2 February 2013

Rwanda: The Nyange Living Hero

On the night of March 18, 1997, remnants of the Interahamwe and ex-FAR infiltrated through Mukura Forest from DR Congo and attacked Nyange SS in the former Kibuye prefecture. Students were studying in Senior Five and Six classrooms when the infiltrators invaded the school premises.

Phanuel Sindayiheba was in one of the attacked classrooms. He witnessed the attack, sustained bodily injuries and escaped the claws of death. In an interview with Edwin Musoni, the 36-year-old father of two recounts the horror that engulfed the school that dark night;-

The shock is still there, gory memories, every time I think about the events of that night. In the aftermath of the Genocide against the Tutsi, there were bodies everywhere, you could see people's wounds and trauma, many of the perpetrators were still living scot-free. In 1996-97, the infiltrators would strike villages and retreat into DR Congo.

Students at school came from different backgrounds. So you take all of them and put them in one school, let them eat together, fetch water together, share a dormitory and the bench.

I was in Senior Six in 1997. It was around 8pm, the main gates were locked, we had finished dinner and some of us were back in our classrooms revising, then we started hearing gunshots, but thought it was nothing big, that it was just infiltrators fighting RPA soldiers.

But 15 minutes later and the gunshots were increasing instead. Bullets were hitting the windows. We took cover on the floor. Windows were shattered, and shortly after gunshots stopped, three men armed with machine guns burst into the classrooms.


They tried to disguise themselves, wearing military and civilian clothes, and hid their faces. "Do you know me?" asked one of them in a fake French accent. He looked like the leader. One of us said, "We don't know you."

Then he said, "You will see me, but before you see me, I want you to help me, to facilitate me with my job. I want Hutus in this room on the right, and I know here we have Tutsis, so Tutsis go to the left side."

We all heard him clearly and knew what this meant. There was a deathly quiet. So he repeated his command.

"We do not have Hutus or Tutsis here, we are Rwandans," a girl, Chantal Uwamahoro, said.

They went out and threw two grenades inside, and in a small room like our class, the impact was enormous. Some students were blinded, others had their limbs shattered. Shrill cries rented the air as fear engulfed us.

The first grenade actually curved a big hole in the floor. The second grenade fell on my upper back and exploded, which consequently left me with many fragments in my back.

They wanted to intimidate us, to show us they were serious and that we should separate. Then they came back and gave the same order. "Hutus aside, Tutsis that side."

There was a young man who always sat in front of me called Sylvestre Bizimana. He was a good friend. He had survived the Genocide, just he alone with his brother, while the rest of the family had been massacred. We used to call him 'the philosopher'. He said, "We have already told you, we are not Hutus or Tutsis, we are Rwandans."

Realising that we were not relenting, they started shooting at us. Uwamahoro and Beatrice Mukambaraga were the first to die. They were shooting us, row after row. One of the infiltrators kept guard at the door.

I was in the third row. A grenade is the worst thing, if you feel a furnace, my back was like that, and I had this thought to just raise my head from under the desk so they shoot me. Some bullets hit my left arm.

Another group of the infiltrators went to Senior Five. When they got the same answer as the one we gave (the answer was given by Helena Mukamana), a girl whose father was in jail for his alleged role in Genocide crimes, they were incensed. As one of the infiltrators grabbed her, she asked, "Are you going to kill me, and yet I know you?"

On realising that she had identified him, he shot her. Another student, Valence, a former child soldier, but was back to school, tried to attack the infiltrator to save Seraphine Mukarutwaza, another girl who had been recognised. Both were killed.

Aware of what was happening in the school, students in other classes rushed out and hid in the nearby bush and banana plantation. The RPA soldiers in the area arrived to our rescue after hearing the gunshots. Six students died, many others were seriously injured.

Because of the gravity of my injuries, I spent three months in intensive care, and visited various hospitals for treatment throughout the year. Some students returned to school after two weeks, but others were too traumatised to come back. Some of my former classmates got permanent injuries, while others are still psychologically wounded.

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