Rwanda 2004: Vestiges of a Genocide. Pieter Hugo (South Africa).
The book opens with the map on end-papers, identifying Rwanda in African continent and placing churches, public buildings, resistance areas and towns on the map of the country. Linda Melvern, an investigative journalist, provides a brief context on Rwanda in 1994 and elaborates on a failure of international community and the United Nations to prevent the genocide that took lives of an estimated 800,000 people.
Pieter Hugo was struck by the fact that ten years after the genocide, the evidence was still seen around the country. He traveled to Rwanda in 2004: the book, the result of his journey, offers “a glimpse of what I saw there before the reburials took place”. His photographs is “a forensic view of some of the sites of mass execution and graves that stand as lingering memorials to the many thousands of people slaughtered”. People were murdered everywhere across Rwanda: schools, forests, hospitals, plantations, even churches, where many mistakenly were looking for refuge, turned into mass graves.
Hugo’s pictures are supported by historical context, testimonies, explanatory notes, memories of survivors. The image of a banana plantation changes when we read: “Survivors were pursued everywhere. Those who tried to hide in banana plantations were hunted down, and sometimes plantations were cleared to deny even this possibility”.
The most graphic of all images were taken at the Murambi Technical School, today it is a Memorial Centre: an estimated 40,000 people were killed there. A decade after Hugo was still able to document bloodied rags that belonged to the victims, human remains, corpses covered in lime to prevent infection. Emmanuel Mugangira works at the Murambi memorial site. His family was killed there: his wife, his five children, his eight brothers and sisters.
“Rwanda 2004: Vestiges of a Genocide” is a pursuit to understand what happened in Rwanda and how our society remembers it today. It is a powerful book. ”I hope these images in some small way bear testament to the personal anguish of these individual”.