As mentioned in the preface to this blog, some of those who risked their lives to rescue others during the genocide and its aftermath in the Congo will never be known. Others have been neglected or forgotten.  Several — including some who are described on these blog pages — have become widely recognized as “heroes” in Rwanda’s media and memorial museums. Some stories are controversial and widely debated inside and far away from Rwanda.

One of the most celebrated Tutsi survivors after the genocide was IMMACULEE ILIBAGIZA. She was 24 years old in 1994 when she had to flee from her family’s home in Mataba, close to Lake Kivu. Most of her family members were killed by Interahamwe groups. Fortunately, Immaculee was allowed to hide with 7 other young women for 91 days in the home of a Protestant minister. Her rescuer was Pastor MURINZI, who reluctantly sheltered her and the other seven women in a tiny bathroom in his house. The story of Immaculee’s difficult struggle to survive is told in the book Left To Tell: Discovering God Amidst the Rwandan Holocaust
that she wrote with Steve Erwin. In that book, her first, she gave credit and praise to God for her rescue. She later went on to write several more books describing her faith and experiences. Her books have been widely circulated in Rwanda and in many other countries.

Another widely celebrated rescue and survival story was even more controversial. It was told in a book and a very popular movie (released in 2004) called “Hotel Rwanda”. The movie informed millions throughout the world who did not know about the genocide. The hero of that story was PAUL RUSESABAGINA, a Hutu who saved as many as 1,000 people in Hotel des Mille Collines in Kigali. As described in the book, Rusesabagina, as the hotel’s manager, concealed hundreds of Tutsis and others while he negotiated with military and Interahamwe leaders.But that story has been challenged and Rusesabagina’s reputation has been discredited since the release of the movie. Coincidentally, Rusesabagina has become highly critical of the Kagame regime. He has relocated in Belgium and resided outside of Rwanda since the genocide. For many inside and outside of Rwanda, questions about Rusesabagina as a rescuer and his challengers remain unresolved.

One interpretation of the Rusesabagina controversy was provided by Terry George, the director of the movie “Hotel Rwanda”

TWA RESCUERS? Interviews and conversations elsewhere suggest that some ethnic Twa (then, in 1994,  as now, one percent of Rwanda’s population) were victims during the genocide because they were mistaken for Tutsis because of their appearance. It was also said that at least one or more Twa residents in the south of Rwanda not far from Butare were rescuers. One ethnic Twa claimed that he saved at least 6 Tutsis but was never recognized for his efforts.

A Hutu nurse named GITABITA NYIRANTABA saved a 14 year old student who was near death as he was being tortured by a mob of killers at the Hospital in Kibuye. She did not know the boy but she was determined to save him. After she took him inside a hospital room she provided antibiotics, food, and also cleaned him. She protected him from hospital workers as well as outsiders who were killing and raping girls in the surrounding area. She had to pay money to some interahamwe to prevent others from killing him. After spending a month at the hospital the interahamwe who were paid by Gitabita took him to the French Zone Turquoise military encampment.

The boys’ name was Innocent Gisanura. We interviewed him in Kigali years after his story was published by Aegis Trust in the book “We Survived” (pages 46-50) Innocent described how courageous Gitabita was when she intervened to stop the killers and committed herself to save him. They are both pictured in the section titled “Rescue in Kibuye”


  1. Tomusange pius Says:

    That was so humane of Gitabita, the nurse, of course not forgetting many others. Surely, your place awaits you in heaven. How i wish the world had 2 billion of you.

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