File image: Two women living with albinism

Ask South Africans about albinos and you will hear all sorts of bizarre stories and urban legends.
There are old wives tales that hold that albinos do not die but instead disappear when they are about to die. Others believe albino body parts have special powers and make strong muti. The list is long.

The world commemorated International Albino Awareness Day on June 13, the day set apart to raise awareness about albinism and its challenges.

It is believed that one in 4000 South Africans live with albinism. The condition also affects some plants and animals. The Genetic and Rare Diseases Information Centre describes albinism as a group of inherited disorders that results in little or no production of the pigment melanin, which determines the colour of the skin, hair and eyes.

“Melanin also plays a role in the development of certain optical nerves, so all forms of albinism can cause problems with the development and function of the eyes. Other symptoms can include changes in skin colour; very white to brown hair; and very light blue to brown eye colour that may appear red when exposed to light. Albinism is also associated with a heightened risk of skin cancer."

Charity Sanyangare, 32, who is from Zimbabwe and was born with albinism,discovered earlier this year that she had skin cancer. Sanyangare says she was teased about her skin colour when she was growing up.

Not only do many South Africans and other Africans believe that albinism is a curse, but albinos are constantly sought by witch doctors who want their body parts to use in potions.

Zama Shozi, a member of the Western Cape Albinism & Hypo-Pigmentation Foundation and a nurse at Lentegeur Psychiatric Hospital, was protected by her family.

But for many other albinos, it’s been a very different story.

They have been cast out by their own families, in some communities they are killed immediately after birth and are commonly hunted down.

Shozi admits that the stigma affected her and as a teenager she had self-esteem issues. But she found love and has a son who is now 17 years old. She says: “We have to prove our competency most times but we don’t mind because we are capable of doing anything.”