Malawi Witch doctors hiring ‘hit men’ to murder Albinos before mutilating them so their organs can be used in highly expensive ‘medicines’

In a shocking revelation, Chikumbutzo Massina gazes hollow eyed across the baked and barren ground where his brother Fletcher once tended his tomato crop. Any plants that remain are withered and brown.

‘Here is the spot where I spotted Fletcher’s blood trail,’ he says, his voice devoid of emotion, as he moves further across the field.

‘And here is the ridge where I found what was left of his mutilated body.’

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In a monotone he tells how he found little more than his brother’s torso: all four limbs had been chopped off with a machete, his genitals cut off, his teeth torn out and all his vital organs – brain, liver, heart, lungs and kidneys – gone.

For Chikumbutzo, Fletcher’s brutal murder has barely yet registered. But one gets the impression from his dazed expression that he has long known it was only a matter of time before his brother, an Albino, was killed.

Here in Malawi, where the condition is more common than almost anywhere in the world, witch doctors hire ‘hit men’ from among the impoverished rural communities to murder then mutilate sufferers so they can use their organs for ‘medicines’ that are sold at huge prices.

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Their bodies are considered to contain ‘healing properties’ and can increase wealth and influence. It is common for attacks to increase shortly before elections in rural areas.

Now, in a major new investigative documentary on BBC2, one British doctor who has Albinism himself, has uncovered the true extent of this barbaric practice and shone a spotlight on this shocking trade in human body parts.

Dr Oscar Duke, 30, an NHS doctor in London explores why these terrible crimes are taking place and who is responsible.

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He visits Tanzania’s ‘protectorates’ where children with albinism and young adults are housed in squalid conditions and protected by armed guards.

In a country where more than half the population believes in witch craft these potions are bought as charms to win riches or influence.

A single one, made from the organs and limbs of albinos, can sell for 20m shillings, around £7,000 in sterling.

 

And these is an impoverished country, where a land worker is lucky to earn 200,000 shillings (£72) annually, and malnutrition is rife.

In Malawi, where more than 70 Albinos have been attacked, abducted or murdered in the past two years, the situation is even more perilous, leading one UN expert on the subject to warn that Albinos could eventually become extinct in East Africa.

Malawi’s problem that has been exported from across the border, in neighbouring Tanzania, which has one of the highest rates of albinism in the world.

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In the past two years Malawi has seen 65 attacks on albinos, 47 attempted abductions and a spate of murders claiming 13 lives.

In Tanzania, charities have recorded 170 attacks on people with albinism since 2006, of which 70 were fatal.

Trekking across Tanzania and Malawi, Dr Duke meets child victims whose limbs have been mutilated and the families of those murdered, as well AS travelling to a Malawian prison to meet the man who admits killing Fletcher Massina for money.

Diagnosed with albinism at six weeks, Dr Duke understands the difficulties it presents.

The condition is a genetic one in which people are born without the usual pigment in their bodies.

They are not able to make normal amounts of melanin, the chemical that is responsible for eye, skin and hair colour.

In the western world visual impairment is its most serious effect, but under the fierce African sun skin cancer is a major cause of death.

Skin cancer is so widespread, that only two per cent of Tanzanians with albinism survive beyond the age of 40.

‘As a child I found learning to walk more difficult than other toddlers and I would often bump into things,’ Dr Duke explains.

Two witch doctors from 1936. Skin cancer is so widespread, that only two per cent of Tanzanians with albinism survive beyond the age of 40

Two witch doctors from 1936. Skin cancer is so widespread, that only two per cent of Tanzanians with albinism survive beyond the age of 40

‘There was never any possibility of me being one of the cool kids at the back of the class. I had to sit right in the front row and even then strained to see the board. I needed lots of support from teachers and close friends.

But the prejudice I encountered is insignificant compared to what I discovered in Africa where having Albinism can be a death sentence.

‘People like Fletcher suffered horrifically. So I wanted to speak to one of the seven men who are now in prison for his murder.’ Inside the country’s notorious Maula prison Dr Duke confronts Fletcher’s self-confessed murderer, Herbert Malloy.

Haltingly, Malloy tells how he and his co-murderers killed then cut up Fletcher. ‘I was sent by some people who wanted this to happen…they promised us [money] to share among us. We cut the arms and the legs….There was a person with us giving out instructions, what was needed from the body, the rest was no good. That’s what we did.’

Admitting what he did was ‘wrong’ Malloy, however, admitted he believed in witch craft, insisting he had been ‘over taken by Satan’ before realising he had ‘done wrong.’ He claims the gang was offered the equivalent of £ 44.50 for the murder but were never paid.

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They tell people to attack Albinos and offer lots of money.’

In spite of his appalling injuries, which meant he spent four months in hospital, Festo has recovered well. As he shows off his drawings Molly explains he is one of the best artists in school – a talent that is now, of course, difficult for him to develop.

Expressing his shock, Dr Duke is appalled at the entrenched views that have whipped up such prejudice.

Vice President of the Albino Association of Malawi Alex Michila met with the UN to discuss potential measures to protect people with albinism in Africa

Vice President of the Albino Association of Malawi Alex Michila met with the UN to discuss potential measures to protect people with albinism in Africa

‘Witch doctors are revered by many in the rural communities. Some spread the belief that albino body parts can bring luck and fortune.

Back on the road, Dr Duke decides to visit one of Tanzania’s ‘protectorates’ where Albino youngsters spend their lives in squalid conditions, behind barbed wire topped walls. ‘It is like visiting a prison,’ he says, driving through the gates.

Inside children from as young as three and young adults sleep in three tier bunks and have little exercise space.

There is little for them to do but at least they are safe. At one protectorate he meets Charles and his wife Kulwa whose two sons live there.

‘It may seem grim but at least they are safe,’ says Dr Duke.

‘This couple are one of the few couples who visit their children, although the trip costs them £2 and often they have to choose between seeing the boys or eating. ‘

A lot of parents are ashamed of their albino children because of the stigma attached and choose to abandon them.

One woman I spoke to told me about the ancient belief that people with albinism simply ‘disappear’ when they die.

Looking back, she wonders whether bodies have been stolen for generations.

Though progress has been slow, East African authorities have been cracking down on the brutal crimes.

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And there are other signs of hope in rural areas. Standing Voice, a UK charity, now provides skin clinics in Tanzania.

They offer free consultations and use cryo-therapy to freeze of any suspicious, and possibly cancerous, growths.

‘I’m leaving Africa with a different outlook,’ Dr Duke concludes.

‘After some of the horror I’ve witnessed here, places like this clinic give me a tiny glimpse of the changes that might be possible.’

Africa must arise and protect the rights of all albinos. All lives matter!

Credit: Additional reporting: Ella O’Neill.

Born Too White is on BBC2 on Thursday, February 23 at 9pm 

 

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