Rwandan victim tells Ulster of decision to forgive

Jean Paul Samputu talks to schoolchildren from Friends and St Patrick's schools in Lisburn along with Lisburn Councillor Alan Carlisle at a Holocaust Memorial Day Event in Friends School Lisburn.  :Aaron McCracken/Harrisons
Jean Paul Samputu talks to schoolchildren from Friends and St Patrick's schools in Lisburn along with Lisburn Councillor Alan Carlisle at a Holocaust Memorial Day Event in Friends School Lisburn. :Aaron McCracken/Harrisons

A man whose parents were killed in the Rwandan genocide has visited Northern Ireland to explain how and why he forgave their killers.

Jean Paul Samputu, 52, has been taking part in Holocaust Memorial Day events in Glasgow, Edinburgh and London.

Jean Paul Samputu

Jean Paul Samputu

Yesterday he met students in Lisburn through the city council and The Forgiveness Project, supported by the Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister.

Arguably one of the most successful African musicians, he likes to convey the story of his life through music.

His parents, three brothers and sister were killed in the Rwandan genocide of 1994.

His parents were killed by a close family friend.

“He was the closest of neighbours,” said Mr Samputu. “He turned up with three bodyguards.”

He declined to say how his parents were killed, except that “it was terrible”.

Many victims offered money to be shot in preference to the horrible end they met.

The Hutu majority of 85 per cent turned on the Tutsi minority of 14 per cent.

Both tribes spoke the same language and were ostensibly Christian.

The difference, he says, began with Belgian colonisers in the 1930s, whom he said operated a divide and rule strategy.

The Belgians, he said, told the Hutus majority that they should rule over the minority Tutsis, who had held the throne for generations, originally on account of the milk the tribe’s cattle produced.

The Hutu government made plans for three years.

“In one minute the Hutus became demons: a Hutu husband turned and killed his Tutsi wife; a Hutu wife turned and killed her Tutsi husband.”

The man who killed his parents, ‘Vincent’, later told him that every Hutu had been directed to kill the Tutsis that were their closest friends.

When he learned of the death of his family members, Mr Samputu entered a nine-year spiral of despair and drugs.

“It was just killing me with bitterness,” he said. “Then I heard a voice and had a dream that said I would be healed if I forgave. I am sure it was God’s voice.”

His parents’ killer was jailed for 11 years.

“I went and told him what God had said and that I forgave him. He replied that he had been praying for forgiveness and that he saw me as an answer to his prayer.”

The two men, now Christians, toured Rwanda with their message of reconciliation.

But even if Vincent had not been jailed he would still have forgiven him, said Mr Samputu.

“Forgiveness is for you, it is not for your friend. I wanted to liberate me.

“My prison was much worse than his - it was a prison of pain and bitterness. I wanted to get someone out of prison - and that person was me.”