While Rwanda’s political, administrative and religious authorities are calling for reconciliation, they are not forcing any victims to offer forgiveness.
Marie G. was born in Mwulire, a village in the Rwamagana district of eastern Rwanda, the oldest of eight children. She was 19 at the time of the 1994 genocide, during which she lost her parents, five brothers and sisters, and both sets of grandparents.
To escape the massacres, she spent more than a month hiding in the bushes with her little brother who was not yet six years old. “He cried a lot,” she says. “The rain quenched our thirst but also made us shiver in the bushes. When night fell, I would come out of hiding and go into the fields to pull sweet potatoes, which we ate raw.”
During the day, the killers came killing and she remained frozen, with her brother, in their hiding place. “One day, a group of killers passed within an arm’s length of us. They were boasting about what they had done. They mentioned the members of my family that they had just killed. I had to stifle a cry and I ordered my brother not to make a sound. I cannot forget, and no-one can force me to forgive,” she says, then falls silent for several minutes. For the National Unity and Reconciliation Commission, Marie G.’s feelings are understandable. “If there is no specific request for forgiveness and her property has not been restored to her, then her attitude is understandable,” says Jean- Baptiste Habyarimana, Executive Secretary of the Commission. “Are the people who destroyed her family and looted its property indigent and unable to give it back? Are they people who still think what they did was legitimate?” he asks. Otherwise, he says, “wherever there has been a request for forgiveness and restitution of looted property, there has been a move towards reconciliation”.
Marie G., now divorced with two children, lives in a small house built by the FARG (National Assistance Fund for Needy Survivors of Genocide) in her native village Mwulire.
Her hard life has aged her more than her 39 years. “You would think I was in my fifties,” she says. “That is all because of what they did.”
But she is still a fighter. “I must make a living for them,” she says pointing to her children, one boy and one girl. “After all it is not their fault.”
Her day begins at 5AM. After getting a frugal breakfast for her children, she goes to work in a rice mill where she sweeps the floor. In the evening there are the traditional chores of fetching water and cooking.
She often has to walk the 10 kilometres to work when she runs out of money for public transport.
Attempting a joke, she points to the old pair of trainers she is wearing and recalls a little rhyme from her school days: “Six kilometres on foot, six kilometres on foot, it does your shoes no good!”