3 February 2013

Rwanda: 'We Are All Rwandans'

When the youngsters of Nyange Secondary School in the former Kibuye Prefecture (now Western Province) were attacked in one of the bloodiest assaults by remnants of the ex-FAR and Interahamwe militia who had sneaked into the country from Congo in the night of March 18, 1997, the students were ordered to group themselves according to whether they were Hutu or Tutsi. Yet the brave youth refused, insisting that they are all Rwandans.

Their refusal to betray each other cost six of them their life, while many others had injuries that would scar them for life. The deceased were Sylvestre Bizimana, Chantal Mujawamahoro, Beatrice Mukambaraga, Seraphine Mukarutwaza, Helene Benimana, and Valens Ndemeye. They are among the heroes honored on the Heroes Day (Imena category).

Among the students, some had parents in prison for crimes committed during the genocide and others were orphans due to the loss of parents and family members. Nevertheless, they were working towards forgiveness and followed what their teacher had taught them regardless of fear of death. Each student strived for a better future, and their dreams and ambitions were taken that fateful night.

Aloys Murigande, a survivor and former teacher at the school, vividly remembers the incident. "It was shortly after dinner when the infiltrators came. They first killed the night guard who was at the entrance of the school and they entered the school without anyone noticing," Murigande said. The attackers came through Mukura Forest from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) with intentions of attacking the Nyange School.

When Murigande heard gunshots, he wanted to go and see what was happening but through a window in his house, he noticed that mainly young thugs, some in the ex-FAR uniform, were all over the school. He decided to stay put.

Later that night, after soldiers of the army camped at nearby barracks had intervened, and the rebels had fled, Murigande rushed to classes. "I found some of the students already dead and others bleeding heavily."

By the end of the night, the rebels had killed one night watchman, six students, and injured twenty other students. The survivors will be haunted by the memories forever.

Each student strived for a better future, and their dreams and ambitions were taken that fateful night.

Apollo Niyoyita was among the students refusing to separate. "I was in the room where my classmates died due to injuries sustained from the bullets and I still clearly remember the proceedings as if it was just yesterday. Though I have myself some injuries in due to grenade shrapnel in my right leg, I cannot explain how I survived the incident," Niyoyita told this paper.

"That evening, some of us were reading their books, others talking with friends. Suddenly the rebels entered and we ran to the back of our class. One of them then asked us to separate into two groups, Tutsis and Hutus," Niyoyita recalled.

"Before anyone else could answer, Chantal Mujawamahoro told boldly the gun-wielding attackers 'Twese turi abanyarwanda' (we are all Rwandans); she was immediately shot dead. Then all of us started to shout that we are Rwandans, and they started to shoot at everyone," testified Niyoyita.

"It was after the soldiers had saved us, that I noticed the injuries on my right leg and arm. I saw that Seraphine Mukarutwaza and Helene Benimana were already dead and Slyvestre Bizimana was still breathing faintly. Another fellow had her leg severely injured so that it had to be amputated," he recounted.

While for survivors such as Apollo Niyoyita the memories of that evening will always be terrible, it is fitting that the nation has decided to remember the bravery of those students. They are true heroes indeed.

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