3:00 a.m., April 21st, 1994: Soldiers loyal to the genocide in Rwanda encircled the technical school in Murambi. Construction of the campus had not been finished when the genocide began. Within 48 hours all but 4 people were massacred; some blown up by grenades, some shot, most hacked to death by machetes.
On the afternoon of October 14, 2007, I traveled to the genocide memorial at Murambi.
When the genocide began in Rwanda, between 40,000 and 50,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus took refuge at the technical school. Authorities promised them that the school would be a sanctuary from the killings that engulfed the nation, but shortly after they arrived, all utilities were cut. The men, women and children survived for two weeks without food or water, in the hope of being spared the fate of their fellow countrymen.
When we entered the site we were greeted by fifty-one year old Emmanuel Murangira, one of four survivors of the massacre that occurred here. A bullet that struck his head probably saved his life. Unconscious for over a day, the Hutu militia mistook him for dead. His family were among the slaughtered. He survived by hiding under the corpses of the dead until it was safe to make his escape.
Emmanuel is the keeper of the keys which unlock rooms filled with what’s left of many of the victims. To ensure the world would never forget, surviving family members requested some of the bodies be preserved and displayed to memorialize the dead, a reminder to the world of the horrors of the genocide. Arranged on benches, in what would have been dorm rooms for the college, are the victims of the massacre at Murambi.
The photos that follow are haunting. I ask you to look at them, to resist the temptation to skip past.
In the media culture of the west, death and violence are glorified on television, in the movies and in video games. By the age of 18, the average child in the United States will have witnessed hundreds of thousands of acts of violence and thousands of murders. We entertain ourselves with commercialization of death, murder and violence. They are used as vehicles of entertainment; they trivialize serious atrocities, things too easily accepted as part of the human condition. When faced with the real thing, many of us shy away.
Emmanuel Murangira, interviewed on February 13th, 2007, by the BBC News’ radio program, The World, told his story in a piece entitled “Rwanda Genocide Memorial.”
Emmanuel: “When I do this particular work, like coming and showing to people what happened here, I just want to make sure that people like you, when you come and when you go back, you should tell other people what really happened here because those who perpetrated the genocide sometimes say that nothing happened here.”
Emmanuel: On the 21st of April at around 3 am, that was when we heard vehicles, buses, trucks, bringing soldiers, and then the soldiers kind of encircled the whole of the compound and then they started shooting at us, throwing grenades, then killing. — So the killings continued all night from 3am up to around nine in the morning. So in the morning the whole compound was full of dead bodies around here. So you can see I got that bullet wound on my head that very day.”
Emmanuel: “They continued the killings and when almost everybody was dead, then they started going from person to person, looking for money in the pockets, looking for good clothing they could remove, and the shoes, earrings, necklaces, and then they went into the rooms where there were women and children and then hacking them to death with machetes, axes…..”
In a speech he delivered at Murambi, on April 7th, 2007, Rwanda’s president Paul Kigami stated:
“It is important that we always remember because if we don’t, we shall have learnt nothing from our history. Forgetting may be easier for many but it erases history and may lead to a return to our horrendous past. It also gives an opportunity to those who want to negate genocide and revive the culture of impunity. “
When I left Murambi, a storm had moved in. With it, wind, rain, and a symbol of hope.
Copyright Adam Bacher. Absolutely no use without prior authorization. All rights reserved.