Rwanda. – Next to the Amahoro Stadium is the Remera Heroes’ Cemetery, closely guarded and only accessible by appointment. I booked this with the Minister of Sport who arranged a guide to teach me more about these significant graves and the heroes of Rwanda.
Rwandans celebrate National Heroes’ Day on 1st February every year and are encouraged to reflect on acts by those buried at the Remera Cemetery. Among them General Fred Gisa Rwigema (first chairman of the the Rwanda Patriotic Front),King Rudahingwa (second last monarch), Agathe Uwilingiyimana (first female prime minister, assassinated at the start of the genocide) and the tomb of the unknown solider, whose anonymous occupant symbolises all those who died in the the civil war.
Also remembered here are six teenagers: Chantal Uwamahoro, Sylvestre Bizimana, Beatrice Mukambaraga, Seraphine Mukarutwaza, Helene Benimana and Valens Ndemeye. And its their story that moved me the most and caried the greatest lesson of all. As below:
On 18 March 1997 three men toting grenades, machetes and automatic rifles rushed into Nyange Secondary School. A man who looked like the leader said, ‘I want you to help me with my job. I want Hutus in this room on the right, and I know we have Tutsis here, so Tutsis go on the left.’ ‘We all heard him clearly and knew what this meant. There was a deathly silence. So he repeated himself,’ student Sindayiheda remembers. One of the classmates Chantal Uwamahoro said ’We do not have Hutus or Tutsis here, we are all Rwandans’. The men threw two grenades into the small classroom before going back in and saying: ‘Tutsis here and Hutus there.’ The teenagers stood firm. ‘We have already told you, we are not Hutus or Tutsis, we are Rwandans.’ This time it was Sylvestre Bizimana, a boy who had survived the genocide, who spoke for the rest. Outraged, the three pulled out their guns and started shooting indiscriminately killing the six teenagers – Chantal, Sylvestre, Beatrice, Seraphine, Helene and Valens.
It is the bravery of these teenagers, who when put to test chose unity over division and sacrifice over selfishness, that really brings home the meaning of heroism. ‘If teenagers can do it, I don’t see why the rest of us can’t,’ my guide tells me.
Personally I’ve come away thinking that all Rwandans are heroes and I am humbled by their bravery. I do recommend a guided visit here.