Hundreds of people converged at centre christus in remera, Kigali, on Friday to mark the 50th anniversary of the massacre of the Tutsi that took place on the Christmas Eve of 1963.
Although large scale killings had taken place before, from 1959, this was the beginning of state-sponsored systematic massacres that targeted the Tutsi elite, starting with politicians and the well-to-do before spreading to other sections of society.
More than 30,000 are estimated to have lost their lives in the few months that followed.
Survivors who lived through the ordeal said it was their dream to see a Rwanda where their children and grand-children never experience what they endured.
Those who lived to tell said it marked the beginning of a well-planned and executed Genocide against the Tutsi by the First Republic under the leadership of Gregoire Kayibanda.
Senator Prof. Jean-Damascène Bizimana has extensively researched and written about the killings.
Bizimana, 50, said there was no conclusive research on the number of people who died back then although historians have recorded between 30,000 and 32,000.
"The largest number of those killed were Tutsi, but even the Hutus who stood firm for their democratic principles and human rights, in the Unar (Union Nationale Rwandaise) and Rader (Le Rassemblement Democratique Rwandais) political parties were also killed," Bizimana said
He stressed that the killings were prepared long before and supported by the then government and the Belgian colonial administrators and sections of the Catholic clergy.
Mzee Simon Sebagabo was a young man during the pogroms; he has a vivid memory of the events, especially in the former Bufundu region, later renamed Gikongoro.
In 1963, Sebagabo was in his final year at a seminary in Kansi. His testimony, like all others, was heartrending. But he remains optimistic.
"The bad seed sown at the time has not been uprooted. However, even though many people died, the number could have been higher had it not been for some upright people who saved lives," Sebagabo said.
"But being Rwandan first and foremost, ahead of being Hutu or Tutsi, is still a challenge and it's everyone's duty to participate in turning a new page."
Former senator Prof. Chrysologue Kubwimana said Rwandans need to understand that to this day, former colonial powers do not want to see a united Rwanda.
"The colonialists, be it the past or the present, can't be happy when they see people shaping their own future. This is the biggest problem," Kubwimana said, recalling how African nationalists such as Thomas Sankara (Burkina Faso), Modibo Keita (Mali) and Patrice Lumumba (Zaire, now DR Congo) met their demise.
Pastor Antoine Rutayisire, who was young at the time, stressed the consequences of the pogroms such as trauma. After a testimony that moved many to tears, the pastor concluded:
"I only remain with one mission. Building a nation where my child will not experience what I lived through. We saw our fathers get killed, but let's work such that no Rwandan child, be it a Hutu, Tutsi or Twa, or whatever other origins, ever experiences such trauma again."
From 1959 onwards, the Tutsi were targeted, resulting in hundreds of thousands of deaths. Thousands of others fled into exile in neighboring countries and beyond.
The First Republic, under Kayibanda, institutionalised discrimination against the Tutsi and periodically used massacres against them as a means of maintaining the status quo. This, later, as most affirm, prepared the ground for the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi that laid the country to waste, with more than a million people killed.
Senior politicians, religious leaders and members of the business community took part in the event.