- Although albinism is rare worldwide, it is relatively common in Africa due to consanguinity and is seen as a punishment or curse.
- There is a demand in the black market of body parts that are being used in amulets, potions, and dark rituals.
They call it the birthplace of humanity, but in certain bloodstained corners of Africa, humanity is in short supply. It is also known as the Dark Continent. Perhaps this is a more appropriate name for the wild land where the dark deeds recounted in the following paragraphs take place.
Licensed African witch doctors do a roaring trade in the severed body parts of people with albinism (or PWAs), believing that they are good luck and contain magical powers. They use the ill-gotten body parts in rituals and potions supposed to bring the user prosperity. Sometimes the patient / customer has to source these macabre ‘ingredients’ themselves. I’ve heard of doctors charging an arm and a leg for their services, but this is just ridiculous!
Although albinism is quite rare worldwide (affecting approximately one in twenty thousand people) it is comparatively common in Africa, which is likely due to consanguinity. Due to poor African education levels, many do not understand the medical and genetic causes of the condition, instead viewing it as some sort of punishment or curse.
Due to their highly sought after body parts, PWAs have been hunted, dismembered and even murdered. The demand has led to a black market in albino body parts as merciless albino hunters have turned their attentions to PWAs in widespread violence. The severed limbs and heads fetch top dollar and are then used in amulets, potions and dark rituals. It is said that a matching set of arms, legs, ears and genitals from a single PWA can fetch US$100,000 on the black market. In Tanzania alone in 2015, one hundred PWAs were murdered for their body parts whilst 150 more were attacked but survived.
Another common belief is that sexual intercourse with a woman or girl with albinism can cure HIV/AIDS, leading to widespread cases of PWA rape and HIV/AIDS infection. Other ‘uses’ for unfortunate PWAs are to be sacrificed to appease the ‘mountain god’ (calm an ‘angry’ volcano) or to be murdered and buried by gold miners at their dig sites to bring fortune. The witch doctors in question are like crime lords commanding vast networks of helpers, middlemen and clients including corrupt police officers.
Due to the stigma attached to albinism, the corrupt networks pulling the strings and a largely apathetic public (most do not consider PWAs humans, but ghosts or devils), murder convictions against albino hunters are incredibly rare. However, in one landmark case in 2009, the first murder conviction against Tanzanian albino hunters was recorded at the High Court in Kahama. It was a landmark verdict because fifty recent PWA murders had been committed at the time and this was the only conviction. Fourteen year old PWA Matatizo Dunia was attacked in his home in Bukombe by a gang of three albino hunters, kidnapped and brutally murdered and dismembered.
One of his murderers was later caught red-handed with Matatizo’s leg. The rest of the crudely hacked up body was hidden in nearby shrubbery. The gang confessed to the crime. Their motive was, as expected, wishing to sell the body parts to a witch doctor. Everyone, including their lawyers, expected the gang to be shown leniency. After all, there had never been a PWA murder conviction in the country before. However, all three men were sentenced to death by hanging. Now they were the ones without a leg to stand on.
Sadly, Matatizo’s story is just one among many similar tales from this harsh, unforgiving land where life is cheap and corruption is rife. In fact, instead of abating, cases of PWA violence have actually seen a surge lately. In some ways this is a reactionary pushback against some governments finally beginning to make the first steps toward cracking down on PWA persecution.