Interview of 6 March 07

We first heard of Silas in hearing the story of Celine, a young woman who survived as a 9 year old child. She was concealed underneath her mother and other bodies after the murder of many hundreds of Tutsis in the Nyamata Catholic Church back in April, 1994. Celine was the person who met with visitors such as us at that church, now a memorial with thousands of skulls and bones preserved there since the massacre. Now a poised and graceful 22 year old, she told the story of her own family’s ordeal and alluded to others, such as a Hutu soldier still living in the region who supposedly saved over a dozen Tutusi lives. After several inquiries that soldier turned out to be Silas.Silas Ntamfurayishyali is a large, soft-spoken man in his late 30’s who biked for 25 kilometers to meet with us in Nyamata after we requested that he speak to us. He agreed to having his recollections tape recorded. He later told us of four others who he rescued who would verify his story and provide more details

“I joined the national army in April of 1990. I could see signs that there would be more persecution of Tutsis back in 1992. Tutsis were murdered  and some fled from Nyatama. When the genocide really started in Nyatama in 1994 there was little chance for anyone to run away. As a soldier I was ordered to round up Tutsi families and could see the purpose was probably to kill even the women and children.

One friend who was a Christian told me that an attack on Nyamata was planned and he urged that I cooperate with him in looting the homes there. We got into a vehicle and went there along with another soldier who was also a Christian. I wanted to warn civilians that an attack was imminent and so I claimed I would first go to buy some bread in one of the stores. I managed to warn some people but almost immediately after I did more soldiers came into the town. Again I tried to go in another direction from the main group so I could warn more civilians that there might be a massacre.

The situation was very troubling to me and so I talked to another Hutu soldier, about what we, especially as Christians, should do. He and I both agreed we should try to rescue some of the Tutsi civilians outside of the main part of town. Our only plan was to walk people in the dark of night to the border with Burundi. We got another Christian by the name of Vincent Karemangingo who had patrol duty in the evenings to help us in this effort. Vincent told us he knew of a place about 12 kilometers from the border where where a Hutu widow lived. They could rest there. After we gathered a group of 13 people together he helped us to get to that place. Days later we managed to walk another group of 7 Tutsis to the border where they could cross in safety. Some of the soldiers in our unit heard that some Tutsis were being helped and our efforts were reported. The soldiers were instructed to capture me. I found out about this when I was coming back from the second trip when I phoned the main gate to the base where a man named Pascal was on duty. He warned me that I might be killed if I didn’t hide. At first I didn’t believe him so I called another, a Hutu, who I knew better. Then I sneaked back to where I could change from my dirty, dusty clothes so it would be less obvious that I had been on the run that night. I went to the bank inside the barracks at the camp. The commander had already ordered the banker to withhold my money if I should request to withdraw my savings. I then made up a story about my brother desperately needing food and left my bankbook with a teller who went back to his superior to ask for permission to release my money. I then realized that I would be captured if I waited for the teller to return. I fled from the bank and hid behind the toilet area. As soon as it seemed there was no one looking I jumped over the wall around the base. I had my uniform and my duffle bag and knew where the roadblocks were positioned to catch Tutsis trying to escape. So I was able to zigzag my way to the border in about 8 hours. There I claimed to be seeking admittance as a civilian refugee. I concealed my identification card from the border guards.

Because the Burundi guards were suspicious of me I decided to admit I was a soldier. That shocked them and seemed to make them afraid of me. They were suspicious and didn’t trust what I told them. Obviously I was tired, hungry and weak at the time. Luckily another soldier who happened to be a Christian in the Burundian army came forth. When I was interrogated further I told them everything, including how I got in trouble with my own unit. The border guards then checked with some of the refugees who I had helped to escape and then confirmed what I told them. After that most of the guards believed that I was truthful. I was taken into the refugee camp where most of the people were Tutsis.The people who I helped to save welcomed me but there were still some who were suspicious. I was still thought to be a spy by some because I had been a soldier in the first place. So I was put in prison for half a day before being finally released.

Then Burundian journalists came to interview me. My name and photo were in the news; I was even on television that was watched back in Rwanda. So then it was clear that I was an enemy of the Rwandan army and I was welcomed as kind of a hero in the camp. The RPF send some younger men to talk to me about what I knew. They wanted information about how others might be helped out of the country were the genocide was unleashed. They also came to encourage me to join with them in their struggle to stop the killings. So I was recruited into the RPF.I was in the RPF up until 1998. Since then I have worked as an electrician, contracting for odd jobs. I have had four sons and five daughters. Two of my  boys died, one in combat fighting against the RPF another was killed by the genocidiares in one of their border attacks in 1999.When the camps around Goma were dismantled there were many casualties but we have to remember who was in those camps. It was the Interhamwe and their families, and they were well armed. Looking back at the genocide I did know of several soldiers in the army with me who were trying to resist the orders to kill Tutsis and tried to protect civilians.”

On gacaca and the future: “ I have testified often at gacaca hearingsDo I fear for myself and family when I testify? Yes, especially at night I have been fearful, but lately people in the villages are cooperating in watching out for one another. And I have faith that God will protect me.Another man I served with called Innocent was called to testify but he left the country. Many don’t tell the truth to protect themselves and their reputations. Gacaca is a good thing even though there are many who refuse  to participate and don’t tell the truth Some witnesses are still being killed. But there are confessions and those are what make forgiveness possible.”

2 Responses to “Silas (a soldier)”

  1. Rukundo Gerald Says:

    ia m very exicted about the idea of the project but what is the objective of this project, simply because we have many people who witnessed and some of them are children who did not even manage to go to school or who are at school but with no help. will this project in one way or another help them?
    From the conference i attended at Serena Hotal Kigali where a man by the name of stephen tried to explain to us who this project is working but unfortunately i was unable to know where this project work, meaning the location and the office as well.

    • (Professor) Paul Conway Says:

      As the preface to this blog indicates, I am an American Political Science Professor at the state college in Oneonta, New York. Most of the rescue stories that I collected were based upon interviews that were translated by two invaluable individuals (Stephen and Edmond) who are identified above. Others of course were published by the non-governmental organization Africa Watch. The purpose of these stories is to generate dialog and discussion among Rwandans. We hope that might encourage (in a very modest way) reconciliation. If the stories encourage people to communicate openly and honestly with others who identify themselves as different in an ethnic or historical sense, they may come to challenge negative stereotypes and encourage some positive social changes in Rwanda. Please tell us if you think these stories about survivors and courageous rescuers may be inspiring and useful for readers such as yourself. And share your thoughts about “reconciliation” – even though the meaning of this word is somewhat vague and the process there is inevitably slow and difficult.


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