On 13 June 2018, the Centre for Human Rights (the Centre) joined the Minister of Arts & Culture Nathi Mthethwa, Commissioner Nomasonto Mazibuko, Commissioner for Gender Equality and the Albinism Association of South Africa in the 5thcommemoration of the International Albinism Awareness Day. The theme for this year’s commemoration was “Shining Our Light to the World.”
Jehoshaphat Njau, Moyahabo Thoka and Maria Nantege from the Centre’s Disability Rights Unit attended the commemoration, held at the J. Khananda Primary School and Leonard Ntshuntshe Secondary School in eMalahleni (formerly Witbank), Mpumalanga Province.
This year’s commemorations were centered around the life of Gabisile Shabane, a 14-year-old high school learner with albinism from Leonard Ntshuntshe Secondary School. Gabisile was kidnapped and killed in an attack which was believed to have been motivated by the myths that the body parts of persons with albinism have magical power when used for ritual purposes.
The day began at the schools where Minister Mthethwa, Commissioner Mazibuko, the acting Mayor of the eMalahleni municipality, as well as actors Pallance Dladla and Sidumo Mtshali spoke to the learners and educators on the plight of people with albinism. They spoke out in the strongest of terms against the attacks of persons with albinism in South Africa.
In his address the Minister made it clear that such negative beliefs have no place in today's South Africa and the government will do all that it can to ensure that these myths are eradicated. The Minister acknowledged that the government has not done enough in raising awareness of the plight of people with albinism by adequately educating communities of the rights of people with albinism. He made a commitment to address the issue by starting with the education of the learners and the communities across South Africa on the importance of respecting the right to life and dignity of people with albinism.
The speeches at the schools were followed by the planting of trees at the school premises in memory of Gabisile Shabane.
At the end of the activities at the school, the learners, the members of the public who had joined the leaners at the school along with the minister took to the street under the watchful eyes of the members of the eMalahleni Police Department and marched to the Community Hall for the main event.
At the Community Hall, Ms Lindah Malatjle who is a traditional healer spoke against the attacks on people with albinism and made it clear to the members of the eMalahleni community, that the attacks and the killings of people with albinism are against the true values of the African traditions as well as the practice of the traditional healers.
In her speech, Commissioner Mazibuko conveyed her sincere condolences to Gabisile’s mother who was present and called on the government to see that justice is served by ensuring the alleged attackers who are now in custody face the full mighty of the law so as to send a strong message to the community and the country that these unlawful attacks will not be tolerated. The commissioner used her speech to celebrate the achievements and accomplishments made by people with albinism despite facing challenges such as low vision, skin conditions and attacks. She added that people with albinism are just as capable as their melanated counterparts and she remains hopeful that one day if not very soon the country will get its first member of parliament with albinism.
Gabisile’s mother also shared with great difficulty the terrible pain she had had to endure and live with after the gruesome death of her child as well as how she has had to fight off threats of her child’s grave being violated.
After the speeches, the members of community were entertained with a poem by Boitumelo Mainyanga aka Gaddafi a well-known local poet with albinism who is also an Information science honours graduate. Boitumelo’s piece was a beautiful crafted narration of his lived experiences as a person with albinism and how he overcame a myriad of challenges to become a passionate and successful poet he is today.
The highlight of the day was the play organised by the Department of Art and Culture titled "Mama, I want to be black like you". The play was a story of a teenage girl with albinism who was abused and raped by her stepfather who also plotted to have the girl kidnapped and killed in exchange of money. At the heart of the play lay a beautifully depiction of how this girl with the support of her mother grew from strength to strength and was able to fend-off and stand against the attacks from her stepfather.
The Centre joins the United Nations Independent Expert on the enjoyment of the human rights by persons with albinism in calling on the government of South Africa to adopt and implement the Regional Action Plan on Albinism in Africa as well as the newly adopted resolution by the Pan African Parliament that will facilitate the investigation and the prosecution of perpetrators of the attacks and ensure effective education and awareness training on the human rights of people with albinism.
In all, it was a very enlightening experience for all who attended most importantly for the members of the eMalahleni municipality.
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