In Memory Of Zura Karuhimbi: A Rwandan Hero

Zura Karuhimbi was a Rwandan woman who saved more than 150 people throughout the Rwandan genocide. Amidst the violence, she was a selfless hero.

Karuhimbi was born around 1925 to a Hutu family of traditional healers. She lived in the village of Musamo in the Ruhango District, where she is now respected for her heroism. In her final years, she was taken care of by her niece. Karuhimbi passed away at home on the 17th of December 2018.


During the 1994 genocide, she hid refugees in her two-room house to protect them from Hutu militia, regardless of their ethnicity. She saved Tutsis, moderate Hutus, Twas, Burundians, and Europeans. She even protected young babies. People hid under her bed and in a secret spot in her roof. She also dug a hole in her fields so more people could hide.

Karuhimbi pretended to be a witch. She would anoint herself with a local skin-irritating herb. Touching the killers with the substance, she pretended to curse them. She also shook her bracelets and rattled other objects to scare the men, saying it was the sound of angry spirits.

Hassan Habiyakare was one of many people she saved. He recounted, “Zura told Interahamwe militia if they entered the shrine, they would incur the wrath of Nyabingi [Kinyarwanda word for ‘God’]. They were frightened and our lives were saved for another day.”

The militiamen thought there were ghosts in her house. They then tried to bribe her with money, but Karuhimbi rejected it, saying, “money could not cost me lives of Rwandans.”

Karuhimbi was not actually a witch. She declared, “I only believed in one God and the thing of magical power was just an invention and cover I was using to save lives. […] I am not a witch doctor.”

Most importantly, her actions were a sign of her selflessness. Even though she lost her two children while trying to save the Tutsi people, everyone she risked her life to protect survived.


In recognition of her courage and bravery, Karuhimbi was awarded the Campaign Against Genocide Medal by Rwandan President Paul Kagame in 2006. She was very proud of her medal, and according to her, she took the token with her every time she went to bed.

In 2009, a tree was planted in the Garden of the Righteous in Padua, Italy, to honour her. Many also campaigned to nominate her for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2010, but this attempt was unsuccessful.

Although Karuhimbi has passed away, many Rwandan people will remember her forever. Her story was covered in 2014, the 20th anniversary of the genocide, by a Rwandan reporter Jean Pierre Bucyensenge.

Bucyensenge remembers her fondly, “She risked her life to save others. And to do that, she only had to improvise: she faced armed gangs with her full body and intellect and she won. […] Her story is a reminder that humanity prevails – even in the most difficult situations.”


Photo Credit: Quartz Africa



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