good life and education for his family.
According to Nskenabo, his brother had personally been disgruntled by the fact they were living in a poor house.
“He was very smart and diverse intellectually in sciences. He had designed a house plan himself and was determined to build it after graduation,” Nsekanabo said.
Of course the house was not built; Bizimana died sooner than planned. But his legacy has been passed to Nsekanabo – an electrician, a career chosen for him by his late brother. He is currently a strong pillar in the family living up to expectations predicted in Bizimana’s letter in 1998.
As an electrician, Nsekanabo stays close to his three sisters and one young brother (a police officer) taking care of them as would be if Bizimana was around at age 42.
“Our dream is to build the house that he had wanted for us in Kicukiro and that is why we have not shifted from here. But first of all he always wanted us to love and take care of each other,” Nsekanabo said.
Bizimana’s Siblings Live his Dream
Vestina Mujawase, one of his sisters says that Bizimana wanted her to have a good education, but she dropped out of school to take care of the youngest siblings.
“I dropped out of primary school in form six. There was no option, otherwise if Bizimana was around, he would have ensured that I complete school as he promised,” says Mujawase – a tailor but stopped the trade because of an eye infection.
Christine Mujawimana, another sister who dropped out of school while pursuing a medical course has since become a shop attendant, but believes her brother would have paid her education to become a medic.
For Nsekanabo, believes they would be in a good house as planned and he would be an engineer; “You can imagine I would study beyond my current A3 technician education level” he said.
This Wednesday, the Nyange School defiant students will be remembered among a national heroes celebrated during the annual Heroes Day on February 1.
For Bizimana’s surviving siblings, each of them has something they will always remember about him as a family hero.
On the soft side of Bizimana always cheered up his sibling and friends – he cracked rib cracking jokes especially while in company of children and in the neighbourhoods of Kicukiro.
His body lies in the Kicukiro cemetery. His family has no photo memory of him except his blood stained mattress on which he lay dead.Its still kept in the family three-roomed house.
“All his photos were lost at school. His mattress, which was brought by one of his classmates, is all we have of his memory and we hold it so special. Not even a relative can take it out of this house” said Vestina Mujawase.
Bizimana’s young family struggled to have him buried and were assisted by the community to lay him to rest. Siblings struggle to keep his legacy alive.