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A brief overview on albinism

Albinism is a genetic condition that affects the pigment in the skin, eyes and hair. Albinism is characterised by little or no melanin production. So, most people with albinism have very pale skin, hair, and eyes. It can affect people of all races, and there are different kinds of albinism.

Except for eye problems, most people with albinism are just as healthy as anyone else and in very rare cases a person’s albinism is part of another condition that involves other health problems. People with these types of albinism can have health complications such as bleeding, lung, bowel, and immune system problems.

Persecution of people with albinism (sometimes abbreviated PWA)

PWA  is based on the belief that certain body parts of people with albinism can transmit magical powers. Such fallacies are present especially in some parts of the African Great Lakes region. It 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 (muti or medicine murder).

Maxwell Thabethe, the chairperson of the Kwa-Zulu Natal Albinism Society, declared that the issue for people with albinism is their safety and continued by stating, “It is known that people with albinism are fearing for their lives as they are hunted like wild animals. It is very disturbing that sometimes when we go to the police station to report suspicious things the cops tell us to bring proof. This is the sad reality, and everybody has heard about people with albinism being kidnapped or found dead with parts of their bodies missing” (Daily Sun: 2018).

Colour discrimination against people with albinism in South Africa

Diverse sociological and psychological factors give skin colour its present connotation (Jones: 2000; 49:1487-1556). In the history of Africa, discrimination on the basis of skin colour is not new – the system of privilege and prejudice founded on the extent of lightness or darkness of a person’s skin colour  has been addressed with such phrases as ‘colourism’, ‘sadism’, ‘skin tone bias’, ‘pigmentocracy’ and ‘colour complex’ (Gabriel, 2000:11. http://salford.academia)

Any label used to describe a person’s skin colour is fraught with problems and may point to discrimination, stereotyping and perceptions of beauty, even between those of the same race. The skin colour leads to negative social constructions amongst Africans, including beliefs that they are evil cannibals or cursed. In some areas, including Namibia, people living with albinism are forced to hide out of fear of being killed and their body parts used in muti rituals. In Tanzania, sangomas (‘jujumen’) believe that albinos are immortal and that their genitals bring wealth; in South Africa, they are often perceived as a curse.

In its resolution 24/33, the Human Rights Council requested the Advisory Committee to prepare a study on the human rights of persons living with albinism and to present a report thereon to the Council at its 28th session.

In South Africa albinism is considered a disability. In many communities within South Africa, disability is still generally seen as an illness, shame or curse despite the fact that both section 9 of the Constitution, Act No. 108 of 1996 and the Promotion of Equality and Prevention of Unfair Discrimination Act, No. 4 of 2000, prohibit unfair discrimination on the basis of disability. Further to this, the Promotion of Equality and Prevention of Unfair Discrimination Act 4 of 2000, is a core piece of enabling legislation aimed at facilitating the realisation of the rights of all people in South Africa, particularly minority groups which have been historically marginalised. This would, therefore, extend to persons with albinism.


The most fundamental human need is to be loved by another person – to be known and to be accepted, which is poignantly true for the person with albinism who may be immediately noticed by many but truly seen by few. The National Organisation for Albinism and Hypopigmentation (NOAH) said that the above explains why it feels like a hidden condition despite its obviousness.