Zambian albinos call for end to brutality

At least ten albinos are murdered in ritual killings every year in Zambia. Some believe albino body parts bring wealth or luck. Those born with the genetic condition are calling for an end to this madness.

There are more than 25,000 people living with albinism in Zambia. Cases of albino killings are rarer here compared with other African countries, such as neighboring Tanzania. According to the Red Cross, witchdoctors in Tanzania are willing to pay up to $75,000 (70,000 euros) for a complete set of albino body parts.

Nevertheless, in a recent attack, a 37-year old albino woman was brutally murdered by suspected ritual killers in a remote village in eastern Zambia. They cut off her right hand and plucked out her teeth. Eight other similar murders have been recorded in 2016 in various parts of the country.

Afrika Albino Verfolgung Diskriminierung

Many persons with albinism have lost their limbs in ritual practises such as the man pictured above

Baidon Chandipo, 23, a Zambian who was born with the genetic condition, told DW that he continuously faces incessant teasing and bullying from peers.

"Most of the people in our community discriminate against any person with albinism," Chandipo said. "That is what is affecting a lot of albinos out there."

Understanding albinism

Albinism is a genetic condition that results in the absence of melanin, a pigment which is responsible for giving color to the eyes, skin and hair. This lack of melanin means that people living with albinism are more susceptible to specific health conditions, especially skin cancers. Most of them also wear sunglasses and hats to help them see clearly during the day.

White is beautiful!

Thando Hopa is a South African lawyer in her mid 20s. She grew up with lots of sunblock, long clothing, and complexes. She was always hiding in the shade, she says. Now Hopa is working to tackle the discrimination faced by people living with Albinism in Africa - also as a catwalk model.

Catwalk against complexes

Thando Hopa was discovered four years ago in a shopping center by South African designer Gert-Johan Coetzee, behind her in the photo. Today she's one of the best known models in South Africa. Her photo has been published in the top fashion magazines, and in 2013 she was on the cover of the first issue of Forbes Life Africa.

Breaking down myths

Many Africans believe that albinos are not living beings but ghosts, and that their body parts can bring good luck and prosperity. Actually, albinism is a genetic disorder characterized by a lack of pigmentation in the skin. Worldwide, around one in 20,000 people is born with the disorder. Albinism is fairly widespread in East and southern Africa - just like superstition.

Deadly superstition

Criminals hunt albinos, killing and selling their bodies to traditional healers, who believe they have magical properties. According to the UN, the body of an albino person can be worth more than 60,000 euros on the black market ($68,000). A single leg can be sold for around 2,000 euros ($2,200). Tanzania has banned unregistered traditional healers - neighboring Malawi has not.

Living in fear

Dorothy Mausen, from Malawi's Machinga province, says she never feels safe. Around 10,000 albinos live in the South-East African nation. According to Amnesty International, 18 of them have been murdered in the last year and a half. Malawian police have recorded more than 60 violent attacks on albinos. It's thought many more cases go unreported.

Round the clock protection

Razik Jaffalie doesn't let his sons out of his sight. To protect three-year-old Cassim, he even had to give up his job. Malawians are proud of their reputation as kind, peaceful people. But following the latest attacks on albinos, Malawi's president Peter Mutharika said he was 'ashamed' by the killings in the country.

A song for Mandela

Salif Keita is one of the stars of African pop music. He was born in Mali and knows how hard it can be to grow up with albinism in Africa. He moved to Paris in 1984, and became famous when he performed at London's Wembley Stadium on 11 June 1988 - a concert for Nelson Mandela's 70th birthday. Mandela was still in prison at the time.

Not an imperfection, but a strength

A festival in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in 2015 kickstarted a small revolution. "Fièrement Ndundu" - "proud to be albino," a three day event in Kinshasa, provided a platform for people to share their experiences, challenge stereotypes and build up their self confidence. Now many Africans are making their voices heard online, for example with the Twitter hashtag #AlbinismIsJustAColor.

Watching out for the sun

But albinism is not 'just' a skin color. Those with the disorder lack the skin pigment melanin, which protects the body from the sun's rays. The deficiency means albinos are at a high risk of developing skin cancer. Many also have problems with vision, because of the lack of melanin in their eyes. For albinos, sun protection is essential.

Football against predjudice

For Said Seremani and his Team "Albino United," training sessions begin when the sun starts to set over the Tanzanian capital Dar es Salaam. They only have a small, dusty pitch, but they have big dreams. The players want to become international football stars and prove that albinos can play just as well as role models like Didier Drogba or Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.

The Human Rights Commission of Zambia has admitted that more needs to be done to address human rights violations against people living with albinism. Mwelwa Muleya, the commission's spokesperson, told DW that they were doing everything possible to improve the lives of those with albinism.

"We have been concerned about the complaints that there's inadequate support when it comes to the [sunscreen] lotion to protect their skin," Muleya said. "The Human Rights Commission of Zambia has been engaging the government on this issue, to ensure that there is adequate health and social welfare provided for persons with albinism."

Campaign to end albino killings

The Albino Foundation of Zambia (AFZ) has been campaigning for the equal treatment of people living with albinism and for an end to the misconception that their bodies could be used to gain wealth. John Chiti, Executive Director of AFZ, told DW that Zambian albinos are worried about their safety.

"We have people who hunt down persons with albinism for their body parts, which they believe can cure certain diseases and make money," Chiti said. He also said persons with albinism are living in fear and are not really enjoying their full human rights. "All the time they have to worry about who‘s behind them and many of them have lost their lives."

Kathy Short in Lusaka contributed to this article.

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