Ofentse Serurubele who is an albinism expert leads a 60 member association formed to advocate for people with albinism in Botswana. Despite her poor health, she attended the ‘Action on Albinism in Africa’ summit which was held in Dar-Es-Salaam, Tanzania from the 16th -19thJune. She also attended another conference last year. In a low tone, she explained that this year’s conference was called because of what she termed “pressing circumstances”.
“There was a problem of killings and persecutions on people with albinism in Tanzania, Mozambique, Malawi and Kenya. A total of 489 people were reported to have been murdered and injured between December 2015 and May 2016. Concerned stakeholders, including United Nations agencies decided that there must be an urgent meeting,” she says.
She explained that the victims are victimised by their relatives and family members. In light of these revelations, the summit made resolutions with the view to improve the livelihoods of people with albinism. “For instance, in Malawi they have recently banned traditional doctors. Traditional healers are known to encourage killings of the people with albinism because they say their body parts have the potential to enhance powerful muti. I think they have done the right thing because that country is one of those in which you would find in a mall, someone wrestling with a person with albinism for their hair-trying to cut it- because it is believed that even the hair can make a powerful mixture of medicine,” she says. She adds that some traditional healers and even cultural norms believe that an HIV positive man can be healed by having sex with a woman with albinism.
When I quizzed her on whether ritual killings of people with albinism exist in Botswana, Serurubele says “I cannot give you a yes or no answer for that question. However, I received two reports on the 13th of June of two attempted murders. I am still assessing the reports. It was for this reason that one of the resolutions the summit reached was that governments should form special groups for assessment of cases involving people with albinism. Just as it is the case with people with albinism in other countries, I am informed that police say evidence on the reports are not convincing enough for legal action to be taken against criminal suspects. Because they know they have poor visions, their marauders often use it against them. When they escape attacks and later give evidence in court, cross-examinations leave victims speaking against themselves.”
She also points out that women are at a higher risk than men, adding that legislation policies should be implemented for their protection-especially their sexual rights.
“We therefore discussed how countries can strengthen awareness raising; promote community involvement in protecting people with albinism; have data collection to ascertain the number of those who died, how they died and the number of survivors of attacks as well as evaluating and bringing forth, needs of people with albinism.”
Another commitment was the improvement of education. Many countries, including Botswana do not have an education system that is accommodative of people with albinism. There is no special education for the people with albinism.
“Teachers do not know that learners with albinism should sit in the front. They do not know that such learners need certain chalk boards and chalks as well as special fonts in order to excel in their education. Health was another issue. In many countries we do not have sufficient sunscreens and other necessities. Poverty is yet another thing. About 95 per cent of us are unemployed and hence live in adverse poverty. This subjects a lot of us to all forms of abuse,” she says.
She adds that the few who made it look down upon their brothers and sisters. Some do not understand their conditions as they get employed in trades that worsen their conditions such as building.
She says the summit agreed that measures should be put in place to ensure that immediate, short and long term steps are taken to tackle the problem. Some of the measures agreed upon include protective, preventative and accountability measures.
She says there is discrimination against people living with albinism in Botswana although many Batswana deny that. “I know very well that we are not helped equally even in public areas. There are people who hate us or fear us.”
She concluded by saying that the immediate steps that they will take include engaging the media, organise public talks and motorcades as a way of educating the nation about the plight of people with albinism.