South African Bishop Sithembele Sipuka has denounced the epidemic of violence against albinos, calling on the African church to employ all its resources to bring the practice to an end.
Sipuka, the Catholic bishop of Mthatha and first vice president of the Symposium of Episcopal Conferences of Africa and Madagascar (SECAM), said this week that the symposium condemns “all forms of violence against albinos,” from murders to mutilations to prejudiced attitudes.
In certain African countries like Tanzania, Malawi, and Mozambique, people with albinism — a congenital condition that leaves a person without pigmentation in their skin and hair — are often hunted and killed for their body parts, which can be sold for thousands of dollars and are used in witchcraft rituals.
Some witch doctors claim that bones and other body parts of albinos, especially children, can bring riches, success, power, or sexual conquest.
“It’s the mindset that needs to be changed,” Bishop Sipuka said, adding that superstitions against albinos are deeply rooted.
“It is simply a biological condition,” the bishop said. “We need to educate people about albinism in our schools, catechisms and sermons” because “everybody is created in the likeness of God, and we need to acknowledge and protect that.”
According to a report this week from Amnesty International, approximately 150 people with albinism have been killed for their body parts in African countries that include Tanzania, Malawi, Mozambique and Congo since 2014.
Tanzania alone accounted for half these murders, with 76 albinos killed during this five-year period, Amnesty International noted prior to a meeting of the Southern African Development Community (SADC).
Across southern Africa, albinos “live in fear of being killed or abducted for their body parts,” the group said.
“These waves of violent attacks are fueled by the false and dangerous myth that body parts of persons with albinism can make someone rich,” it said.
Last January, Archbishop Thomas Luke Msusa of Blantyre, Malawi, decried a wave of ritual killings of people with albinism in his country, which he said could have been prevented by greater vigilance by the government.
Malawi intelligence services “could have identified the market for the bones in order to end the killings of the people with albinism,” he noted.
“This would have helped to bust the syndicate or the traders of the bones,” said the archbishop, who is a convert to the Catholic faith from Islam. “They would have identified the market long ago.”
“Please my brothers and sisters don’t just wait for the [sic] us to condemn these acts,” Msusa said in June 2018. “Don’t just wait for the bishops to write pastoral letters, no. We should all come together and with one voice speak vehemently against these abductions and killings of people with albinism.”
These “evil acts” are just too many in our society, he said.