Life goes on, but all the people are different

RWANDA DAYS: 'There are people I would like to trace, but everyone is a new arrival'
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The Independent Online
Nyanza - Other than some empty shops and broken windows, there is little to indicate the cataclysmic events that overtook this southern Rwandan town just over a year ago. Commerce is again thriving behind the freshly-painted store fronts, and in the collonaded passageways groups of women are busy at their sewing machines. The dirt roads are thronged.

In June last year I was one of a small band of journalists encamped in an abandoned girls' school in Nyanza, once Rwanda's royal capital. The town had just been liberated by the Rwandan Patriotic Front rebels and under their escort we would venture into the countryside to chart the progress of the war. The rump government, soon to be overthrown, was holed up in Gitarmama, just to the north; the capital, Kigali, had yet to fall.

By then most of the town's Tutsi inhabitants had been slaughtered and the Hutus had fled before the swiftly advancing rebels. The town was empty but for a few dazed survivors of the genocide. The shops had all been plundered and the houses of Tutsis burned to the ground. Two institutions continued to function: the orphanage, whose residents had miraculously escaped the machete; and the hospital, whose wards were overflowing with mutilated victims of Hutu hatred.

The boarding school in whose looted rooms we slept has since been reopened by a local order of nuns and today has 650 pupils. Few of the former Tutsi students are alive and most of the Hutu children now live in refugee camps in Zaire and Tanzania. The director, Sister Marie Catherine, says those who survived the genocide are still too traumatised to talk of last year's events. Three-quarters of the school are orphans.

The nearby Antonien orphanage, which during the war had 800 children, is now down to 200. The Rogationist Fathers who run it have managed to trace relatives of most of the waifs who were brought here last summer, though in some cases parents who left them for safe-keeping never came back. Some children who saw parents butchered are receiving treatment for trauma but most, says Fr Willy Cruz, are coping well.

A large part of Nyanza's population today is made up of returned Tutsis driven out of Rwanda in the Sixties and Seventies. There are a number of people from last summer whom I would like to trace but, like Sister Marie Catherine and Fr Willy, everyone I meet seems to be a new arrival. I have asked about Jean-Marie, who ran the school as a journalists' shelter, but no one remembers him. He had survived by securing a forged identity card which said he was a Hutu. He had been forced to join a Hutu militia roadblock at which he saw several Tutsi friends slaughtered.

I met a widowed Tutsi woman who had spent six weeks hiding in a hole under the bed of some brave Hutu neighbours while the militias scoured the countryside for victims. God knows what has become of the emaciated old man who appeared in the school yard one day looking so shaken and bewildered that he could hardly lift a cup of tea to his lips. After Nyanza's liberation he emerged from the marsh in which he hid for six weeks, living on swamp water and raw potatoes stolen from farms under cover of night. All his family had been murdered.

I have, however, met a couple of Nyanza's original inhabitants, among them Patrice Kamanzi, one of the few Tutsi hospital employees who survived last year's carnage. With his wife and children he sought refuge in the hospital grounds, though even there he was never safe: the death list on which his name had appeared was drawn up by the hospital director. By June of last year the hospital had been taken over by the Red Cross and he was safe.

"La vie, ca va", says Mr Kamanzi, a nurse. "Life has resumed though it can never be the same as it was."

The hospital, now back in Rwandan hands, has an air of tranquillity unimaginable a year ago. In the courtyard I came upon an old man who sat shaking on the ground. His face was cross-hatched with livid machete slashes. It was a photograph of his profile which became one of the most telling images of Rwanda's agony. How much deeper are the scars in the minds of the survivors?