By: Ibitola Adesuyi
Albinism is a genetic condition that affects 1 in 17,000 people in the world. [a] In Zimbabwe, it is estimated that there are about 14 to 17,000 albinos in residence, though there are no definite statistics on albinos because of their exclusion from society. [b] Albinism is a result of a mutation of several genes that causes a deficit in the production of melanin. Thus, albinos lack pigmentation in their skin, hair, and eyes. Unfortunately for albinos in Zimbabwe, this does not just represent a physical difference; it signifies isolation, discrimination, and rejection from the population. Albinos in Zimbabwe are treated as outcasts. People with albinism are seen as a curse from God or a sign that the ancestors are unhappy. Many people also believe that Albinism is contagious and avoid contact with albinos. Many albinos have reported disheartening stories of superstition fueled discrimination, such as people being afraid to touch them, people denying them services, and people choosing seating far away from them in public places. Additionally, albino women have increasingly been the targets of rape- a practice fuelled by myths that if an HIV infected man sleeps with an albino woman, he will be cured. [c] Unfortunately, these false beliefs of albinism are rooted in Zimbabwean culture, and are passed to future generations, which create a never-ending cycle of discrimination. However, is a cultural approach ever the right basis for discrimination?
There is no doubt that culture is one of the building blocks of a person’s character and moral upbringing. However, when culture dilutes the mind of an individual and devalues the life of a human being because of a physical difference, should this belief be followed? Zimbabwean beliefs of albinos are discriminatory, and this aspect of the culture should be altered. There should be a limit to which culture plays a prevalent role in the overall lives of individuals, especially when it is discriminatory. The discrimination against albinos in Zimbabwe is destroying a group at the expense of cultural beliefs and it is unjust. This discrimination can be compared to the plight of the African-American community in the United States during and after slavery. A belief in the United States was that African-Americans, because of their skin color, despite the same genetic makeup as White-Americans, had no value and should be treated as outcast. Consequently, African-Americans were lynched, burned, denied access to services, and were subject to other racially fuelled practices. In order to change the tradition of bigotry in the United States, there had to be a shift in values to break the cycle of discrimination, and to grant rights to African-Americans. This exact form of prejudice is taking place in Zimbabwe; history is repeating itself and albinos are the subjects to these devastating discriminatory laws. Just like in the United States, there has to be a change of values in Zimbabwe. Zimbabwe needs to follow in the path of the United States and respect God-given rights to individuals.
If Zimbabwe is to follow the on the path of the United states, it needs to change its cultural beliefs; which is hard because there is nothing tangible to change. It is the mindset of people, which have been socially constructed for years, that needs to be altered. Nonetheless, the power of education could be the key to change in Zimbabwe. Even though it will be hard to change the minds of the older generations who have lived with the stereotype for many years, the younger generations can be taught to break the cycle of hatred.
In order to accomplish this, there needs to be more images of albinos around Zimbabwe, especially in daily lives and in the workforce. This can help subdue the idea of albinism being contagious, and the need to exclude them from society. Additionally, this would serve as a template towards equality in Zimbabwe. It would also serve as encouragement to albinos-for one, that they are being more accepted in the country, and also it would serve as encouragement to continue to pursue their education. Currently, the albino community is one of the most poorly educated in Zimbabwe and many employers refuse to employ them. [d] A more positive image of albinos would not only help quell these false beliefs for employers, but it would also serve as hope to achieving successful careers for albinos. Also, there needs to be more organizations that advocate for the rights of albinos. Currently, ZIMAS (Zimbabwe Albino Association) is the main organization advocating for the rights of albinos, but there needs to be more. The government needs to be coerced to place the equality of albinos as a priority. This would make them create laws that can help guard the rights of albinos. These organizations have the power to reach masses of people and educate them on albinism.
Equality should be a main priority for the Zimbabwean government. A cultural belief about the physical appearance of a person is never a right basis for discrimination, matter of fact; nothing is the right basis for discrimination. Just because it is a cultural belief does not make it right. Every human being has rights that should and need to be honored regardless of their location. The struggle that albinos face because of a belief in Zimbabwe is sad, and a push to educate the public is the only means of changing this situation. The mindset of people needs to change, and education is the only key towards that goal.
a) Juliet Lapidos “ How Many Albinos Are in Tanzania?” Slate January 6, 2009. http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/explainer/2009/01/how_many_albinos_are_in_tanzania.html
b) Moses Chibaya “People living with albinism bemoan lack of sunscreen” The Standard June 23, 2013. http://www.thestandard.co.zw/2013/06/23/people-living-with-albinism-bemoan-lack-of-sunscreen/
c) Lewis Machipisa “Albinos hit Zimbabwe’s race divide” BBC News January 14, 2003. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/africa/2646967.stm
d) Donald G. McNeil “Black, Yet White: A Hated Color in Zimbabwe.” New York Times Febraury 9, 1997. http://www.nytimes.com/1997/02/09/world/black-yet-white-a-hated-color-in-zimbabwe.html?pagewanted=all&src=pm