Zambian musician with albinism says coronavirus raises risk of attack

by Emma Batha | @emmabatha | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Wednesday, 19 August 2020 09:00 GMT

Zambian Zambian R&B singer John Chiti performs in an undated photo. Photo supplied by John Chiti

Image Caption and Rights Information

Zambian hit singer John Chiti says coronavirus has left people with albinism living in fear

Coronavirus is changing the world in unprecedented ways. Subscribe here for a briefing twice a week on how this global crisis is affecting cities, technology, approaches to climate change, and the lives of vulnerable people.

By Emma Batha

LONDON, Aug 19 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - The coronavirus pandemic has left people with albinism in fear of attack and murder in parts of Africa where their body parts are used for lucky charms, a Zambian musician with the condition has said.

John Chiti, 35, said there had already been one murder in Zambia since the virus emerged and the grave of a person with albinism had been dug up and body parts stolen.

Another man was reportedly attacked in the capital Lusaka last week.

"Even as we're trying to survive this COVID-19 people with albinism have continued to be hunted," Chiti told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone from Lusaka.

"This is so worrying. It's leaving us living in fear."

Read our full interview with John Chiti here

In West Africa, Chiti said people with albinism had also been blamed for COVID-19.

Albinism - a lack of pigmentation in the skin, hair and eyes - affects up to one in 15,000 people in sub-Saharan Africa, according to the United Nations.

Chiti, executive director of the Albinism Foundation of Zambia (AFZ), said people were also scared attacks would rise ahead of Zambia's general election next year.

There are about 25,000 people with albinism in Zambia, according to official data.

"Whenever there are elections we've always seen an increase in ritual attacks," Chiti said.

"Politicians who are consulting with witchdoctors are being told to look for certain body parts for them to win elections so ... we're becoming more and more worried for our lives."

Under the Same Sun, a charity for people with albinism, has recorded more than 200 killings and about 400 attacks in 30 countries since 2008, but says the violence is underreported.

Body parts can fetch high prices in an underground crossborder trade.

AFZ is holding regular meetings with police to discuss how to improve protection in the run up to the August 2021 vote.

Chiti also called for an end to impunity for those who attack people with albinism.

The R&B singer said prosecutions were rare even when suspects were caught.

"We want police to speed up the wheels of justice," he added.

The police and government did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The musician, who counts First Lady Esther Lungu and former Zambian president Kenneth Kaunda among his fans, has produced two songs about coronavirus to raise awareness of its impact on people with disabilities.

Many people with albinism have poor eyesight but social distancing rules make it hard for the blind to use guides, while information on the virus has not been translated into braille, he added.

Chiti also urged the government to do more to help those whose incomes had been hit by the pandemic, adding that many people with albinism were self-employed or did informal jobs.

Related stories

Spotlight gives hope to Africa's hunted albinos

People with albinism protest in Malawi as attacks spike ahead of polls

Woman with albinism who survived machete attack to climb Kilimanjaro

(Reporting by Emma Batha @emmabatha; Editing by Claire Cozens. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, which covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit http://news.trust.org)

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.