Zawadi’s story

What I’m going to write about isn’t enjoyable to read. In fact, it’s something really hard to learn and, especially, to forget. You might not want to go on reading this post, as I was shocked myself when I heard this story. But I think it’s worth it.

As I’ve already mentioned, I’m a journalism student at City University, London. In one of my lectures, we had a very special guest: Mike Thomson, BBC Radio 4′s foreign correspondent. He told us about his experience in Congo, torn apart by the civil war. It was in relation to this that we learnt about Zawadi Mogane.

Because of the violence going on in her country, Zawadi said it wasn’t safe to sleep at home: so they slept in the woods. But one night violence and death came to her own village. The Rwandan rebel soldiers known as the Interahamwe, who flew over the Congolese border after the genocide in 1994, changed her life for ever.

They took her, her brother and three of her children, as well as about 50 people from her village, to a rebel camp in the woods. They butchered with knives most of the men. Zawadi and another woman were left alive, but at a terrible price: two of her children were killed in front of her, while her brother was decapitated after having refused to rape her.

She was raped 19 times by the rebels, but her most painful memory is to have been forced to hang her own toddler. The only reason she is still alive is that the rebels thought her too weak to survive and sent her along a path that would lead her to another village. Here, she was helped by a kid who provided her with some clothes and hosted her in his community.

“When Zawadi’s interview was broadcast on Radio 4′s Today programme and on the BBC’s World Service, the response was extraordinary. Numerous people wrote and emailed to express their outrage at what they had heard. Many also wanted to help, to do something”, wrote Thomson on the BBC’s website.

The interview was made in 2008. Thomson returned to Congo one year later to find Zawadi. He also met her little daughter, the only member of her family she had left. Zawadi said her daughter knows two things: “That her father was killed and that, in a way, they killed me too”. Zawadi’s daughter wants to study to become a doctor, to help her mother when she’s not feeling well.

Hearing Zawadi’s own words, even though translated to English, had a powerful effect on me. I felt like something heavy was dropped on my heart, a weight from which I couldn’t release myself. I felt it was my duty to talk about it: that’s why I choose to tell this story again.

I think it’s fair not to allow this story to be forgotten. It’s important for us to know what terrible things happen in the world, because they will happen again and again if we don’t spread the news. And I think it is essential to remember Zawadi’s strength: she wanted to stay alive for her own daughter and, despite all the pain that was inflicted on her, she still doesn’t want the rebels dead. She says she is a good Christian and doesn’t want revenge.

It’s a painful story to hear and to read, but we have to remember it: I think we owe it to Zawadi. If you want to hear the interview go here. If you want to read about Mike Thomson’s experience go here.

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