Botswana albinos fear they are also being hunted down for muti

28 Aug 2017

In a Botswana so badly evolved that it now provides its fair share of bad news from Africa, a regional Amnesty International conference in Pretoria has just heard deeply disturbing news: that the practice of hunting down, slaughtering albinos and harvesting their body parts for muti may also be occurring in the country. Only one African country – Tanzania – has been associated with such ritual killings. The bearer of the tragic news was the Chairperson of the Albinism Society of Botswana, Sergeant Kgosietsile, who was only repeating a sentiment that is widely held within the Society that he heads. To Sunday Standard, Kgosietsile, elaborated that there is “very strong fear and suspicion” among Society members that albinos are being targeted. He then laid out a hypothesis that makes perfect sense.

“Tanzanian traditional doctors practice in Botswana and it is reasonable to conclude that they will do here what they do back in their country. The one other thing is that traditional doctors operate the same way: a Motswana doctor will do what his counterparts in other parts of the continent believe to work. If body parts of a murdered albino are supposed to make strong muti in Tanzania, Batswana doctors are definitely going to want to engage in similar practice,” Kgosietsile says. Botswana is certainly not doing enough to protect albinos but the toughest place on earth for them is Tanzania where they are killed and their body parts sold to make muti potions. The amounts vary wildly but according to the Red Cross, a complete set of body parts costs P750 000. Kgosietsile’s Society believes that the albino ritual killing that members believe happen in Botswana is obscured by the language that authorities use. Kgosietsile says that ritual killings are reported in the form of “a man has been killed for ritual purposes” which doesn’t raise any red flag unless the report was more specific. He would prefer reportage along the lines of “an albino man has been killed for ritual purposes.” He believes that more precise description such as the Society advocates would reveal that Botswana albinos are under attack. Kgosietsile says that some time in the past, the Society approached Statistics Botswana with a proposal that its population and housing censuses should identify albinos as such. Members believe that this disaggregation would yield information that would enhance their visibility in society.

For one, Kgosietsile believes that such disaggregation would help illuminate the ritual killing issue because it would show how many albinos died and what they died of. As he recalls, the response from Statistics Botswana was that instructions for such disaggregation would have to come from upstairs. There is a deeper legal problem which Kgosietsile says exposes them to ritual killing danger. A High Court judgement by Justice Ian Kirby has established that no section of the penal code creates an offence for being found with human body parts. The finding occurred on the back of a case in which a man who had been found with such parts had stood trial for murder. The difficulty that the prosecution faced was linking those parts to a specific individual who had been murdered. Kgosietsile says that the law must be amended in such manner that there is compulsory DNA testing for all citizens. In the event anyone is found with human body parts, forensic investigations would quickly and easily establish whom they belong to and the culprit would be charged. Even more interesting is who pointed out this gap in the law and explained what its implications are: a senior official from the Directorate of Public Prosecutions who featured as a speaker at the Society’s meetings. One deeply disturbing detail that this official reportedly mentioned was that this gap makes it easy for traditional doctors from other countries to exploit it by killing albinos and hoarding their body parts, secure in the knowledge that Botswana law doesn’t attach liability to possession of such parts.

Kgosietsile says that the Society is lobbying parliament on the promulgation of a law that creates a national DNA database. Kgosietsile appraised the world about the situation of Botswana albinos at a Pretoria event that was held on the sidelines of the SADC Summit. The meeting heard that Botswana is the only SADC country to not have ratified and domesticated the UN Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities (CRPD). Recently, the Society delivered a petition to parliament that calls on the government to adopt the Disability Policy as well as sign and ratify the CRPD. The petition also calls on the government to enact “empowerment laws that grant persons with disabilities certain privileges consistent with their levels of disability.” Material-wise, albinos want the government to provide them with topical creams, sunglasses and hats in order that they can shield themselves from the sun. Without such protection, albinos get skin cancer which shortens their lifespans drastically. Within a school setting, they want albino students to sit at the front in classrooms because even with glasses, they are unable to see far. Kgosietsile says that other SADC countries are far ahead of Botswana in terms of according albinos the privileges that they are still agitating for. He says that countries like South Africa, Lesotho, Swaziland, Malawi and Tanzania provide albinos with topical creams.

“Tanzania and Malawi actually make sure that the cream is manufactured locally,” he adds. While Kgosietsile, who is the Marulamantsi councillor in the Gaborone City Council, describes the plight of albinos in life-and-death terms, the government is not moving fast enough. The Society wanted the government to adopt the Disability Policy during the current sitting but that appears unlikely. Parliament itself never got to debate the petition with the Speaker, Gladys Kokorwe, explaining that in terms of the standing orders, all the house is required to do is send the petition to the relevant ministry. Kgosietsile says that if the government drags its feet, the Society will seek help from outside or even go to the High Court. In the absence of disability legislation, those with disabilities often have to rely on charity but Kgosietsile says that is not good enough for them. “We want our rights to be codified into law and not have to rely on charity. A poor albino child in Shakawe struggles to get topical creams and all too often develops cancer. We want that child to have a right under the law to be provided with such creams by the government,” he says.