In honour of dead family

2011-04-16 00:00

TO say he had overcome strife would be an understatement. Rwandan genocide survivor Faustin Munyazikwiye overcame the unthinkable to graduate this week at the University of KwaZulu-Natal with an MSc in environmental affairs.

He spoke of the night in April 1994 when Tutsis butchered his family.

“I remember that night vividly. We were all eating our dinner when they marched in. We had a big dog that defended us fiercely — they shot him repeatedly. We ran, mum, dad and seven siblings, and they followed,” he recalled.

“They shot my dad and then began to butcher my family alive with machetes, I, the last-born, managed to escape with a group of about 12 others from my village. We found refuge in a swamp.”

Faustin and the other runaways played dead in the swamp after they were attacked with machetes and left for dead.

“I pretended to be dead and then in the wee hours of the morning I managed to get to a hospital for treatment.

“This is where I found my aunt and her daughter, who had managed to bribe soldiers so their lives were spared.

“The soldiers would come to the hospital daily and round people up who didn’t have any bribes — and then take them to the slaughter by the hundreds.”

Faustin again had to escape from one hideaway to the next.

“For one week we didn’t eat a thing; all around me were dead bodies. When we heard that Rwanda was finally going to be free, you can imagine the joy. But my family was no more,” he said.

Faustin was taken in by an orphanage run by the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) and in 1995 he resumed his schooling at grade seven level.

“I refused to give up. I told myself that my survival and success would be in my family’s honour.

“In 1999 I passed with a scholarship to study science in Rwanda. But it was the courts where I found myself working, with a backlog of genocide cases, since most of Rwandan population was implicated in the genocide.”

He found a job with the Rwandan Environmental Management Agency and in 2009 received his big break, another scholarship to pursue his chosen field in South Africa at UKZN.

He gave immense credit to his supervisor, Professor Urmilla Bob, whom he described as being like a mother to him.

Bob said she finds the always smiling Faustin “truly inspirational”.

A rural development geographer in the School of Environmental Sciences on the Westville campus, Bob visited Rwanda in January and saw for herself reminders of the genocide and the forgiveness that people have managed to demonstrate.

Faustin’s immediate plans include four days’ holiday in Cape Town with his fiancée, a gift of UKZN dean of research Professor Cheryl Potgieter. He will spend a week at UKZN, planning his doctorate with Bob, which will focus on how rural women adapt to climate change in Rwanda.

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