How a killer saved my life – Mukakabanda
Nyamagabe – For many years, the name ‘Murambi’ evokes memories of the merciless slaughter of over 50 000 Tutsi lured by local leaders to gather at what was meant to be a technical school, with promises of protection and food.
As she recollects events of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, one thing that keeps nagging Juliet Mukakabanda is the fact that she was indeed saved by a killer.
Mukakabanda, 48, one of the survivors of the killings in Murambi in the former Gikongoro Prefecture, testifies how “the site was turned up into a death camp for the Tutsi”.
“During the Genocide, I was married with three children. My two young boys were killed alongside my husband, with whom we sought refuge at the then unfinished Murambi technical school,” she recalls as she narrates her ordeal.
However, only 13 people would eventually survive the carnage mounted by Interahamwe militia together with government soldiers. Today, the question of how such a big number perished in a few days remains unanswered.
For those who have not been at the site, Murambi is located between elevated hills making it easy for anyone from one of those hills to easily monitor any activity or movement at the site.
“After the plane carrying former president Juvenal Habyarimana was downed [on the night of April 6, 1994], Tutsi in this area began witnessing death. Our houses were burnt and Interahamwe started hunting and killing us,” said Mukakabanda.
“We started realising that we were no longer safe when even our neighbours and those we thought were our friends started hunting us. I, together with my husband and our three children, first sought refuge at a nearby Pentecostal church thinking that we would be safe. We thought that like in 1963, where no one was killed inside churches, we would be untouchable as it was a sacred place.
When we arrived at the church, there were already hundreds and hundreds of Tutsi. A few days later, the former Bourgmestre on orders of Prefet Laurent Bucyibaruta , ordered us to come to Murambi. There were a lot of people. All classrooms were full.
After gathering here, she narrates, they cut the water supply and the refugees were obliged to go look for water down the hills.
However, it was impossible as anyone who dared to climb down the hills was immediately killed by Interahamwe. People died of thirst.
“Once here, we had no chance to leave. We then realised that it was a way of gathering us so that we could easily be killed.”
“The Gendarmes (the equivalent of police) then came and ordered the head count of all refugees at this place under the pretext of getting us food supplies,” she said.
The following days, according to Mukakabanda, they struggled to get what to feed on and fears of the militias downhill were heightened.
According to her, the militias at first feared to strike because the refugees were in large numbers which bought them two weeks at the school.
“On April 19, the interim President Theodore Sindikubwabo visited this area and delivered a speech, in which he instructed all local leaders and Interahamwe militias to ‘finish off the job’. That was a coded way of telling them to exterminate all Tutsis.
“On April 21, at around 3.00am, we heard bullets being fired in our direction. The courageous among us organised a resistance as it was now clear that we were going to die. We started collecting stones and bricks to defend ourselves but it was not possible because you cannot fight someone with a gun using stones.”
She said the attackers included armed gendarmes, prison warders and soldiers accompanied by many Interahamwe militias.
“There was shooting all over the place and grenades were hurled at us. Interahamwe militias followed them finishing off the injured. It was so horrible.”
“Finally, they arrived in the room we were in with my husband. He was bleeding. My husband implored them not to kill me and told them I was a Hutu. But they refused to buy this.
He suddenly pushed me outside the room as we were standing close to the door.
“Militias then took me and encircled me. I saw so many people dead and so many killers brandishing machetes. I was carrying a one month child on my back.
“As one of them threatened to finish me, I heard in the crowd of killers one of them threatening to avenge my death. They started discussing. They later asked me to give them the kid I carried, saying they cannot let a Tutsi born child be saved. But I could not get the courage to hand her over to them.
“Later that day, the killers left me with the man who threatened to revenge my death and continued killing others who were not dead. He accompanied me until I reached my birthplace in Gasarenda.
“I saw so many Tutsi dead and others being killed. At several road blocks, they threatened to kill me but ‘my killer-defender’ kept pleading for me.
“I lived in hiding until the RPA (the armed wing of RPF at the time) soldiers put an end to the Genocide.”
After narrating her ordeal, Mukakabanda says she has not set eyes on the man who saved her life but took many of others, ever since.