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Superstitions haunt people with albinism beyond the grave



Staff Reporter

Dozens of graves containing bodies of people with albinism have either been robbed or violated over the past five years in different parts of Africa – including South Africa – by people targeting their body parts and other personal effects, a new book on African skin conditions says.

The African Atlas, Synopsis and Practical Guide to Clinical Dermatology by Bloemfontein dermatologist Dr Lehlohonolo Makhakhe states that at least 28 graves were robbed and a further 22 violated.

The book says a shocking 207 people living albinism were killed from a reported 507 attacks in which they were targeted for their body parts and ritual purposes.

“Albinism is a genetic condition that affects melanocytes, which are pigment-containing cells in the skin,” Makhakhe told The Free Stater as he dismissed the superstitious beliefs.

“People living with albinism need skin care, eye care and support from society,” he explained.

“They are born with normal intelligence and full capacity that is mostly not fully realised due to societal stigma and faulty beliefs that their skin or body parts have some supernatural powers.”

According to the book — which is the first comprehensive full-colour volume in southern Africa featuring visuals of mostly black people with different skin conditions — those attacked risked being mutilated, treated violently, raped or abducted, forcing those who survived to seek refuge elsewhere.

The book says the attacks and killings could be much higher as many other cases are never reported to the authorities or documented.

“These ritual attacks frequently find their roots in ancient ancestral beliefs and have been going on . . .” Makhakhe says in the book which he describes as a life-time goal.

The African Skin Atlas further states about nine cases of violations against people with albinism were reported in South Africa in early 2018.

It says four people with albinism were killed, two went missing, two survived attacks and there was one grave robbery.

The book says it is believed there is a thriving cross-border trade of people with albinism and their body parts.

According to the book, other countries known to be involved in the trading include Tanzania, Burundi, Kenya, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Mozambique and Swaziland.

Free State police say they have not handled any case involving attacks on people with albinism in recent years.

The book has 36 chapters and it explores a variety of other topics.

Makhakhe, who wrote the book with the support of about 20 black medical practitioners from different disciplines, described it as a practical approach and insight to common dermatoses in the southern African setting.

“The book is of vital importance in many ways including, unifying medical specialists, demonstrating that even though we all work in different fields in medicine, some skin conditions can play a unifying role,” he told The Free Stater.

“An HIV specialist will see some skin conditions, diabetic specialists will also encounter diabetic related skin conditions, same with psychiatrists, child specialists and even skin signs of child abuse.”

The book has been accepted as part of the curriculum for third to final-year medical students at the University of the Free State and will also be offered as a supplementary book for nursing students.

“About 80-90 percent of our referrals from primary healthcare are basic skin conditions with treatment readily available at the same referring facilities,” said Makhakhe who is also a lecturer at the University of the Free State.

“This book seeks to give doctors and nurses access to basic knowledge of diagnosis, principles of treatment as well as when to refer in order to prevent late referrals and accompanying complications.”

He believes the book will help unleash other academic writers to offer “decolonised” and “recommodified” learning material.

GAME CHANGER . . . African Atlas, Synopsis and Practical Guide to Clinical Dermatology


Book explores challenges faced by widows



Widows face a different kind of challenges after the death of a spouse and have to raise the children and pick up the pieces.

However, moving on and forging ahead is not as easy as it seems and the painful stories faced by widows are hardly told.

The challenges, pain, sorrow and tears that widows often encounter following the death of a spouse are well-documented in a brilliantly written novel, Tears of an African Widow.

Authored by Dorah Nomhle Klaas from Bloemfontein, the novel tells the story of a couple of Qhawe and Banzi who fell in love while at university and got married.

But tragedy befalls Banzi who dies in a car accident and Qhawe is blamed for his death.

As with other novels which often end in either tragedy or sorrow for the protagonist, the author gives the reader a happy ending.

Once started, it’s hard to put the book down as its storyline is relatable to reality and explores the pain of a widow.

According to Klaas, she wanted to tell and demonstrate through fiction challenges widows often encounter in real life.

Even though she herself is not a widow, she often sat around widows who narrated their stories and she also drew inspiration from the society and the perception it gives to widows and how different the treatment is when compared to widowers.

The Bloemfontein-based author also witnessed her sisters’ lives after they became widows.

The book takes the reader on a memorable and educational journey and showcases happiness can be achieved after passing through turmoil. – Own Correspondent

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