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Monday, 2 April, 2001, 12:15 GMT 13:15 UK
Eyewitness: A survivor's story
Skulls
Hundreds of thousands were murdered in 1994
As Rwanda holds a week of mourning for the victims of the genocide, Vicky Ntetema recounts how one boy survived and now dreams of becoming a future Paralympian.

The Kamuhandas were an ordinary Rwandan family living a happy and comfortable life until the shooting down of the aircraft carrying President Juvenile Habyarimana and Burundian counterpart Cyprien Ntayamira.

Then, Hamis Kamuhanda, who is now 18, was just a normal 11-year-old.

He told me they were at home when they heard the terrible news on the radio of the downing of the plane. He says everyone went numb.


One of them said: 'Let's make sure that he is dead with this'. I didn't move an inch, nor did I make any noise

Hamis Kamuhanda

"The following day we had rumours that Hutus were out to kill every Tutsi in the country, claiming that we, the Tutsis had killed the Hutu president. We were advised to stay indoors. I had never seen my parents so agitated and terrified all my life."

That night they heard screams and gun shots from their neighbours.

"Then there was a knock at the door and before we could even respond, the door fell in and about four or so people came in and dragged my father out by his legs. That was the last we saw of him.

Playing dead

"We were hiding under the bed but we could see everything. Mother told us to keep quiet. Then the shooting began.

"The bullets came in and hit everything in the way. Yet no-one dared scream. Mother could not cover all four of us.

"I could feel blood coming from under my right shoulder and I did not know whether I was hit or not. I could not feel any pain then. My mind was occupied with the terror of being hacked to death."

They played dead, praying that the killers would disappear.

Hamis missed out on his schooling
Hamis missed out on his schooling
"Suddenly the door burst open and they came in praising themselves for a good job done. I was closer to the door and they kicked me in my belly. It was painful but the thought of being severed alive with their machetes, made me stay as quiet as a mouse."

"One of them said: 'Let's make sure that he is dead with this'. I didn't move an inch, nor did I make any noise. They must have thought that I was dead.

"I just felt a very sharp pain on my leg and I must have passed out. I don't know for how long. But when I woke up, my mother was nursing my wounded leg. I was trying to look at the wound when I lost consciousness again."

Later, Hamis learnt that he had fainted after realising that he was left with only half of his right leg. The machete men had deprived him of the other half. But the Kamuhandas somehow felt lucky.

Hamis's mother and his siblings had superficial bullet wounds which healed quickly. "God spared us. Pity I cannot say the same for my father."

Hiding

The family stayed indoors nursing their wounds with herbs. They did not dare go to hospital for proper treatment.


We thought that those men were going to return and realise that we, a Tutsi family were still breathing

Hamis Kamuhanda
"The armed Hutu men, the Interahamwe, were scattered and patrolling every corner. The situation was tense for a very long time and we could smell the stench of the dead even inside our fenced house. We were terrified.

"We thought that those men were going to return and realise that we, a Tutsi family were still breathing. The leg was getting worse and I was feverish all the time.

"The fact that at age 11, my mother had to do everything for me, including helping me to relieve myself, drove me insane. We were running out of food. We kept praying for some rescue mission from somewhere."

Their prayers were finally heard and one afternoon they heard the noise of roaring tanks. Then they heard people's cheers and salutations. "Long Live our heroes! Long Live our army!"

Liberated

"Mother peeped through the wall and saw Tutsi soldiers coming towards the house. She prayed and waited for our fate. What would it be? It was RPF (Rwanda Patriotic Front) soldiers. These were good people.

"They liberated us and freed us from our self-imposed solitary confinement. The RPF soldiers took me to the hospital. I was there for about six months."

Hamis had lost so much during the genocide. His father, his leg, dignity, education and his trust for his Hutu neighbours, with whom, until then he had lived peacefully.

Future

Seven years on, the psychological, physical and intellectual scars remain.


Hatred does not solve anything

Hamis Kamuhanda
But he told me he bore no grudges: "That would make my life even more difficult - it would make me the same as them Hatred does not solve anything."

Since the genocide his siblings have been able go back to school, but he has missed out and makes some money guarding cars for tourists in the city centre. Their mother does not have regular job.

But he still has hopes for the future. He shares a dream with a friend, who also lost a leg in the genocide, of setting up an athletics team that can represent Rwanda at the Paralympics.

"We are still young and energetic and it would be a shame if we cannot use this energy and whatever abilities we have for the benefit of the nation," he says.

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See also:

17 Jul 00 | Africa
Rwanda counts its dead
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UN general's Rwandan nightmares
11 Jan 00 | Africa
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07 Jul 00 | Africa
OAU seeks Rwanda compensation
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UN should make amends - Rwanda
16 Dec 99 | Africa
UN admits failure in Rwanda
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