Margaret Bimenyimana, a prominent Rwandan matriarch, Tutsi businesswoman and indomitable mother, was second or third on the Hutu hit list in Kigali, the capital city torn apart by machete-wielding throngs 20 years ago this month.
The first time they came to kill her, a Hutu gang took all her money and jewelry, then laid her two sons on the floor, preparing to hack them to death.
Margaret Bimenyimana told them to wait, said she had something else to give them, then raced to get the family Bible. When she returned, she held it up serenely, commandingly, like a divine shield, and the startled assailants dropped their weapons and ran.
Anna Bimenyimana, her daughter, wasn’t there when the assault happened – she was living in Montreal – and she wouldn’t hear from her mother for two months, a nightmare time during which as many as a million Rwandan citizens were killed in one of the worst genocides in modern history. But looking back, she says her mother, who had constructed a life of service helping others, survived the mass executions because no one could muster the courage to kill her.
The genocide began on April 7, 1994, the day after then-Rwandan President Juvenal Habyarimana, a Hutu, died when his plane was shot down and the Tutsi were blamed.