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Root out menace of intolerance


The outside world knew what was happening and chose to do nothing as Rwanda turned into a living hell.


Sixteen years ago, on December 23 2003, the General Assembly declared yesterday – April 7th – as International Day of Reflection on the Genocide in Rwanda. The resolution is a constant reminder of what happens when society is consumed by intolerance, hate and prejudice.

For those who have dared to forget, in April 1994 a small, brutal war exploded into an orgy of bloodshed that horrified the world and has remained a blot on our collective consciousness. It is a wretched event over which humanity must bow its head in shame.

The genesis for the genocide stretches far back into the mists of time.

In the early 1990s Hutu extremists in Rwanda’s political elite blamed the Tutsi minority population for social, economic and political ills.

Tutsi civilians were accused of supporting a Tutsi-dominated rebel group, the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF). Remembering past years of oppressive Tutsi rule, many Hutu resented and feared the Tutsi minority.

On the night of April 6 1994, unknown attackers shot down Rwandan President Juvenal Habyarimana’s plane.

He was a Hutu. His killing was the catalyst of a civil war, as furious Hutu extremists in the military and police force took control of the government and sent death squads into the streets.

State radio branded the minority Tutsi as the enemy and urged loyal Hutu citizens, the majority, to do their duty and defend the country against this “enemy within”.

In a matter of three months, 800 000 men, women and children were slain, including a number from Rwanda’s much smaller Twa ethnic group.

Thousands of Hutu who opposed the murderous campaign were also killed.

The outside world knew what was happening and chose to do nothing as Rwanda turned into a living hell.

As much as 70% of the Tutsi, and 20% of Rwanda’s total population were killed.

Up to 500 000 women were raped during the genocide. All of this unfolded while the world watched, arms folded.

On this day, 25 years after the Rwanda genocide, we should reflect on how lucky we are in this country.

We have been bequeathed with an all-embracing constitution and a democratic system that is the envy of many.

Yet as the May 8 general elections loom, we must guard against complacency.

Friday’s violent clashes between supporters of political parties in Hout Bay are ample proof that intolerance still reigns supreme in our midst, and an impetus that we have to redouble our efforts to root it out.

Rwanda is a salutary lesson of what intolerance can breed.