UKZN Theology academic Professor Philippe Denis launched his new book: The Genocide Against the Tutsi, and the Rwandan Churches: Between Grief and Denial (James Currey/Boydell & Brewer) at the Johannesburg Holocaust & Genocide Centre.
The book, all about the response or lack of it to the genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda, focuses on the period of the genocide in 1994 and subsequent years up to 2000, examining the responses of the Catholic Church – the biggest and most complex – and the Presbyterian Church, which made an unconditional confession of guilt in 1996.
Drawing on interviews with genocide survivors, Rwandans in exile, missionaries and government officials as well as church archives and other sources, the book is a comprehensive academic study on Christianity and the genocide against the Tutsi. It explores contentious questions in depth and reveals the extent of internal diversity within the Christian churches.
Through a case study, Denis analyses in detail the role of the French Catholic priest Gabriel Maindron at La Crête Congo- NilCongo-Nil in which genocide survivors accuse the priest of having failed publicly to oppose the genocide and of having close links with the authorities and some of the perpetrators.
‘The book is the outcome of my research project funded by the National Research Foundation (NRF) which spanned seven years and required half a dozen trips to Rwanda,’ said Denis. ‘I interviewed close to 100 witnesses in Rwanda and other countries in Africa and in Europe, some of them several times, and visited numerous archival collections. This resulted in an MOU between UKZN and the Protestant University of Rwanda in Huye (also known as Butare) and a joint conference in 2019. The proceedings were published by Cluster Publications under the title Memory Work in Rwanda.’
The new book is considered to be a key work for historians, memory studies and religion scholars and Africanists. The launch included a talk by historian and outgoing president of Ibuka France Dr Marcel Kabanda, titled: Rwanda 1994, the Catholic Church at the test of the Tutsi genocide.
Professor Phillipe Denis, a Senior Professor at UKZN in the History of Christianity, is the founder and currently a Board member of the Sinomlando Centre for Oral History and Memory Work in Africa and an associate member of the Royal Academy of Belgium.