Photo: NY TIMES
Zeru-zeru,(ghost) Dundus, ( a body without a soul) Cockroaches, (things that scurried in the dark) Blafards( white fatty part of pig). These are some of the names that Albinos are called in East Africa.
On stage, Sixmond Mdeka goes by the name Ras Six. He is a successful reggae singer in his homeland of Tanzania, yet despite his fame, he is haunted by another name – East Africa Yellow Man.
Mdeka has albinism – his skin, hair and eyes lack melanin, the pigment that gives skin its colour and helps to protect it from damage by ultraviolet light from the Sun. It is a genetic disorder inherited from parents who both carry a faulty gene that prevents the skin from making melanin properly.
Tanzania has a dark relationship with albinism. Witch doctors hunt those suffering from the condition for their body parts, which are used in potions to bring good luck and wealth. Victims can be kidnapped and then dismembered by hired killers, or even sold by unscrupulous family members, withbody parts fetching up to $75,000 (£60,000). The UN estimates around 80 people with albinism in Tanzania have been murdered since 2000.
But these brutal attacks are not the greatest threat to people with albinism in Africa. They face a slower death from a disease known as the “silent killer”. Without melanin to protect them, they have a much higher risk of getting skin cancer.