The history department of The Settlers High School invited Mr Mpazayabo, a Hutu refugee from Rwanda, to address our senior history pupils about the genocide which took place in 1994 in his country. It was truly an honour for us to have had this erudite man engage with our teachers and pupils. His insight into the historical background as well as his analysis of the current central African political milieu was gripping.

Mr Mpazayabo addressing the studentsMr Mpazayabo took us back approximately 500 years to the pre-colonial era. He sketched a society with deep rifts along caste lines. The Hutu people have always been an overwhelming majority in the region, but belonged to a caste which was downtrodden. The Tutsis were a ruling class which kept the Hutu majority in a perpetual state of quasi slavery. The Twa make up a mere 1% of the population of this territory which is smaller in area than the Western Cape province of South Africa. This group was largely peripheral to the animosity which rent this state in two.

In 1884 the European powers met at a conference in Berlin and carved up Africa amongst the colonising powers. Boundaries were demarcated with scant regard for natural tribal divisions. Arbitrary borders were drawn, in no small way contributing to the later enmity which would grip major parts of the continent, leading to civil wars and internecine strife.

Enter the French and Belgians. They imposed their authority, using the existing divisions and ruling elites to their own advantage. Their main interest was economic and their political involvement in the continent was primarily focused on securing advantageous pecuniary benefits for Europe. Thus was the focus of the European scramble for Africa.

By 1959 the tide had begun to turn and the scramble FROM Africa began. The Europeans left behind a political and social situation ripe for conflict. Hutus had for centuries been an underclass in Rwanda and with the arrival of independence in the early 1960s and the advent of universal suffrage, these people exercised their long awaited vote to secure power. Unlike South Africa, where reconciliation, forgiveness and rapprochement were the order of the day after the advent of democracy, in Rwanda animosity simmered. The audience was reminded of the legacy of Mr Mandela who emerged from 27 years of incarceration in such a magnanimous way that South Africa was spared the vengeance which might have accompanied the majority population’s emergence from oppression. What a great man! What foresight!

By the 1990s Rwanda was a powder keg and the simmering tensions were about to burst into the open. Mr Mpazayabo sketched a scenario of descent into chaos and ultimately genocide. Precipitated by the downing of the popularly elected President Habyarimana aircraft by a missile fired at the behest of a maleficent Tutsi warlord (perhaps even the current ruling class led by Paul Kagame – my interpretation of events, not necessarily the view of the guest speaker who was careful not to cast aspersions which could stir up the wrath of those in power), the assassination rapidly spiralled into the 1994 Rwandan Tutsi genocide about which screeds have been written, many of them with a political agenda and only a fleeting nod to the facts.

Our guest was at pains to point out that both sides in this conflict, as well as the European powers and the UN and USA bear responsibility for the descent into horrifying violence, human rights abuses and ultimately the depths of depravity which left rotting corpses strewn throughout this hapless land.

Mr Mpazayabo left his beloved Rwanda in 1994 to escape the carnage, traversing the DRC, Namibia and ultimately arriving in South Africa as a refugee. He was able to pick himself up by his bootstraps, eking out a living and eventually enrolling as a post graduate student at the University of Stellenbosch where he is currently studying towards a Masters and PhD.

What an inspiring man! What an intriguing story! We were truly privileged to be able to listen to his story of struggle and personal triumph. He disabused us of some of our preconceived ideas gleaned from books which promote a subliminal agenda. We look forward to engaging with this insightful analyst of central African history and politics.

Written by Mr P Haupt

Left to Right: Mr P Haupt, S Mpazayabo, Mr Mpazayabo

From The Left: Mr Haupt, S. Mpazayabo, Mr Mpazayabo