Cassien Mbanda was 10 years old at the time of the genocide in Rwanda, and lived in Kigali. He had two sisters, and a brother.
I was in Bicumbi visiting my grandmother and cousins when the genocide began. We hid in a nearby farm but were found by a group of local men. I managed to escape, and hid in the bush, but when I returned I found my grandmother and three cousins dead.
But my youngest cousin, Kayiranga, only 4, was still alive. We joined the masses fleeing to Ruhanga hill. All night we walked, finally approaching the swamp at Rugende. But the Interahamwe (Hutu extremists) had set up a roadblock. Immediately they began shooting at us. We ran and struggled through the swamp. We hid in the bushes, and saw many people slaughtered with machetes and clubs as dogs were used to smoke us out. We managed to stay hidden and would forage for food, but one day were met by three teenagers armed with pangas and machetes. They chased us, and caught my cousin. He was killed. I managed to escape. I still see those boys today. They never faced justice.
I was alone. I decided seek refuge in the home of a family friend. But they informed the Interahamwe so I was forced to flee again. But I was caught and taken to a cesspit to be killed. I was hit on the head with a club and sticks till I was at the point of death and then thrown into the pit. They then threw stones down at me to ensure I was dead. They then threw other bodies atop of me.
But I survived. The group’s leader ordered for me to be pulled out of the pit. They then took me to a clinic, where I was treated. I had a broken leg, broken arm, and my head was covered in wounds too. But it was too dangerous to stay. Under the cover of darkness I escaped to my grandmother’s house.
I collapsed, and awoke to find a soldier standing over me. He led me into the bush. I did not know if he planned to kill me. But when I saw other soldiers and they gave me some ripe bananas to eat, for the first time since the genocide had started, I began to feel safe.
This is one of the testimonies of survivors of the genocide in Rwanda documented by the Survivors Fund (SURF) which represents and supports survivors such as Cassien to rebuild their lives. You can find a video of Cassien’s testimony here.
This story was submitted by David Russell, Chief Executive at SURF.
On 8 November 2012, Linda Melvern gave a talk about the 1994 Rwanda genocide at The Wiener Library. To obtain a copy of the lecture, contact the Library.