File photo: Neil Baynes

Mbabane, Swaziland - Swaziland's albinos have called on the government for protection ahead of elections expected later this year, fearing their body parts will be harvested by candidates seeking good luck.

“Those in authority must make sure that our safety is guaranteed,” Skhumbuzo Mndvoti, an albino community leader living in the southern town of Nhlangano told reporters.

“I can warn both adults and parents of albino children to take extra care during these election days,” Mndvoti said.

Ritual killings are common of in Swaziland, and elsewhere in Africa, with “muti” practitioners - a catch-all for traditional medicine and witchcraft - using limbs or body parts as amulets.

In the past albinos, who lack the skin pigment melanin, as well as epileptics have been specifically targeted, prompting the police to set up registries.

In 2010, the killing and mutilation of albinos, including in one instance the decapitation of two children in Nhlangano, prompted panic.

Twenty-eight-year-old Sipho Dlamini said such albino killings regularly take place, but in the past were masked by rumours about albino behaviour.

“People were told that when an albino dies, he would go and die far away where he or she would not be found. I think they were killed,” he said.

Both men fear there may be a resurgence in attacks in the run-up to elections, the date of which has not yet been set.

Mndvoti blamed witchdoctors who mislead people into believing that using human body parts will help them win seats in Parliament or prosper in business.

“Children should walk in groups to and from schools and they shouldn't be left alone at home.”

“Adults should avoid walking at night since many of the ritual murders happen when it's dark.”

The local albino community has threatened not to vote if no special security measures are taken.

Aspiring MP from Nhlangano, Mthokozisi Kunene said he sympathises with the albinos' plight.

He admitted that aspiring politicians are prime suspects to commit the ritual acts, but expressed hope “that won't happen this time”.

“As Christians we have prayed that no ritual murderer or anyone who uses human body parts in attempt to win votes shall ever go to parliament,” he said.

Nhlavana Maseko, the president of the Traditional Healers of Swaziland, said those who mislead people to use ritual murder to win elections or wealth are witches and wizards, but not traditional healers.

“A witch is born and never trained but a traditional healer undergoes intensive training to heal people trough traditional means,” said Maseko.

He expressed hope that a new law would help clear things up and stop the killings.

“We have a problem here in Swaziland of the colonial law called the Witchcraft Act which does not make a difference between a traditional healer and a witch or wizard.”

“But the new Traditional Health Practitioners Act has given clarity between the two.”

Voters began registering for elections in Africa's last absolute monarchy, last week, with unions and the opposition calling for a boycott of what they dismiss as a “rubber stamp” poll.

Candidates in the election are shortlisted in their chiefdoms, whose leaders are directly appointed by the king. - Sapa-AFP