(Transcript from World News Radio)
Rwanda is holding a week of official mourning to mark the 20th anniversary of the country’s genocide.
In 1994 at least 800-thousand people – mostly ethnic Tutsis and moderate Hutus – died at the hands of Hutu extremists.
As Lisa Upton reports, despite the horror of the genocide, there are some inspiring stories of reconciliation.
In 1994 Rwanda was the world’s most dangerous place.
In just 100 days, hundreds of thousands of people were killed.
But the genocide was in the making for decades, fuelled by hate speech, discrimination, and the training of death squads.
Hutus had come to resent Tutsis for their greater wealth and what they saw as oppressive rule.
Two decades on many people still bare physical and emotional scars.
But there are also extraordinary stories of reconciliation.
Alice Mukarurinda is a Tutsi.
Emmanuel Ndayisaba is a Hutu.
They are now friends, despite the fact that Emmanuel cut off Alice’s arm in an attack that also claimed the life of her baby.
“They found out where I was hiding and Emmanuel cut me in the face and cut off my arm. One of his friends hit me on the head and I fell down and they pulled away my baby who I was holding. My nine-month-old baby was killed. Another guy speared me on my shoulder and it went through to my back.”
Like Alice, John is a Tutsi who was 20 years old when the killing began.
“I was herding cattle in the pasture, and my family members at home were killed by machetes. I attempted to flee to Burundi, but a bullet went through my head. After falling on the ground, I was savagely beaten. My legs are now paralysed. 27 members of my family were killed including nine women and more than ten children. I have lived in fear since the genocide ended.”
Incredibly, John later fell in love with Jeanne, a Hutu and the daughter of one of the men who slaughtered his family.
“I loved her. I considered her a Rwandan the same as me, a neighbour, a person I knew very well. I loved her and I wanted to prove to people that I had really let go of the hatred.”
John and Jeanne have been married for more than five years.
They live in the Rwandan capital, Kigali with their three young children.
John hopes his experience will encourage his children to strive for a fairer Rwanda.
This sort of reconciliation – at a grass roots level – is the only effective way of healing the wounds of the past, according to journalist and broadcaster Bertrand Tungandame.
He says Rwanda’s government is making the mistake of trying to implement reconciliation from the top down.
“Reconciliation will come from the people not from the top. Reconciliation that is imposed on the people at the end of the day they don’t believe in that reconciliation, It serves no purpose.”
Mr Tungandame grew up in Rwanda and is now a radio broadcaster with SBS’s African and French programs.
He became a journalist because he believes the pen is mightier than the sword.
“The fight of the pen! Leave your guns down and fight with your pen because I believe with a pen and a microphone you can convince people, so just put the machetes and the guns down and convince people that change can happen without resort to violent means.”