I can’t remember another recent photographic project that would impact me as much as this one. The New York Times published a series of images taken by Pieter Hugo (known for his portraits of South Africa) in southern Rwanda. He went there to meet some of those who twenty years ago killed almost a million people, looted and burned thousands of homes and villages – and their victims, who after years of counselling, have forgiven their attackers.
As the New York Times pointed out, the images are “unlikely, almost unthinkable”. And indeed, this is an astounding project.
Each image is accompanied by a set of captions explaining the background. And that’s when you realise the significance of a woman’s hand resting on a man’s shoulder. That’s when you realise the poignancy of the images of two people holding hands or sharing a mat.
One former attacker says: “Mother Mukabutera Caesarea could not have known I was involved in the killings of her children, but I told her what happened. When she granted me pardon, all the things in my heart that had made her look at me like a wicked man faded away.”
His victim’s response: “It took time, but in the end we realized that we are all Rwandans. The genocide was due to bad governance that set neighbors, brothers and sisters against one another. Now you accept and you forgive. The person you have forgiven becomes a good neighbor. One feels peaceful and thinks well of the future.”
This will stay with me for a long time.