Gironde, Rwanda. 9 May 1995.
April 7 is Memorial Day in Rwanda, commemorating the start of the genocide against the Tutsis in 1994.Very few outside journalists had more than a glimpse of what had happened, but once the adherents of Hutu Power had fled this tiny, overcrowded land in the heart of Africa, the stories of genocide began to trickle out.
In 1995, Greg Marinovich accompanied a group of men in Gatonde as they tried to find where their relatives and friends had been dumped in shallow graves during the previous year’s genocide. He was the only reporter or outsider among them.
“I don’t recall how I found out about the exhumations. A survivor pointed out a seemingly innocuous spot and the men began to dig. Carefully, tenderly, families pulled out bits of skeleton, clumps of hair, clothing. Children watched in silence. It was quite horrific, and as I followed them to where the burial of the victims would take place, it became clear that there were dozens of groups like mine labouring across the verdant hills.
“The burial sites were incredibly common. Even along the dirt road I had driven in on, the gullies alongside proved to hold more horrors.”
The scale of the killings by neighbor against neighbor became clear to one who had not witnessed it. The numbers argued by politicians – was it 850,000 or 1 million who had perished – faded. One tenth of the population had been killed, mostly at the hands of their neighbors and friends.
“In Gatonde, a deep and long mass grave had been dug, and groups of people emerged silently from the trees and fields, bearing grass mats or woven baskets with their dead. Some had only banana leaves to carry their loved ones. I recall it being very silent. No-one was crying. The people of Rwanda were beyond tears.
“Some of my images from the set here look strange. I overdeveloped the negatives and then proceeded to damage them further trying to dry them fast enough to transmit that same day. The negatives of my best images are heavy, stained, gnarled and curled. Perhaps that is how they should be.”