Albino Traffickers – Hunted Down Due to Superstitions in Mozambique
In parts of southern Africa, people with albinism are killed or sold by traffickers.
MAPUTO, Mozambique — One day in October 2015, Electerio João’s brother-in-law called him up and asked him to come “work and earn money.” Mr. João, who was 22 at the time, welcomed the opportunity. He was living with his mother in a small mud-brick house in the village of Namina in northern Mozambique. He needed the cash.
But he quickly realized that he was going to be the source of cash, not labor. His brother-in-law, working with three of his friends, tied up Mr. João with a rope and took him to the side of a main road, where they planned to sell him for his body parts.
Mr. João has albinism. Superstition in Mozambique and nearby countries like Malawi and Tanzania holds that if you have a piece of albinism on you — in the form of a bone or piece of skin — you’ll have luck and money. In Mozambique a person with albinism can be worth $4,000 to $75,000.
Since the end of 2014, dozens of albinos in Mozambique have been kidnapped or murdered, often by family members. In Malawi, 20 albinos have been killed in the same period and hundreds more attacked. In both countries, albinos’ graves have been desecrated, with corpses dug up for talismans. Those who aren’t abducted or killed face discrimination and live in fear.
I came to this corner of southern Africa in 2015 to chronicle the albino community and its difficulties. I took hundreds of photographs and met dozens of albinos and their families. What I found was fear. Albinos try to avoid leaving their houses. Children avoid school and walking alone. Everyone is a threat. Many of the people I interviewed and photographed didn’t believe I was a journalist at first — they thought I wanted to kidnap and sell them.
Word of Mr. João’s sale made its way to some buyers. After he and his captors spent several hours waiting by the side of the road, the would-be purchasers arrived. Luckily, they were from the police. Mr. João was released; his brother-in-law and his co-conspirators were arrested. It was the first time that Mozambique’s police had caught albino smugglers in the act. Mr. João is still afraid, though, as were all of the albinos and their families I spoke with and photographed in Mozambique and Malawi.
Eva Robert, 4, lives in Tete, Mozambique with her parents and brother Marco, 11, who also has albinism. The siblings are sent away to school for their safety.