People with albinism in Africa are often stigmatised, shunned or abandoned by family and society. They fear for their lives. They are constantly taunted by the community and at risk of violent attacks. Government do little or nothing at all to protect them. They are not safe at home. Many are betrayed by family members who sell them to witchdoctors or body part traders.
Albinism is a congenial condition that affects the production and distribution of melanin pigment in the hair, skin and eyes. There are different types of albinism however all are linked to vision problems.
This is Gabisile Shabani (13). Three men grabbed her from her bed after midnight in January 2018, Witbank, South Africa. Three weeks later, Gabisile’s beheaded body was found in a shallow grave near Pretoria.
It is a rare condition. Even when both parents carry the recessive gene, there is only a 25% chance of any child having albinism. 1 in 2,000 people have albinism. However 1 in 8 people carry the gene for albinism in Africa. Albinism is relatively common in East Africa: 1 in 3000 children are born with albinism.
Chinguirai Joao (17) went missing in Benga Mozambique (September 2017). That evening he was gruesomely killed: brains, bones of the arms and legs and the hair was removed.
David Fletcher Machinjiri (17) attended a football match in Kasungu (Malawi) before he vanished. A few weeks later David’s body was found in Mozambique. His hands and feet were chopped off.
The hunting and murder of people with albinism is widespread in Malawi, Tanzania and Mozambique. Majority of the victims are children. Since 2000, 72 people with albinism were murdered in Tanzania. In Malawi at least 20 people with albinism were killed since 2014. It is fuelled by the demand and trade of albino body parts. Superstition is the underlying reason. Their body parts are used in witchcraft with the belief that they will bring luck, riches and power. Witchdoctors can pay up to $75,000 for a full set of albino body parts (International Red Cross report 2009).
Jesca Charles (22) disappeared after attending an evening church service in Igoma, Tanzania. Her body was discovered with all her limbs chopped off.
Even the dead cannot escape these evil beliefs. Often graves of deceased people with albinism are desecrated – with bodies exhumed and body parts cut off. Cement is often poured over their graves to dissuade grave robbers.
Several machete-yielding men kidnapped Yohana Bahati (1) from her house in Chato, Tanzania. Two days later the baby’s lifeless mutilated body was found in a forest.
The persecution of people with albinism is a human rights crisis in Africa. Governments must urgently intervene to protect this vulnerable group. African governments must
- ensure effective legal protection for people with albinism;
- undertake public anti-discrimination campaigns and tackle these harmful superstitious beliefs;
- increase effective oversight of traditional healers;
- offer medical support to people with albinism;
- create safe houses for people with albinism that are in hiding;
- allocate resources to police for ensure thorough investigation of crimes against people with albinism.
Mphatso Pensulo (19) was lured into his killer’s house with a promise of juice and biscuits in 2017. He was strangled and dismembered in a ritualistic murder.
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