All Lives Institute
All Lives Institute

Control exercised over Albinos in Tanzania, Malawi, Mozambique and South Africa (HIIN=17)


Albinism is a condition caused by the congenital absence of pigmentation (colouration), resulting in white hair, skin and pink eyes. The disorder is inherited from parents, who both carry a gene, which inhibits the skin from making melanin. Albinistic animals exist, like mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and fish. Populations of naturally occurring Albino animals exist, e.g. the Mexican Tetra (Astyanax mexicanus), also called the Blind Cave Fish (a freshwater fish of the family Characidae of the order Characiformes). The cause of albinism in humans is thought to be inbreeding (autosomal recessive inheritance).

An Albino person will have pale skin, light-coloured hair, pink eyes and minor physical abnormalities, caused by the inability to produce the pigment melanin. Albinos face social discrimination and violence, often living traumatised in fear. They are denigrated, eg, by name-calling, such as 'East African Yellow Men/Women'.

The population of Albinos, men or women and children is relatively high in East Africa. Without protective melanin in their skin, they are at risk of developing skin cancer from UV radiation in the Sun's light. Albinism activist groups say more than 90% of people with the condition in Africa die before they reach 40 years of age. c1 in every 1,400 people in Tanzania has this condition. In most other parts of sub-Saharan Africa it occurs in 1 in every 5,000-15,000 (as compared with 1 in every c19,000 in Europe).

Control exercised over Albinos

Witch doctors use certain body parts, eg, in preparing potions. Body parts are used in rituals because of a belief that they can bring riches, success, power or sexual conquest. Killers will hack off body parts for use by the witch doctor: mutilated bodies are so found without hands, feet, breasts, genitals, skin, eyes or hair - depending on the spells to be cast. In some parts of Africa, it is believed that having sex with an albino cures HIV and AIDS.

From 2000-2013, the UN received 200 reports of ritual attacks on people with albinism, across 15 African countries. Control over the lives of Albinos is exercised by witch doctors, their hired killers and family members eg parents or other near relatives. Children are especially vulnerable.

Body parts can sell for up to $600 in Tanzania, with an entire corpse fetching $75,000, according to the UN. Women who give birth to children with albinism may be shunned.

The UN

The threat to Albinos has so grown that the United Nations refugee organization has begun to relocate families of people with albinism in Malawi to Canada and elsewhere. Governments in Tanzania and South Africa speak out against attacks on Albinos. There is, nonetheless, a high degree of impunity. Indeed, Tanzanian politicians will turn to witch doctors, to improve their luck at election time. Tanzanians call Albinos 'zeru', 'zeru', meaning 'ghosts'.

The year 2018 commemorates the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), which asks governments to protect their citizens from brutalities. The level of violence often visited on Albinos constitutes 'persecution' under the UDHR. The International Community so has a role to play in safeguarding them. The 'International Community' is a phrase frequently used to refer responsibility on to Unnamed States.

The UN named the 13th of June, each year, as International Albinism Awareness Day. In South Africa, every September is Albinism Awareness Month. Amnesty International at least knows what the problem is. Their spokesperson, Deprose Muchena, said deep-seated cultural traditions persist, including a belief in mythical powers of people with albinism and a conviction that their body parts could change lives, bringing fabulous wealth, power or good fortune. Some believe that Albinos are not human, that their only value is monetary and that they have gold in their bones.

Capture and kill

Killers, sometimes aided by family members, hunted and capture Albinos to harvest their organs to order. They may be trafficked across borders, to market, before they are dismembered.

Tanzania banned witchcraft in December 2014: 93% of the population, nevertheless, believe in witchcraft (be they Christian or Muslim or other). 75 Albinos, of a total of 33,000 (c0.07% of the population), were reported killed there between 2000 and 2014, ie 18-19 murders yearly.

Kidnappers, with machetes, may abduct Albinos from their home, if security is weak. If it is a little stronger, the wall of a house may, eg, be holed at night, before the strike, and then victims are seized the next day. Specific body parts may be taken and the victim abandoned.

In Malawi, about 7,000-10,000 people live with albinism (0.06% of the population): the authorities said that, between January and May of 2016 alone, 6 Albinos were murdered. Many people believe that albinism is contagious. Attacks have surged, with 23+ people killed between November 2014-December 2016. In 2015, there were 45 reports of actual or attempted murder.

In Mozambique, there are about c30,000 Albinos (c0.1% of the population). In 2017, 13+ were killed. There are unfounded superstitions that their blood, hair and body parts can serve as amulets. As they must avoid sun-exposure, many Albinos are unable to work. This and social discrimination mean they face a life of poverty and misery. [Kinachukuru]

In South Africa, (population 60,000,000), the persecution of Albinos is again almost entirely based on superstition. Witch doctors believe the body parts possess magical powers. Others also claim that Albinos are cursed, as trapped spirits - the living souls of colonialist invaders. Some people think that possessing Albino limbs can ensure better health and will bring good luck. Albinos can expect sexual assault and rape. Their number and the crimes they suffer are not recorded. They really have no escape and cannot hope for safety in resounding words.

All human beings have the right to life, despite their skin tone, race, or gender. From the encounters I have had, with my three Albino brothers, of which one at a later stage passed on, I feel very much obligated to support humanity. Daniel Mabele