A former Rwandan goalkeeper who survived genocide by being captain of one of the country’s most popular football clubs has collected an MBE from Buckingham Palace.
Eric Murangwa’s status as one of Rayon Sports’ best-loved players saved his life when armed men stormed his home in 1994.
Supposedly looking for weapons, the men threatened to take Mr Murangwa’s life until they realised he was the well-known player “Toto”.
He then fled to his Hutu teammate’s house, where members of the club sheltered together, and Mr Murangwa realised the bonds formed through sport could override the hatreds that lead to genocide.
The 42-year-old moved to Britain, where he founded two organisations – Football For Hope, Peace And Unity, which uses sport to promote tolerance and reconciliation among Rwandan youth, and Survivors Tribune, an educational initiative where those who survived the genocide go to UK schools to talk to students about their experiences.
After being given his award by the Prince of Wales on Thursday, 24 years after that initial attack, Mr Murangwa told the Press Association: “All I knew was playing for competition, I did not know about playing for education.
“What happened during the genocide when my teammates went out of their way to help me because of the bond we had developed playing football together, that gave me a different perspective.
“Building togetherness, having tolerance, working as a team – I thought these are things that most of the people, especially young people in Rwanda, didn’t have. That’s why they went out and killed their schoolmates, their neighbours.”
More than 800,000 lives were claimed during the genocide, where machete and gunfire attacks were mostly aimed at the country’s minority Tutsi population by extremist Hutus.
Mr Murangwa did not speak a word of English when he arrived in the UK – a place he managed to escape to when the Rwandan football team played a game in Tunisia.
Instead of getting on the return flight home, he gave up his football career and stayed in the country, eventually moving to Britain in 1997.
“It has liberated me in a way,” Mr Murangwa said of his campaigning work, “because it’s not every survivor of genocide who is able to go out there and speak and use his or her story, but because of that element of sport in my personal story it has helped me to actually be able to face it.
“It has contributed to the healing. I feel like what happened to me, obviously I cannot forget it, but it does not really define who I am today.
“I focus on the positive side and try to use my story in a positive way for other people.”