Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Béatha Uwazaninka's testimony

Today’s testimony is a moving account of a young girl during the genocide. She talks of her struggles and fears but also of those few who tried to stand up to the killings.

'My father died when I was two. Mother remarried when I was five, and I lived with Grandma. On New Year's Eve, 1987, neighbours - people I knew - came into the house and beat Grandma on the head with a hammer. They dragged her outside and left her body in the rain. I thought they were going to kill me as well, but one of them said, "Leave her, she can't do any harm." I wondered what harm Grandma could have done. I sat with her body in the rain until it began to get light. That's when I realised some people didn't like us because we were different, but I didn't understand why. I was seven years old. I went back to Gitarama to live with Mother, who had married a Hutu. That's how it was; normally, people didn't think about separate ethnic groups. We were poor, but happy. Mother worked very hard and my childhood was good.

The morning after the President's plane was shot down I was in my uncle's house with five cousins. The Interahamwe came, saying they were going to rape the girls. Uncle Gashugi pleaded with them not to do it, but they cut him down with a machete. I ran out of the back door with the others. All the other girls were killed before they reached the gate. I'm the only one of the household who survived. I went from house to house, like a hunted animal. Sometimes I hid in the drains with the corpses, pretending to be dead myself. One day I was being pursued by an Interahamwe and fled into the house of Yahaya, a Muslim. My heart was beating so fast. The Interhamwe was banging on the gate, threatening to throw a grenade to kill everyone if the family didn't give me up. Yahaya told his daughter to open the gate. I thought I was going to die, but he took me by the hand, stood with me in his doorway and told the killer off. The same man had shot a boy the previous day in that same house. Yahaya told him that the blood was still on the yard and that God would judge him. He could have been killed for sheltering me, but he saved my life and many others. He said that in the Koran it says, 'If you save one life, it is like saving the whole world; if you take one life, it is like destroying the whole world.' He didn't know that was in the Jewish texts as well.

The saddest day was when I heard my mother had been killed, that they had thrown her into the river. My heart wanted to break. I was fourteen years old and I was now all alone. There is a saying in Kinyarwanda that if a thief steals part of your basket, you cry and tell everyone what has been stolen. But if they take everything, it is too much to talk about, too much for tears, so you keep quiet. So it is with life after the genocide. It is too big to tell. No one can really understand it. People today talk about forgetting, forgiving and reconciliation. I think it's better to remember than forget, because if you don't remember what happened, you don't have all the truth. People say you can't have reconciliation without forgiveness. But you can't have forgiveness if people don't say they are sorry. That is why justice must happen before reconciliation. I used to think that gacaca would not be very useful. It doesn't bring back the dead. But it does make people face the truth -or at least some of it. For me, memory is personal, but remembering is important for everyone. The world knew and did not stop the genocide. So everyone shares something of what happened in our little country of Rwanda.'

-Béatha Uwazaninka


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