Statement of the President of the Republic of South Africa, Thabo Mbeki at the Commemoration of the 10th Anniversary of the Commencement of the 1994 Genocide in Rwanda, Kigali 7 April 2004

President Paul Kagame
Distinguished Guests
Genocide Survivors
People of Rwanda.

I am honoured to express my sincere thanks and appreciation to His Excellency, President Kagame, for the invitation extended to us to be here today to participate in this important commemoration of the Rwanda Genocide of 1994.

We are privileged to convey to you, Mr President, the government and people of Rwanda a heartfelt message of friendship and solidarity from the government and people of South Africa and an unwavering commitment to work with you as our peoples strive to achieve the shared goal of a better life for all.

As you know, Mr President, 20 days from today, we will be celebrating our 10th Anniversary of Freedom, our liberation from the clutches of the apartheid crime against humanity.

History decreed Mr President that during the very same month that your country and people saw the beginning of the unimaginable nightmare of Genocide, your brothers and sisters in South Africa ended the apartheid system of white minority domination by participating in our very first democratic elections.

Because we were preoccupied with extricating ourselves from our own nightmare, we did not cry out as loudly as we should have against the enormous and heinous crime against the people of Rwanda that was committed in 1994. For that we owe the people of Rwanda a sincere apology, which I now extend in all sincerity and humility.

We do this because we know that the apartheid regime that our people defeated in 1994, too late to make a difference to what happened in this country, supplied some of the weapons that were used by those who massacred a million of their compatriots and fellow Africans in 100 days.

We remember too, Mr President, that when we acted on the request of your Movement to ask the apartheid regime to stop the supply of the weapons of death, representatives of the oppressor regime in our country boldly asserted the precedence of profit from the sale of the instruments of death over the lives of the people of Rwanda.

To that extent, we too as South Africans contributed to the diabolical slaughter of the innocents. We hope that by the admission of these truths we can contribute even an infinitesimal fraction of the balm that helps to moderate the sharp pain of the remembering of a crime that is too fresh to have receded into the mists of history.

Mr President, a time such as this demands that the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth should be told. It should be told because not to tell it is to create the conditions for the crime to recur.

Not to tell the truth is to impose an additional burden on those who already carry too heavy a burden of an intensely felt pain, of denying them the possibility to forgive those who had done wrong, of condemning them to nurse a consuming anger and grievance against those guilty of acts of commission and omission.

Mr President, at a time such as this, it is inevitable that many questions will and must be asked and answers demanded.

Why did it happen?

What evil force captured the souls of the genocidaires, giving them the courage to murder a million people in cold blood?

What was it that gave the leaders and commanders of the genocidaires the murderous courage to direct and preside over so gruesome a crime?

What did we as Africans do to stop the slaughter? If we did nothing, why did we do nothing?

Why did the United Nations, set up to ensure that genocide, as occurred when the Holocaust was visited on the Jewish people, did not recur anywhere in the world, stand by as Africans were exterminated like pernicious vermin?

Why were General Romeo Dallaire and his undermanned contingent of UN peacekeepers abandoned by the same people who sent them to Rwanda?

Why did those who dispose of enormous global power that has been used to determine the fate of all humanity, decide that the slaughter in Yugoslavia had to be stopped at all costs, while the bigger slaughter in Rwanda should be allowed to run its full course?

Have all the guilty been identified, whatever their contribution to the commission of the genocide?
Have the necessary lessons been learnt? What are those lessons? Who has learnt them? What have these done with the knowledge they have acquired?

Was it enough merely to say "sorry" on the part of those who had the humility, courage and honesty to say "sorry"? And what of those who are perhaps too arrogant to utter this simple word?

Everyday, the severed heads and skeletons stored at the sites of the massacres point an accusing finger at all of us who did not do what we should have done to stop the murderous rampage. Everyday they remind us that we cannot merely say the Rwanda Genocide occurred and treat it just as an historical episode that has passed.

Mr President, we have returned to Kigali today to convey our humble thanks and sincere gratitude to the people of Rwanda and their leaders for restoring our dignity as Africans, through the extraordinary things you have done, to teach the world and us the meaning of forgiveness and national reconciliation.

We have returned to Kigali to learn the lessons we can and must learn from the extraordinary people of this land, whose beauty disguises the fact only 10 years ago it was disfigured by the torrents of blood that flowed here as though that blood was no different from the water brought by the tropical rainstorms.

We have come to this land that knows the true meaning of tragedy fully to absorb the lesson that to be truly human is to overcome the easy temptation to hate, to despair, to seek revenge and retribution, to worship at the altar of violence, deifying the use of terrifying force in the ordering of human relations.

A Rwandan girl child survived the genocide because the corpses that fell on her at the church where people were killed, sheltered her from the eyes of the murderers. When she was found, she said, "We will never come back to this church. It is a graveyard. The angels have left us."

There are others in the world that would have said the same thing when they saw Rwanda 10 years ago, with corpses covering the landscape and the stench of decomposing human flesh making it difficult to breathe. They too would have said, "We will never come back to this country. It is a graveyard. The angels have left us."

But we have come because of what you, the people of Rwanda have done, which has said this a country of hope and a new life of peace, on which the angels shower their blessings.

We salute you, our Rwandan brothers and sisters, and pledge our friendship with you, a friendship that obliges us willingly and voluntarily to stand side by side with you as you work to rebuild your country and your lives. Thank you.

For more information please call Dumisani Nkwamba on 082 451 5583 or Bheki Khumalo on 083 256 9133

Issued by: The Presidency
7 April 2004


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