Home Kwibuka29 Ruhanga, Brutality of Interahamwe and How Eric Mwizerwa Narrowly Survived

Ruhanga, Brutality of Interahamwe and How Eric Mwizerwa Narrowly Survived

by Jean de la Croix Tabaro
7:15 pm

Eric Mwizerwa

Out of the 15,000 Tutsi that had hoped to find safe haven at Ruhanga Anglican Church in Rusororo sector, Gasabo district-Kigali, Eric Mwizerwa who was a young adolescent during the 1994 Genocide against Tutsi can recall how interahamwe killed them until he could count barely 45 survivors.

Even with this number, the killers were still unhappy and they pursued the desire to deepen hands into the blood of innocent Tutsi.

In his testimony today at the launch of Genocide commemoration week, Mwizerwa started a bit earlier in 1992 where his elder brother and his uncle joined the Rwanda Patriotic Army (RPA) Inkotanyi.

This attracted the attention of local leaders including bourgmester Bisengimana of his Gikoro commune and the Semanza of the neighbouring Bicumbi, and their successors all of whom were convicted over Genocide crimes.

In the morning of April 7, 1994, a young man called Gatikiri came to announce the bad news to Mwizerwa’s family, about the death of then President Juvénal Habyarimana who died in a plane crash.

“Armed with a club including nails, he told us: beware you the Tutsi. You have killed our dear president-mwatwiciye umubyeyi-, I swear you won’t survive today,” Mwizerwa recalls.

Laying the wreath at Ruhanga Genocide memorial in Gasabo district

This warning was adding to the existing threats, which meant to them, that things could be tough.

Before the evening, Ruhanga Primary school classrooms were full with the Tutsi hoping to be safe together, but Interahamwe militia were quick to bring lists and to read names of their targets threatening to kill them.

That very night, the elders amongst the unfortunate Tutsi advised the rest to go camp at Ruhanga Anglican church, from their experience that in the past, one would be safe, if they fled at church.

“Interahamwe were not confident to attack us at the church, because we had strong young men armed with traditional weapons. So, we stayed there until April 11,” he said.

On April 12 however, four gendarmes drove to the church, and cheated the elders by asking them to convince the youth to handover the arms and leave it the gendarmes to protect the camp.

“They just wanted to kill us with ease,” said Mwizerwa.

“The elderly refused the idea, and when they wanted to shoot them, they failed. They called it day.”

However, from this scenario, killers invented a lie, that there were armed Inkotanyi at the place, and thus, they organised a military attack.

They gathered Interahamwe from Rubungo, Gikoro, Gikomero and Bicumbi communes for an organised attack on April 14.

But when they came, they met stiff resistance of the Tutsi from morning to evening.

The following day, April 15, the killers prepared an apocalypse.

“They convened soldiers from Camp Kanombe, Camp Kami and Rwamagana. We woke up to a huge regiment of soldiers waiting to finish us,” recalls Mwizerwa.

All started when a helicopter gave a kick off sign by shooting lightly. The soldiers started firing at the innocent civilians and Interahamwe to use their machetes. The Tutsi who were then disparate tried to find a hideout in the church, and a man who had the key locked the church, sent the key to a young pastor one Sosthène whose home nearby.

Interahamwe proceeded at Sosthène’s, to get the key, but the man of God told them: “None of them deserves to die.”

They killed him on the spot with wife and returned to the church, forced the door and started killing the Tutsi using whatever weapon and brutality.

Afterwards, they went to the Primary school for more killings. Before finishing the killings at this second site, they thought there was unfinished business at the church.

“They said: it’s unbelievable that we might have killed everyone at church. There are many Tutsi,” recalls Mwizerwa.

Mourners at Ruhanga Genocide Memorial

They returned and tricked the people in the middle of dead bodies: “hey you! Is there anybody who is still breathing so we can save them?”

With this, all the Tutsi who were still breathing woke up, including Mwizerwa. They put them on two lines of those who have some money who “deserved a gunshot and those who did not have money that had to be tortured with machetes, clubs and other rude weapons.”

When they shot a lady behind Mwizerwa, the later fell down and he was covered by bodies. In the middle of the night, he was able to leave the place despite all odds, and to see what had happened at the Primary School.

Mwizerwa, together with 43 Tutsi who had survived in Ruhanga agreed to find their way to either Rwamagana, where a specific senior officer was reported to be sympathetic or to the Rwanda parliament(CND).

CND was housing RPF battalion that was escorting politicians who were waiting to be integrated in the transitional government stipulated in Arusha accord.

Half away, the unfortunate travellers who had spent days without either water or food found a water stream and decided to go kill the thirsty.

Alas! The interahamwe saw them and surrounded them, but they decided to throw themselves into the bush. The killers sent dogs to hunt them and in a group of 17 people with Mwizerwa, the dogs dislodged 10 and seven others managed to survive that particular incident.

But this was for a short while because the following morning, most of them were burnt alive in a hut of interahamwe which they mistakenly took for an abandoned shelter.

Mwizerwa therefore returned to Ruhanga church with three children who survived the incident.

On his way, Mwizerwa attempted to save one more child but it did not work. He continued hiding the three children with him up to Gicaca sector where interahamwe were really the most violent.

He managed to trick them and sent away the three children successfully. Two of them would later die, but another, now a woman survived.

Launch of national commemoration week at Kigali Genocide Memorial

For Mwizerwa, he still had more trials that day. He was found by interahamwe and one of them promised to sit on his neck until he breathes his last.

“Indeed he sat on my neck and I felt like bursting when I remembered that there was a child of a local leader they used to confuse with me.

“I told him: by the way, I am your fellow Hutu and he said: how come? I am Jean Paul the son of Athanase, the conseil of Fumbwe sector,” Mwizerwa narrates.

They released him but on his way, he saw an interahamwe killing his elder brother. The same Interahamwe knew Mwizerwa. He followed him and paraded him up to a local leader where other Tutsi were being brought to be killed.

He happened to meet his mother there, and saw interahamwe killing her naked.

“The interahamwe who saw how I had become like an animal, emotionless because I also wanted death to come for me, said; Go away-you. Go shed your blood elsewhere!”

He managed to go into the ruins of home where he spent one week before being able to connect with RPF saviours in Nyagasambu-Rwamagana district.

Mwizerwa who gave a testimony as a man who has made tremendous steps in healing from the wounds, thanked the President and RPF at large for restoring confidence of Rwanda.

“The peace we have, the security did not come from heaven. It’s not a gift from anyone but there are people who paid a heavy price for it. Let’s fight that this never happen again,” he concluded.

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