An interview with Josephine, genocide survivor, currently living near Kigali

An interview with Josephine, genocide survivor, currently living near Kigali

Interview conducted by Victor Scarpelli*


Before the Genocide


I experienced the initial stages of Genocide when I was five years old after the death of the Tutsi King. People were burning houses and killing cattle I do not remember experiencing any actual killing of people. This was in 1959. In 1961 my family moved to Bugasara. Many Tutsi had been relocated to this area because there were many Tsetse flies there. The government was planning to use these flies to kill the Tutsi. In 1963 groups of young refugees tried to return to return to the country. Some of these young people used force to try and return home. Tutsi were always blamed after violence and so my family attempted to escape to Burundi. I was travelling in a separate group from my parents with several family members. We were separated and I became lost in the marshes. I was about nine years old. I was stranded in the marshland until officials from the government captured me. I was completely alone and so the officials asked me which of them I would like to live with. I though that whoever I picked would kill me at the first opportunity. I saw a soldier, holding an AK-47 that seemed far meaner and crueler than the rest of the soldiers. I thought that I would positively affect him through surprise because he would not expect me to pick him. This was my strategy.

                  The soldier was a very good parent and he made sure that I was attending school. However, I was often shown off as a Tutsi who had been taken by a militiaman. The man eventually married and his wife did not accept me because I was a Tutsi. I was always followed to make sure that I was not a spy. The soldier obtained a scholarship and left the country leaving me with his wife. The wife abused me. When the soldier returned he saw that his wife was abusing me and decided to send me to boarding school. The soldier told me that I was to lie about being a Tutsi on the National Exam. I did not understand why I should lie. I though to myself that I will pass this exam as myself without covering my identity. I passed the National Exam but I was banned from school because I was a Tutsi. When I returned home I asked the soldier and his wife about going to a technical school but they said that I should stay home and find a husband. When my neighbors saw that I was no longer in school they were confused because I had often gone to school with their children. They offered to pay my tuition so that I could go to technical school. The wife of the soldier was very upset that I had gone against her wishes and she began abusing me again. I decided that I would run away and went to live my uncle who was a pastor. The soldier called the police but they sided with my uncle and said that I was old enough to decide where I wanted to live.


1973- Genocide Preparation

Habyrimana took over the government with a coup-de tat. This was a very bad time to be a Tutsi. Many Tutsi were not allowed to work or graduate from school. Schools would separate the Hutu students from the Tutsi. Many of the Hutu faculty would pour water on me and the other Tutsi students as we were sleeping. A rumor began to spread that the Tutsi students were poisoning the Hutu students. One of the Hutu students that we were friendly with warned us that the other Hutu students intended to kill us so we decided to escape.



1974 was a very good year. I met a man and we became married in April. My husband was a technician and he still had a job despite being a Tutsi. I had three girls and three boys. God had provided me with everything I needed to be happy. Before the wedding I received a letter telling me that my parents were still alive in Tanzania. I did not believe it because I was sure that they had died. I later discovered that my parents had begun searching for me in Tanzania and that eventually a neighbor of my uncle recognized them. He told them that I was alive and was about to be married. I did not believe that this letter was from my parents because in those days there were many thieves seeking to exploit people by pretending to be family. I wrote back to them and told them that if they were really my parents they should attend my wedding.



In 1990 I was attacked as a spy of the R.P.F. (Rwandan Patriotic Front). My family was one of the first families attacked. My husband was arrested and detained for six months. While he was detained he was cruelly treated. He was starved and often beaten. He was eventually released but things were never the same after his detention. He was very weak after he was released and had trouble working. The happy days were over.



At five a.m. soldiers accused us of being traitors. We were on the militia kill lists and so we were targeted very early into the genocide. We were beaten and robbed but these men did not kill us. They were only after property and did not want to be the ones who killed us. They left after robbing us and promised us that another group would be along shortly to finish us off. The next day all of our Tutsi neighbors came to our house. The women and children left our house in an attempt to reach the church. My husband stayed behind to defend our house from thieves. Two of my boys stayed with him because they were big boys. We lived very close to the church but our progress was slow because of the roadblocks. WE met the local governor on the way to the church. He told me that my husband and son were at the local government building waiting for us. The local governor saved my family and me and took us all to the church. The pastor of this church was a Hutu and had often tormented me for being a Tutsi. He would call Tutsi snakes and cockroaches and he would make me stand up in the church to mock me. However, I attended church every Sunday. People would often tell me that I should stop attending church but my faith never wavered and I attended every Sunday. For this reason I decided to take my family to a seminary instead of the church. There was a mix of Hutu and Tutsi refugees because of the immense confusion. We did not know what was happening and many Hutu had fled their homes believing that they were also in danger. The priests at the seminary protected us. When the interhamwe would come to kill us the priests would take their weapons. Eventually this alarmed the government because they thought that the priests might be arming us. So the government stopped the priests from protecting us. They shot both of the priests who were protecting us. After the priests were killed interhamwe stormed the church. They released all of the Hutu. The next day they returned again with machetes and began hacking us. Only two people survived the church. I survived but I was cut on the back of the head many times. A child also survived by hiding underneath the dead bodies. All of my children and my husband were also killed. I ran away and hid in a latrine. I chose the dirtiest latrine so that no one would use it and discover me. I hid there for five days with no food or water. The child who had survived finally brought me water before I died. We were joined by other survivors that hid in the latrine with us. The interhamwe found me but they thought that I was a Hutu who had been killed by the R.P.F. and so they ran away. Eventually I was rescued by the R.P.F. they treated my wounds and I survived. I decided to adopt the children that the R.P.F. had rescued and I became their mother.         

Victor Scarpelli is currently a third year student at Loyola University Maryland where he studies Philosophy and English.  He participated in the 2017 Peacebuiding Institute held in Kigali, Rwanda