Home is Where the Heartbreak Is. Genocide, Despair, Resilience & Football for Hope

Jan 30, 05:30 PM

Eric Murangwa. survivor of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda, was the goalkeeper for an international football team, Rayon Sports. He only had his life saved by Hutu team mates and other team supporters because he was a footballer. Eric talks about how this experience has inspired him to dedicate his life to drawing on survivors’ experiences to connect us all to our common humanity through sport and storytelling.

ERIC MURANGWA:   As a survivor of genocide, I know from firsthand experience just what it means to be torn from home, as that’s exactly what happened to me 25 years ago in Rwanda. I remember the day I left my home for the last time, just a few hours after the start of the genocide against the Tutsi on April 7th 1994. Little did I know that the day would be the worst day in Rwandan history, a day that reduced every Rwandan to tears, a day when millions of Rwandans, not just me, were torn from their homes and families. I left soon after being attacked by five armed men who threatened to take my life, because I was a Tutsi and they were Hutu, until one of the soldiers recognised me as ‘Toto’, the nickname by which I was affectionately known by fans of Rayon Sports, the top Rwandan football club where I was the number one goalkeeper. Thankfully my life and the lives of those I was with were spared. For the next 100 days I was forced to move from one place to another, desperately trying to save my life. First I fled to my Hutu teammate’s house. After hiding there for a week or so, I had to move on after being told that the killers were coming for me. My colleagues advised me to try Zuzu, one of the board members of the club who lived nearby, and was helped to his house. I stayed there safely for a few days but it was not long before I had to move on once again. I returned to my old teammate’s house, but unsurprisingly, I did not feel safe and after only a few days, a trio of militia tracked me down and I only narrowly avoided death. Feeling my luck was about to expire and with a dwindling number of people ready to risk their lives to help me, I knew I had to find somewhere more secure - better to die trying than submit to my fate, I thought. I returned to Zuzu who promised to take me to the city’s International Red Cross HQ across town, which was providing sanctuary to refugees. Escorted in Zuzu’s vehicle, with two armed guards commandingly aiming their rifles out of the open windows, it was his clout that safely got me through the roadblocks and to the Red Cross HQ in a largely deserted area of Kigali. Unwilling or unable to get me within the walls of the compound, Zuzu left me outside the gates to fend for myself. The Red Cross director refused to take me in claiming that he could not admit me for the sake of the safety and security of those already inside. Out of ideas and just a stone’s throw from safety, I spent the next few nights sleeping beneath the stars, awaiting a much-needed turn of fortune. Providence, it appeared, was on my side when a young couple and their two-week old baby arrived at the gates of the Red Cross HQ, having been forced out of hiding by a band of militia looting the area. Their presence increased the pressure on the facility’s director and, while he would not grant them admission, he helped organise transportation for the family, as well as mine. Soon I found myself within the safe confines of Hôtel des Mille Collines where more than 1,200 took refuge during the genocide – an act of kindness that was famously re-told in the 2004 film called Hotel Rwanda. I remained at the hotel for over a month, before being evacuated to the RPF controlled area where I finally made it to safety, and it was here that I discovered that my close family had survived. This was such good news, and a miracle for me to have my family survive, because we knew the scale of the killing, and that in the 100 days about 3 out of every 4 people who were Tutsi, like me and my family, had been killed by the ...