‘WE WILL OVERCOME’: Bhekisisa Thabete, chairperson of the Albinism Society KwaZulu-Natal, wants laws to stop abuse against those with albinism. 	Picture: Gcina Ndwalane/African News Agency (ANA)
‘WE WILL OVERCOME’: Bhekisisa Thabete, chairperson of the Albinism Society KwaZulu-Natal, wants laws to stop abuse against those with albinism. Picture: Gcina Ndwalane/African News Agency (ANA)
DURBAN - SOUTH African traffic and border authorities must check weekend travellers’ luggage for smuggled body parts. This was one of the pleas from the Albinism Society KwaZulu-Natal chairperson Bhekisisa Thabete in Durban.

“People with albinism are being trafficked and their body parts traded for the making of potions and strong muti, as they say,” said Thabete, in the Durban City Hall on Thursday.

A school principal in the audience said she received alerts of suspicious cars in an informal settlement where a pupil with albinism lived whom she drove to and from school rather than let the girl walk.

Thabete also said the society appreciated the sentence delivered to estate agent Vicki Momberg for her use of the k-word.

“However, the same verbal abuse is somewhat of a norm for people with albinism who are called names without any legal recourse, or repercussions for the perpetrators,” he said.

Bhekisisa Thabete, chairperson of the Albinism Society KwaZulu-Natal, wants laws to stop abuse against those with albinism. Video: Duncan Guy
He appealed to Parliament to implement laws specific to people with albinism. “There aren’t any laws that institute repercussions for those who perpetuate violence, abuse and killings against people with albinism as yet. “But we shall overcome,” he said. 

Thabete lashed out at people for calling people with albinism abusive names, such as inkawu (monkey), ikhalandlanzi and isishawa (cursed), saying they caused “the same pain that African people feel when they are called k*****s”.

“It makes you feel small to be called names that are not your birth name. It makes you feel inferior. People show no respect when they call you inkawu, ikhalandlanzi and isishawa,” he said, adding that use of such words egged on horrific abuse. 

Brutal killings, mutilations, there are many things,” he said, adding that there were many unreported killings of people with albinism.

“We are calling for the government to consider us as people who should be protected equally in South Africa 
by the constitution.”

Recently, the dismembered body of a child with albinism was discovered in Mpumalanga, helping to debunk the myth that people with albinism do not die – but simply disappear.

Thabete called on people with albinism to form support groups, also criticising the media for coining the phrase “people living with albinism”.

“We’re not living with albinism, we have albinism. We were born with it and we shall die with it.” 

According to the most recent issue of the UN publication African Renewal, there have been reports of killings of people with albinism in South Africa, although such crimes are more common in Malawi, Tanzania and Burundi. 

“The office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights reported in 2016 that hunters of people with albinism sell an entire human corpse for up to $75 000 (R886 000), while an arm or a leg could fetch about $2 000 (R23 650),” the report read.

It quoted Ikponwosa Ero, the UNHCR’s independent expert on the Enjoyment of Human Rights by persons with Albinism, calling the situation in Africa “a tragedy”. Ero has albinism.

The African Renewal report referred to the 7 000 to 10 000 people with albinism in Malawi and thousands of others in Tanzania, Mozambique and other countries as “an endangered people” facing a “risk of extinction if nothing is done”.

It added that people with albinism were found in every country. “In the US, one in 20 000 persons has albinism, while the figure is generally believed to be one in 1 500 in Tanzania, and one in 5 000 to 15 000 in other sub-regions 
of Africa, according to the BBC, which acknowledges a lack of full-scale studies of this population.

“Lacking pigmentation, they are vulnerable to what advocacy groups call a ‘silent killer – skin cancer’.”

The report said there were very few health services in Africa to manage albinism, and many of those living with the condition could not afford sunscreen and protective clothing. 

“Threats to their lives are compounded by exclusion, stigmatisation and denial of basic rights such as the right to education and health,” according to Amnesty International. 

Ero recounted her childhood: “Isolation and stigma came from peers and adults, including name-calling and mockery, and exclusion from certain community activities.

“Even mothers of children with albinism are often abandoned after being accused of infidelity or… deemed accursed or abnormal. Families can be ostracised for having a member with albinism,” said Ero, who is now advocating for “massive and sustained public education”.

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