Jean Louis Mazimpaka survived the Rwandan genocide and moved to the UK in 1999. This is his story.
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A survivor of the Rwandan genocide, Jean Louis Mazimpaka moved to the UK in 1999. He is now the director of Hope Survivors Foundation, an organisation that campaigns against genocide and looks after the needs of Rwandan survivors in the UK.
This is his story:
‘When the killing started, to be honest, everyone was involved. Our neighbours, friends but we didn’t know the killings were to the extent of what happened. After a few days a neighbour, a Tutsi, came to stay from his house. He was very ill but they killed him, we buried him and there was a telephone [call] from a friend of mine that our family was next. We had several meetings with the Church Leaders, the authorities, to try and protect people, shield people who came from around. But after a week we had thousands upon thousands of them coming to seek refuge at the church.
The genocide, the killing started [after] five to ten days. We gathered women and children inside the church and inside the school, men and boys [stayed] in the churchyard protecting them. We could see our houses burning behind us but still we didn’t think that people would come and kill everyone there. After a few days we were attacked by the whole population to be honest but we fought with stones for about a week. The mayor at that time brought soldiers. We thought they were there to protect us. That’s when the killing started. They started firing in to the crowd, at that time we were still outside the church. The women, young men and old people were still inside.
So they started throwing grenades into the crowd. That day we lost so many people. I remember a friend of mine who they threw a grenade [at]. His body was not far from where I was fighting them. [It was] scattered everywhere, his body. The second day they came again. So this time they pushed us inside [the church]. There were 45,000 people there, so there was huge space there. They pushed us inside still fighting them. That second day, we lost so many people again.
So in that evening, I decided to hide with my friends. There was a cowhouse, the priest’s cowhouse, we went to hide in the ceiling because they came to steal, to take the cows from us and we are [in] the ceiling of the house. That was at six o’clock. At around 8 o’clock we decided to flee the country. There was a Lake, Lake Kivu, which separates Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo, very huge. So we decided to swim.
There were 12, including myself. We went in the water about 9pm. We stayed there the whole night and the following morning my friends were very tired and because of the tiredness [they] started drowning one by one. We stayed a day, then the night, so I was nearly dead myself. I was rescued by a fisherman who took me home and gave me [something] to eat. I stayed with the fisherman for a few days before I joined my uncle who was in the Congo, a refugee from 1959, and when the genocidal government was thrown out he came back to Rwanda in 1995.
I came back with him. I was very disturbed and I didn’t even want to finish my studies. A friend, a priest friend of mine convinced me to finish my second school. I finished my second school in 1997 and after that my Uncle was in charge of the health sector in the area so he put me in charge of a health centre. I was in charge of 42 [people] and stayed there for eight months. I decided to leave the country because I was not happy to be honest. I wanted to study and there was nowhere I could continue to study so I decided to leave the country. So in 1999 I came and I have been here since.’
You can use HMDT resources to:
- listen to a podcast about the Rwandan genocide
- learn more about the Genocide in Rwanda
- learn more about how the genocide started through our dates to remember section.
- read the life stories of other Rwandan survivors
The views expressed in this podcast are of the individual contributor and not necessarily those of the HMDT