Do not insult albinos

2015-09-02 06:00
Qondile Khedama, Social commentator 
Photo: Provided

Qondile Khedama, Social commentator Photo: Provided

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ON the eve of Albinism Awareness Month, South Africa woke up to the tragic story of the brutal murder of Thandazile Mpunzi, a 21-year old woman with albinism from KwaMhlabuyalingana in far northern KwaZulu-Natal.

In August, Mpunzi was murdered and her mutilated body was found buried in a shallow grave, with her eyes, skin and other body parts removed. A local pastor was implicated in the murder and appeared in court with four other suspects on Tuesday, 25 August.

Health Systems Trust, a leading resource in Southern Africa, defines albinism as “an inherited genetic disorder in which the body fails to produce enough melanin. Because of the lack of pigment, the affected person has very pale skin, white or sand-coloured hair, and light brown or blue eyes.”

There are various skewed beliefs that body parts of albinos have magical powers, which have led to many killings of people with albinism.

Persecution of people with albinism may occur for different reasons. One is based on the belief that certain body parts of albinistic people can transmit magical powers.

Such superstition has been promulgated and exploited by witch doctors and others who use such body parts as ingredients in rituals, concoctions and potions with the claim that their magic will bring prosperity to the user.

As a result, people with albinism have been persecuted, killed and dismembered, and graves of albinos dug up and desecrated. People with albinism have also been ostracised and even killed for exactly the opposite reason, because they are presumed to be cursed and bring bad luck.

According to Professor Trevor Jenkins of the Department of Human Genetics at the South African Institute for Medical Research, one in 35 black Southern Africans is a carrier of an albinism mutation.

When both parents are carriers, the child is born with albinism. People with albinism do not choose to be born it, just as we do choose which families we are born into.

This recent incident is an indication of perpetual stereotypes existing amongst our people. Myths surrounding people with albinism should be condemned, and where necessary the law should come in and take its course.

The Constitution of South Africa is clear on discrimination, and no one should be discriminated against on the basis of their genetic mutation.

This community has always been segregated within the black community itself. Nomasonto Mazibuko, founder of the Albinism Society of South Africa, remembers being called hurtful names like “Inkawu” (monkey) from her childhood.

People with albinism do not deserve to be quarantined by their own societies. To destigmatise albinism, concrete steps must be taken.

The state as a guardian of its citizens, non-governmental organisations, media and the community needs to seriously consider programmes that will educate and bring awareness.

Parents need to change the younger generation’s attitude through continuous dissemination of information that will assist in demystifying albinism.

) Qondile Khedama is a communications practitioner, social commentator and the Mangaung Metro’s Head of Communications. He writes in his personal capacity

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