MUTARE, MANICALAND —
Some Zimbabweans living with albinism say they are facing many problems, including common negative cultural myths associated with their skin condition, public discrimination and lack of government support.
About one in 17,000 people in the world and more than 14,000 Zimbabweans live with albinism, a mutation of several genes, which causes a deficit in the production of melanin that is responsible for determining skin and hair colour.
According to the United Nations, the physical appearance of persons with albinism is often the object of erroneous beliefs and myths influenced by superstition, which foster their marginalization and social exclusion. This leads to various forms of stigma and discrimination.
The U.N. estimates that in Tanzania alone, about 75 albinos have been killed since 2000 and the frequency of attacks on them seems to be increasing. Some politicians and businesspeople seeking fame have been linked to some of these attacks.
The United Nations says most beliefs and myths associated with albinism are centuries old and are present in cultural attitudes and practices around the world.
Such beliefs are rooted in Zimbabwe’s social fabric where 20-year-old human rights activist Phyllis Muzvongi of the Zimbabwe Albinos Association, who lives with albinism, says women with this condition have become targets of rape fueled by a myth that having sex with an albino eradicates HIV.
Such beliefs resulted in the United Nations General Assembly on December 18th, 2014, to adopt a resolution proclaiming, with effect from June 13th, 2015, as International Albinism Awareness Day. In 2013, the United Nations Human Rights Council adopted a resolution calling for the prevention of attacks and discrimination against persons with albinism.
Despite such moves, Muzvongi says, Zimbabweans still believe that albinos are a curse from God or punishment from ancestral spirits.
She says apart from that, people living with albinism do not access education facilities and are normally sidelined at work places, simply because of their skin colour.
She says there is also need for the Ministry of Education to seriously consider having large prints in books used in schools due to eyesight problems associated with albinism.
Another person living with albinism, Issac Dube of ARDA Transau in Odzi, Manicaland province, says there is need to change people’s attitudes towards them.
Dube believes that the young generation can be taught to break the cycle of discrimination against albinos through getting the necessary information about albinism.
Like Muzvongi, he says the government has failed to take care of their needs.
But Dr. Wellington Mahachi, who lives with albinism, says he has not faced any problems associated with his skin condition.
Dr. Mahachi argues that some problems being faced by albinos can be attributed to parents who fail to properly raise children with this skin condition.
He dismisses the myth that albinism is a curse from God or punishment by ancestral spirits.
There are some Zimbabweans like restaurant owner, Zvikomborero Matimati, who are not worried about associating with albinos.
But traditional healer Alfonso Mabele still believes that people with this condition are cursed.
This is a common belief among traditional healers, who have been accused in some east African nations and others, of using albinos’ body parts to produce juju or muti for empowering politicians and businesspeople. The effectiveness of this in enhancing politicians’ chances of winning elections and staying in office for a long time and boosting businesses is widely regarded as a myth as there is no scientific evidence to prove such claims.
Manicaland provincial social welfare officer, Joshua Makoni, concedes that government is not taking care of the needs of people living with albinism and other minority groups due to lack of funds.
He acknowledges that Zimbabwe’s new constitution compels the government to cater for the needs of all minorities.
Human rights activist, Andrew Mambondiyani, who is also a journalist, says there is need for the government to empower people living with albinism so that they can be self-reliant.
If empowered, Muzvongi says, albinos will manage to even buy sunscreen creams, umbrellas, long-sleeved clothes and hats, which protect them from direct sunlight that damages their skins.
The Zimbabwe Albino Association is currently engaging government on ways of improving the lives of people living with albinism in the country. There is hope that the state will take action, funds permitting, to address their challenges.