• September 19th, 2019

Rwandese genocide survivor shares 1994 horror

Paheja Siririka

WINDHOEK - Honore Gatera who survived the horrendous Rwandese genocide which took place from April - July 1994, has shared accounts of the Rwandan genocide in which between 500 000 to a million Tsusi were slaughtered by axe and machete-wielding Hutus over a 100-day period.

Gatera, who serves as the director of the Kigali Genocide Memorial, shared horrific moments that unfolded that year. Gatera was born in 1981, in a post-colonial era in which the leadership wasn’t really good. In the early 1990s, it became worse and in 1994 the genocide against the Tutsi erupted.

Growing up was not easy, he told New Era during his visit to Windhoek at the invitation of the Riruako Centre for Genocide and Memory Studies that saw him address a public lecture at the Namibia University of Science and Technology (Nust) on the Rwandan Genocide.

“I saw a country that was living in fear, fear of what will happen tomorrow,” recalled Gatera on a country whose mass slaughter was triggered by the death of Rwandan president Juvenal Habyarimana, whose plane was shot down above Kigali airport on April 6, 1994.

Gatera stated it is difficult to explain how one escaped the genocide because roadblocks were set across the entire county, searching people all over by checking their ID cards. The ID cards indicated whether the person was a Hutu, Tutsi, Twa or Naturalise. 

Gatera recalled being hidden along with his cousin by his Hutu neighbour in his house but this couldn’t last long as they had to go hide somewhere else. “My neighbour was so generous but figured it would be very risky for us to keep on hiding there,” he recalled. 

“Our neighbour advised us to go to the school for refugees but that was not entirely safe and we went back to the ruins of our previous home. It was raining heavily that year so the grass was long and green.  We were hiding in those types of areas and you had to make sure that you erased your footprints so that no one would notice someone lives there,’’ he vividly recollected.

They hid there and ate whatever they could get their hands on until the army arrived. By the time the Tutsi-led Rwandese Patriotic Front gained control of the country through a military offensive in early July, hundreds of thousands of Rwandans were dead, including Gatera’s father and more than 35 other family members. In the end, Rwandans stopped the genocide. “Refugees who fled to other countries are the ones who came back and liberated the country,” he said. 

During the genocide, affiliates of the Hutu ethnic majority murdered as many as 800,000 people, most of the Tutsi minority with some saying the number could be more than a million. The genocide, which was started by Hutu nationalists in the capital of Kigali, spread throughout the country with speed and intense violence as ordinary citizens were encouraged by local officials and the Hutu Power government to take up arms against their neighbours. “Dogs were used to sniff and look for people in hiding, be it in the ceilings of houses, bushes – and sometimes Hutu neighbours would be the ones selling out their fellow countrymen and women,” he said.

The aftermath of the genocide is what haunts people today. “After that, the dilemma started, no family, no friends, home destroyed, where do you start’’? Gatera said.  “If you had been in school, thoughts came through on whether you go back to school or not,” Gatera added. His main idea was to drop out of school so that he could help his surviving mother. “She was brave enough to convince me to go back to school,” Gatera said. 

In 1995 he started high school and was successful for all the years without failing or dropping out till 2001 when he completed it.  He later went on to finish his degree in sociology at Kigali Independent University in 2005.
Going through the atrocities was never an easy thing for a 13-year-old to experience but according to Gatera, psychologically “our inner is always stronger than we think”.  

“When you are physically weak, at certain moments, your mind works hard to raise you up so that you can do something special,” he said. 

Asked whether he had professional help after going through all that trauma, he said: “Let me say no and also yes because if we met the professionals, we didn’t know what is it that we have to ask and most of the people were trying to overcome it themselves.”

“At a young age you still have it easier because you have a bit of flexibility in your thoughts and mind when it comes to processing information,” he said. “It was more of a bigger challenge for those who were older than us to recover,” Gatera added. Gatera went on to say that if they didn’t push and work hard, Rwanda wouldn’t be where it is today. He is dearly committed to the memorial, “I worked with colleagues who dropped out because it was psychologically straining,” he said. “I felt stronger to continue and have been doing this for the last 15 years.”

Gatera had a mouthful to say when it came to the advice he has for the Namibian youth and one of the things he emphasised is that there is no challenge that one cannot overcome. “Namibian youth have a huge impact because there is stability in the country, they have peace,” he pointed out. “You have been accorded the opportunity to plan your life for the next 10 fifteen years,” he continued. 

Rwandan youths are not privileged in that sense. “Imagine you being employed and having a family, that’s great right? Now imagine having a job and you don’t have a family because they have been wiped out by the genocide – it’s worse and that’s how many Rwandese are right now,” he said. 

“Namibian youths should remain focused on their goals and work hard in achieving whatever it is that they want because hard working is rewarding,” he advised. According to Gatera, hard work, focus and being happy with what you have is the key to success.

The youth of nowadays like overnight success and mostly this doesn’t last compared to hard work. On life and love, Gatare is single and has no children. “It’s something that I have been thinking about,” he concluded.

Staff Reporter
2019-03-05 10:05:03 6 months ago

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