Candice Mwakalyelye is a successful television personality in her homeland of Zimbabwe. Candice has albinism – her skin, hair and eyes lack melanin, the pigment that gives skin its colour and helps to protect it from damage by ultraviolet light from the sun. It is a genetic mutation inherited from parents who both carry genes which prevent the skin from making melanin properly. However, she is a ray of hope on the community of people living with albinism in the country!
Until recent years, Africa,in general, has had a dark relationship with albinism. There have been sporadic reports of witch doctors who repohunt those suffering from the condition for their body parts, which are used in potions to bring good luck and wealth. Victims can be kidnapped and then dismembered by hired killers, or even sold by unscrupulous family members, with body parts fetching up to $75,000 (£60,000). The UN estimates around 80 people with albinism in Tanzania have been murdered since 2000. Interestingly, Candice Mwakalyelye has Tanzanian heritage.
Throughout Africa, an indeterminate number of individuals with albinism, especially children, have been the victims of brutal attacks and murder in the name of witchcraft, superstition, and wealth. Most recently, the atrocities committed against albinos has received widespread attention because of various crimes reported, such as infanticide, kidnapping, amputations, and decapitations, committed for purposes of supplying highly valued body parts used for amulets, which are then sold in underground witchcraft markets. But these brutal attacks are not the greatest threat to people with albinism in Africa. They face a slower death from a stigmatisation from friends and family as albinism in Africa is synonymous with social leprosy. They are treated as outcasts as there has not been much education behind the causes of the condition.
Candice Mwakalyelye is one of the lucky ones who have experienced love from family and friends. Perhaps the best ingredient to her career as she is arguably the first Zimbabwean with albinism to grace television screens and showbiz.
“I was raised in a family that treated me the same as everyone else. It is because of this that I was able to experience life as a normal child, noone looked at me as being different possibly because I didn’t act different. This has shaped my life and made it possible for me to freely explore my dreams without fear of prejudice“
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. Thus, the stigma and atrocities affecting the albino population may be attributed to lack of familiarity and education about albinism coupled with ignorance.
Although some people, like Candice, may benefit from a good family support system, once they leave home many encounter rejection by employers in what some have described as “apartheid in reverse.” A phenomenon which Candice managed to also circumvent. The superstitions surrounding albinism may also place mothers of children with albinism in a vulnerable position, subject to stigmatization and harassment, and resulting in severe psychosocial distress.
It is high time Africans have been educated to counter the prevalent stigma associated with people with albinism. They deserve love and support to excel in life as has been the case with Candice!
This article was written in commemoration of the International Albinism Awareness Day as part #Day9 of the #Afrobloggers #WinterABC2022 blogging festival in collaboration with Miss Albinism Zimbabwe Trust.