A recent demonstration last week in the Tanzanian capital of Dar es Salaam has refocused attention on an ongoing problem in that African country: that of the ritual murder of Albino blacks by witchdoctors to use their body parts in “medicine.”
Albinism is a genetic disorder that impairs normal skin pigmentation and afflicts more than 200,000 Tanzanians. Albinos, with their pinkish skin and light blue eyes, stand out among Tanzania’s population.
They are called “muzungu”, Swahili for “white man”, or “zeru zeru”, meaning “ghost”—but most of all, they are sought for their body parts: hair, eyes, internal organs, and skin by the ever-present African witchdoctors for use in primitive “medicine.”
The phenomenon is not limited to Tanzania, of course, All over Africa, in varying intensity, Albinos are often hunted down and killed by locals on the instruction of witchdoctors—sometimes for “revenge” for natural misfortunes, but most often for use in medicine.”
Albinos have been attacked in West Africa, Kenya, Burundi, and South Africa—all have reported a renewed rush on albino murders.
In South Africa, Albino-generated “medicine” is viewed as a cure to all manner of problems, which vary from impotency to becoming “invisible” to the police.
A few months ago, when South African Police shot a number of miners in an internationally publicized event in at Marikana, it emerged that the striking blacks were convinced that they were invisible and impervious to the police because they had all bee “treated” by a witchdoctor for that purpose the night before.
The taking of body parts is called “muti”, or potion. People of light complexion are believed to make strong “muti.”
This practice in South Africa was first recorded by the early European settlers during the seventeenth century when small European groups were attacked and their sexual organs cut off by black attackers.
It is believed that if a body part is cut while the victim is still alive, the increased pain makes the “muti” all the more powerful.
The mistaken belief that albino body parts have magical powers has driven thousands of Africa’s albinos into hiding, fearful of losing their lives and limbs to unscrupulous dealers who can make up to $75,000 selling a complete dismembered corpse.
The surge in the use of albino body parts as good luck charms is a result of “a kind of marketing exercise by witch doctors,” the International Federation for the Red Cross and Crescent societies said.
The report says the market for albino parts exists mainly in Tanzania, where a complete set of body parts—including all limbs, genitals, ears, tongue and nose —can sell for $75,000. Wealthy buyers use the parts as talismans to bring them wealth and good fortune.
For example, a recent report from Tanzania revealed that nine people had been arrested for chopping off the hand of a nine-year-old albino. When arrested, the men were trying to sell the limb.
Another report, issued recently by the United Nations, said that albinos “are regarded as ghosts and not human beings who can be wiped off the global map,” and that “[p]eople living with albinism [are] the target of many false and harmful myths in several countries, especially in the African region.”
“These are manifestations of the worst forms of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment and can never be justified,” the Special Rapporteur on torture, Juan E. Méndez, said. “Under international human rights law it is the duty of the State to afford protection to persons with albinism against such barbaric acts.”
People with albinism are not only brutally mutilated and tortured, but also killed or buried alive with deceased tribal chiefs so as not to leave them in the grave alone. “These acts must be stopped and the perpetrators must be brought to justice without delay,” said Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary, or arbitrary executions, Christof Heyns.