While Zambian police officers and prosecutors struggle, in Malawi, just next door, a court imprisoned a priest, police officer and a medical practitioner over an albino attack.

In her judgment on 25 June this year, Judge Dorothy Nyakaunda Kamanga sentenced five people to life imprisonment with hard labour for the death of MacDonald Masambuka.

Judge Kamanga also sentenced Catholic priest Thomas Muhosha, police officer Chikondi Chileka and three others to 30 years imprisonment with hard labour on charges of transacting in human tissue.

Although attacks on albinos are a chronic problem in Malawi and some other southern African countries, in Zambia fewer cases have been reported.

A Zambian lawyer who has handled similar cases blamed the police for shoddy investigations.

“There is a lot of secrecy and planning on the part of culprits,” he said. “Sometimes such cases take long because of shoddy investigations by the police, … in the absence of proper investigations, it is very difficult to secure convictions and dispose off such cases faster.”

He also said the lack of laboratories and Deoxyribonucleic Acid (DNA) equipment in the country contributes to delays in investigations.

Forensic scientists can use DNA profiles to identify criminals during investigations. A DNA profile is like a genetic fingerprint. Every person has a unique DNA profile, making it very useful for identifying people involved in crimes. The only exception to this is identical twins.

The Zambia police has not given their official position on the matter, but a police officer who has investigated an attack on an albino, but has no authority to speak to journalists, said relatives are usually involved in such cases and fail to cooperate with officials.

People with albinism speak out

Miriam Kumwenda, 26, of Chikwa Chiefdom in Chama district shared her harrowing experience at the hands of attackers who chopped off her righthand.  

“They fished me out of the house in the middle of the night, and I was dragged into the nearby bush,” she narrated. “They hacked my left hand but upon realising that their target was my right hand they changed and chopped it off.”

Miriam, who is now a mother of one, said she was attacked when she was three months pregnant.

This single example is just one indicator of how people with albinism have been targeted in Zambia.

More Zambian examples of albino attacks

Eastern Province, which shares a long border with Malawi, has recorded many attacks on albinos. MakanDay Centre for Investigative Journalism has been monitoring the attacks.

- On 16 May 2015, 35-year-old Charity Zimba was killed after being attacked at her home, and the killers went away with her hair, right hand and four teeth. Her assailants were arrested although the matter took long to be concluded.

- In 2018, unknown people exhumed the body of a woman at Chipambe graveyard in Nyimba district.

Late Luckson Sakala, then Eastern Province Police Commissioner disclosed that the body of Judith Mwanza, who was buried on 23 June 2018, was exhumed by unknown people.

He said police found two pieces of chitenges (wrappers), a blanket, skirt and used gloves, but the body was missing.

- In 2020, Emmanuel Phiri, 43, a carpenter of Nabvutika Compound in Chipata who was murdered by unknown people and some body parts such as the tongue and arms were missing.

- Last year, a nine-year-old boy of Chasefu district lost his index finger when he was attacked by unknown people.

Although the victim’s elder brother was arrested and a search for the other suspect has continued, the case has not been concluded.

Acting Eastern Province Police Commanding Officer Davies Simwanza said police are still investigating the matter.

Mr Simwanza disclosed that the boy had gone to the garden with his brother and when it was getting dark, he decided to go back home, leaving his brother behind.

It was at this point that he was attacked and his assailants chopped off his finger.

Albinism is a rare genetic condition caused by mutations of certain genes that affect the amount of melanin that the body produces.

In neighbouring countries of Malawi, Tanzania, and Mozambique, body parts of people with albinism are used in witchcraft rituals because of superstitious beliefs that they can bring riches, success, power or sexual conquest.

A representative of people with albinism, John Chiti, said it is worrying that Eastern Province has a high number of albino attacks.

Mr Chiti: Image Source: Facebook

Mr Chiti, the president of the Albino Foundation of Zambia, said there are over 25,000 people with albinism in Zambia, with a bigger population living in rural areas. He said this is according to the 2010 census of population.

He said persons with albinism face rejection by society, including by some family members.

“This issue of family members being involved in these attacks is very crucial, now think about it, who can we trust?” He asked. “In Lundazi, we had a case where the husband connived with some people to have the wife killed, in Mpika, we had a case where a grandson was involved in attacking the grandmother. This is one of the issues that give us challenges because family members cannot come out to give us much evidence that could lead to convictions.”

Peter Ash, founder and Chief Executive Officer of Under the Same Sun, a Canadian-based charity organisation told MakanDay that there is no simple solution to the attacks on albinos.

“What I have discovered myself in working for this organisation for so many years, is that there is no simple solution to the problem, other than education,” he said. “If you believe that persons with albinism are a curse and can be used to get money for some magical powers and then someone comes to you and you already dislike this person with albinism then you sell this person like an animal then that's something else. We need to educate the people about such matters.”

According to the Albino Foundation of Zambia, the country records at least 10 albino killings every year.

Main Photo: Some of the albino attackers being led to court for sentencing on June 27 , 2022. (Lameck Masina/VOA)