Jacques Pauw Launches Rat Roads with Kennedy Gihana and Max du Preez
Kalk Bay Books was tightly packed on Friday evening. The crowd had come to listen to Max du Preez chair a discussion with Jacques Pauw and Kennedy Gihana about the biography, Rat Roads. In this book Jacques Pauw has successfully and authentically documented the story of Rwandan-born Gihana who walked thousands of kilometres to South Africa to escape the conflict in his home country and pursue education here.
Ann Donald introduced Pauw and Du Preez as both “pivotal speakers in terms of journalism during the apartheid years”. They spoke with Gihana about the value of the book, the challenges of biography writing and Pauw and Kennedy’s process of documenting this unique story
“To share your story with the entire world was a very brave and important thing,” said Du Preez and added that it “gives us an insight into humanity and into our own lives that we otherwise would not have had”.
Du Preez first asked Pauw what his fascination with Rwanda was. As a journalist, Pauw said he had to take note when he realised that “10 000 people died a day, for 100 days in a country smaller than the Free State”, and that the international community was not aware of the full extent of the events unfolding. Pauw had, “always been looking for a story about Rwanda” then at the beginning of last year Gihana came into his life. This was the story he wanted to write about Rwanda but it was more than that, “it was a story about humanity’s survival”.
Du Preez questioned Gihana about the reasons for the genocide: “Was it history, was it prejudice, or was it something we all have in us?” Gihana found this a very tough question and said that it was a combination of factors including “history and natural evil”, however he felt that the conflict could not be attributed to one side.
The book traces his journey starting from his childhood but talks specifically about what happened in 1994. Gihana was once a member of “a rebel army that committed horrific atrocities” said Pauw but then he managed to literally walk away from Rwanda, walking away “from where he was, who he was and what he did” with only a matric certificate, eventually arriving in Hillbrow. The book is an exploration of survival and, as Du Preez said, “it does give a proper picture of the role that President Paul Kagame played” after the Rwandan genocide.
While Gihana fled a very dangerous position, he is not completely secure at the moment. Gihana is the Rwanda National Congress secretary general on the African continent, and apparently on a hit list, which made it very difficult for Pauw while writing.
Pauw’s main concern was “to portray Kennedy as he is”. According to Pauw , his biggest challenge was to do justice, “to what this man had seen and experienced”. As Du Preez said, the important thing is that when you finish the book “you realise this is the entire story, not the sugar-coated version”.