Persecution of People With Albinism


“All that is necessary for evil to prevail is for good men to do nothing.” – Edmund Burke.

The rest of the world is clear on what albinism is, but same cannot be said for Africa as many parts of the black continent have held onto their rather terrible beliefs of what the condition is all about. This refusal to accept the rare skin pigmentation anomaly for what it is is responsible for what is arguably the continent’s biggest act of human rights violation.

In Nguni, they’re called Inkawu which means “White Baboon”.

In Zulu, they’re called Isishawa which means “A cursed person”.

In Swahili, they’re called Zeru, which means “Ghost Like”.

In Zimbabwe, they’re called Sope, which means “Someone possessed by evil spirits”.

In Tanzania, they’re called Nguruwe, which means “Pig”, and Zeru which means “Ghost”.


Albino Hunting, or Persecution of People With Albinism (PWA) is a very popular practice in Africa. This practice is influenced majorly by two beliefs.

One; the belief that certain body parts of albinistic people can transmit magical powers. This is prominent in East African countries like Tanzania, Malawi, e.t.c where it is propagated 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, health, power, or fortune to the user.

Two; the belief that Albinos are not ordinary but cursed beings who are a bad omen and bring bad luck. Many believe it is a punishment from God or bad luck (based on the fact that in most parts of East Africa, it is believed that consanguinity, which entails sexual relations between people of the same bloodline, is the major cause), and that their “disease” could be contagious.

For these reasons, people with albinism have been persecuted, killed and dismembered, and graves of albinos dug up and desecrated.



A report was released on 1 April 2014 by the Dar es Salaam, Tanzania office of the Canadian charity “Under the Same Sun”, titled Reported Attacks of Persons with Albinism. The document lists 129 recent killings and 181 other attacks, all within 23 African countries.

These attacks include mutilation, violence, violation of graves, and cases of asylum-seeking.

In Tanzania (which is believed to have the largest population of Albinos in the world, with a number as high as 23,000 persons), Albinos are especially persecuted in the Shinyanga and Mwanza regions where witch doctors have promoted a belief in the potential magical and superstitious properties of albinos’ body parts. Also, that lack of education about Albinism does more to worsen the issue, as Fathers often suspect the mother of the albino child of infidelity with a white man or that the child is the ghost of a European colonist. Many albino babies become victims of infanticide due to these superstitious views.


After 2015 when Tanzania enacted tougher steps against violence against albinos, Malawi has seen a steep upsurge in killings with 18 reported killings since November 2014, and the likely toll being higher because of missing persons and unreported murders.

Witch doctors have been teaching misconceived ideas about the promise of wealth, success and power when albino hair or limbs are used in a potion as part of witchcraft practices. This has gained public attention nationally and internationally as these crimes have been reported as crimes against human rights. Infanticide, kidnapping, amputations, and decapitations, committed for purposes of supplying highly valued body parts used for amulets which are then sold in underground witchcraft market. It is clear that the main driving forces underlying these profiling crimes are ignorance, myth, and superstition, such as the belief that individuals with albinism possess superpowers or that their body parts bestow fortune and health. It is commonly known that in many communities, predominantly in Tanzania and parts of east Africa, superstitious views derived from ancient spiritual beliefs and reinforced by local witch doctors have been carried through centuries of ritualistic practices and mythical beliefs.

Senior police officers claim that these body parts may be sold for as much as US$75,000 on the black market for a set of arms, legs, ears, and genitals from an individual with albinism. Therefore, there has been an extensive amount of albino murders in the past decade especially in Burundi and Tanzania, where in 2007 more than seventy documented killings took place and one hundred and fifty body parts of albinos were reported to have been chopped off. Now, the number of killings is well over one hundred, with low conviction rates, and albinos continue to have limbs severed, leaving many crippled or severely maimed and traumatized.

Another myth that imposes a risk on people with albinism is the belief that sexual intercourse with a woman or a girl with albinism can cure HIV/AIDS. Sacrifice of albinos is believed also to appease the god of the mountain when there is fear of a possible volcano eruption, and it is believed too that pulling the hair of albinos can bring good luck. It has also been reported that miners use the bones of persons with albinism as amulets or bury them where they are drilling for gold.

Under The Same Sun is an organisation founded by albinism activist Peter Ash which aims to protect albinos from persecution. In a speech Peter Ash delivered on 7th June 2013, he named Tanzania, Malawi, Burundi, Nigeria, Cote d’Ivoire, South Africa, and Swaziland as the countries where Albinos experience persecution. He said, there exists a lucrative black market in albino body parts used to make what is promoted as powerful ‘muti’ medicine. The hand, arm or any albino organ is combined with other ingredients and then sold for thousands of dollars: $3,000 for a hand or over $100,000 for an entire set of organs. Sometimes, body parts are even shipped across borders



In 2006, some of the first publicly reported killings were spoken about in the media, such as 34-year-old albino woman, Arithi, who was murdered with her arms and legs hacked off and sold.

In 2008, a Tanzanian man tried to sell his albino wife for a price of US$3,000 to Congolese businessmen. Although the businessmen managed to escape their arrest, Interpol has been assigned to track these men. This is what led to President Jakaya Kikwete ordering a tightening of police and protection from persecution. However, due to corruption, there is still proof that even policeman are being bribed and “bought off” to turn a blind eye to certain crimes. Although, according to BBC News, one hundred and seventy witch doctors have been arrested for involvement in inhumane interactions and intentions with albinos.

The first ever conviction for the killing of an albino in Tanzania occurred on 23rd September 2009 at the High Court in Kahama. This was a “landmark verdict” due to the fact that there had been more than 50 murders known at this time and this was the first actual conviction. The conviction came about following the murder and mutilation of a 14-year-old boy, Matatizo Dunia, who was attacked by three men in Bukombe district in Shinyanga Region in December 2008. The men carried Dunia from his home late at night before chopping him into pieces.

One of them was later found with Dunia’s leg in his possession. The rest of Dunia’s body parts were located concealed in shrubbery. The men confessed to a desire to sell Dunia’s parts to a witch doctor, yet despite this, their legal team had not anticipated the death sentence of hanging which the three men would receive. The Tanzania Albino Society’s chairman Ernest Kimaya called for the hanging to be made public to further demonstrate to others that the issue of killing albinos was to be taken seriously.


Three people were convicted of the murder of 20 year old Thandazile Mpunzi, including her 17 year old boyfriend. The boyfriend lured Mpunzi to an isolated area on the afternoon of August 1, 2015 in the Phelandaba area of Emanguzi in northern KwaZulu-Natal. She was strangled, murdered and body parts dismembered. They planned to sell the body parts of Thandazile Mpunzi for a fortune. They claimed that a traditional healer told them they would get rich if they mixed Mpunzi’s blood and parts with ‘muthi’. Two of the accused pleaded guilty of murder and were sentenced to 20 years imprisonment.

It is 2018, and we cannot with the least degree of confidence say that the Persecution of People With Albinism has been effectively contained or stopped. One wonders, when really will Africa move on from primitive ways and begin to grow?

Culled from Wikipedia (Persecution of People With Albinism).

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