Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Tanzania's hunted albinos

'His blade was dull. He hacked and hacked. There was a jerk, my arm tore off. That’s when I screamed': Tanzania's hunted albinos relive the horror of their limbs being stolen by witchdoctors who buy an arm for £1,000 and a head for 'double'

  • WARNING GRAPHIC CONTENT 
  • Albino body parts, turned into 'charms' by witchdoctors, or 'mgangi', are believed to bring luck and wealth
  • 'Mganga' witchdoctors in Tazmania sell albino skin for £6,000, internal organs for £65,000, a whole body for £130,000
  • A woman told how her albino baby was snatched from her arms by contract poachers paid for by 'mgangas'
  • MailOnline reporters went to Tanzania talk to the victims of the sickening trade - and those behind it 
  • They revealed horrifying accounts, and uncover the stories of the contract killers sent out to collect the body parts 
  • They met 'Lázaro' a contract killer who was involved in the brutal murder of an albino girl, nine, who was beheaded 
  • Posing as diamond mine owners, investigators met a witchdoctor who offered to sell them and albino arm for £3,200, which, he said would 'draw the diamonds out of the rocks'  
'They came in the night,' she whispered in a safe house in Dar es Salaam in Tanzania. 'They broke the door down – four men with machetes.'
Miriamu Staford is the daughter of black, African parents, but her skin is white. Her blond hair is pulled back in a ponytail. There is a blueish tinge to her grey eyes. 

Miriamu has albinism. Due to a genetic defect her body cannot produce melanin, a pigment that protects the skin against the sun's rays and allows it to take colour.
Scroll down fro video 
Victim: Miriamu Staford was 25 and had just finished reading her young sisters a bedtime story when four masked men stormed into her clay hut, blinding Miriamu with flashlights. One yanked her arm up, another chopped below the shoulder with a machete. The other arm could not be saved and was amputated later in the hospital
Victim: Miriamu Staford was 25 and had just finished reading her young sisters a bedtime story when four masked men stormed into her clay hut, blinding Miriamu with flashlights. One yanked her arm up, another chopped below the shoulder with a machete. The other arm could not be saved and was amputated later in the hospital
Hiding: Tanzania's albinos live in fear for their lives, as their body parts are sold to witchdoctors and are believed to bring luck. Mbalu John, 27, has four albino children. They all live together the Kabanga school, a safe house for people with albinism
Hiding: Tanzania's albinos live in fear for their lives, as their body parts are sold to witchdoctors and are believed to bring luck. Mbalu John, 27, has four albino children. They all live together the Kabanga school, a safe house for people with albinism
Taken: Sophia Juma, 27, with her two-month-old daughter, Tatu. Sophia's four-year-old daughter, Pendo Emmanuelle, was snatched from her home. She never saw her again. Sophia is desperately worried for the safety of her baby daughter
Taken: Sophia Juma, 27, with her two-month-old daughter, Tatu. Sophia's four-year-old daughter, Pendo Emmanuelle, was snatched from her home. She never saw her again. Sophia is desperately worried for the safety of her baby daughter
Sick business: Witchdoctors, or 'mgangas', hire people to go and cut the limbs off an albino person so they can turn it into a potion for their rich clients. Pictured: Snake skin and bones, wildpig tooth, dogskull and roots are offered at a witchdoctor market in Dar Es Salaam
Sick business: Witchdoctors, or 'mgangas', hire people to go and cut the limbs off an albino person so they can turn it into a potion for their rich clients. Pictured: Snake skin and bones, wildpig tooth, dogskull and roots are offered at a witchdoctor market in Dar Es Salaam
In Europe people with albinism are often barely noticeable. In Africa stories have grown up over hundreds of years around people with albinism that attribute supernatural powers to them. 

In Tanzania, they are described as zeru-zeru, immortal spirits.

'That's why they kill us,' said Miriamu softly. 'They believe that our body parts and organs will make them rich and happy.'

In October 2008, the men with the machetes came to take Miriamu's arms. 

Back then the 25-year-old corn farmer who just read her young sisters a bedtime story when she heard a loud crack. Then a large stone smashed through the door of her clay hut. Four masked men stormed in, blinding Miriamu with flashlights. One yanked her arm up, another chopped below the shoulder with a machete.

'His blade was dull. He hacked and he hacked,' recalled Miriamu breathlessly, as if it were happening again.

'Blood — blood everywhere. There was a jerk, my arm tore off. 

'That's when I felt the burning. That's when I screamed in pain.' 

Miriamu's sisters had run out of the hut, her parents were locked in the next room. The young woman was still fully conscious as the attackers started on the second arm.

It is only at the sound of the neighbours shouting outside that they finally stopped and ran off with their prize. 

The other arm could not be saved and was amputated later in the hospital.

In East Africa people like Miriamu fear for their lives. Since the first documented murder of an albino in Tanzania in 2006, the old beliefs in the occult have undergone a terrible transformation. 

Where once the hair, fingernails and urine of albinos were enough, now unscrupulous witchdoctors produce their talismans and magic potions from the arms, legs, bones, inner organs and genitals of albinos.

Things have escalated to such an extent that children have even been snatched from their mother's arms by evil traffickers.

In Ndamhi, tears ran down Sophia Juma face as she recalled every parent's worst nightmare when her four-year-old daughter Pendo Emanuelle was taken from her as she gave  her a cuddle.

Her eyes red from crying and her voice only a long, soft wail as she told how two men entered her hut and ripped Pendo out of her arms and disappeared into the night.

The delicate woman with the hollow cheeks was still in shock. She nursed two-month-old Tatu at her breast. Tatu, like her sister, has albinism. 

'What happens if the men come back?' she whimpered, holding her hand over the baby's head. She only has a simple lock on her door. She does not trust her neighbours. There is no police protection. And there is absolutely no trace of her four-year-old daughter. 

 'Maybe they'll use the girl as a living stockpile,' Sophia's friend Josephat Torner friend suggested, as tears rolled down his cheeks. 'Whenever they need new supplies, they'll cut a piece off of her.' 

Josephat is himself an albino and long-time defender of the rights of his minority.
Fighting: Josephat Torner, pictured, is one of the people campaigning to bring an end to the disgusting trade. When he was born, the midwife advised his mother to poison him. Neighbours accused her of having sex with a 'tokolosh', an evil spirit.





He told MailOnline: 'I imagine how a witchdoctor out here a few years ago had an idea. Instead of just using albinos' hair and fingernails to make magic charms like usual, why not try using arms and legs and whole heads?'

According to the UN, the most dangerous country for albinos worldwide is Tanzania. Officially, 156 have been attacked, mutilated or killed in the country since 2006. The actual number is thought to be significantly higher because many attacks are not reported.

There are hardly any solved cases, but the past two years of police reports in Mwanza, on the southern shores of Lake Victoria, read like the script of a horror film.

On January 31, 2013, men armed with spears and machetes hacked off the left arm of an albino boy and killed his 95-year-old grandfather as he tried to defend him. 

Only a few days later masked men in the same area stormed into a house containing a seven-month-old albino baby. 

In the last second neighbours were able to fend off the assailants. At about this time an albino woman was overpowered by five men who cut off her left arm. In a similar incident, a 10-year-old albino boy was attacked on the way to school and lost an arm.

Since then the series of murders and mutilations in north-western Tanzania has continued unabated, like that against Pendo, 14, who last August, was thrown to the ground, had her arm held against a wooden bench and chopped off with a machete by a gang of men.

But the way that people with albinism are treated in East Africa is often contradictory. 

'Some believe we bring luck,' explained Josephat. 'Others are convinced we're a curse on the family and the whole village.' 

When Josephat was born, the midwife advised his mother to poison him. Neighbours accused her of having sex with a 'tokolosh', an evil spirit. 

'Many think that we ourselves are spirits,' said Josephat, 32, a father of three children, none of whom have albinism.

'They believe that we don't die, that we just become paler and paler until we finally disappear.'

His forehead is scored with wrinkles, but his grey-blue eyes are full of life, and a slight smile constantly plays at the corners of his mouth. 
Contradictions: 'Some believe we bring luck - others are convinced we're a curse on the family and the whole village,' explained Josephat Toner, who has three children, none of whom are albino
Contradictions: 'Some believe we bring luck - others are convinced we're a curse on the family and the whole village,' explained Josephat Toner, who has three children, none of whom are albino
Family: Mbalu John with two of her four albino children. She is terrified that one day they will be snatched by traffickers who sell their body parts to witchdoctors
Family: Mbalu John with two of her four albino children. She is terrified that one day they will be snatched by traffickers who sell their body parts to witchdoctors
Market: Different parts of the body fetch different prices. Pendo, 14, lost her right arm last August. MailOnline was told £3,200 for an arm
Market: Different parts of the body fetch different prices. Pendo, 14, lost her right arm last August. MailOnline was told £3,200 for an arm
Protection: Children with albinism waiting in line for food in the centre of Buhangija. There are centres like this across the country
Protection: Children with albinism waiting in line for food in the centre of Buhangija. There are centres like this across the country

Josephat works ceaselessly to bring about his vision of a Tanzania in which albinos will one day be accepted as normal human beings.

Children are often abandoned by their parents, teased at school or beaten. Many men leave their wives if they give birth to albino babies. Often already disadvantaged by impaired vision, most albinos do not receive an adequate education, rarely find paid work and have difficulties finding a partner.

Worldwide, one in 20,000 children is born with albinism. In Tanzania, the country with the highest rate of albinism in the world, the number is estimated to be one in 1,400.     

Most of the murders and mutilations occur in the basin of Lake Victoria. According to the local rumour, the fishermen are responsible for the attacks.

Millions of people around Lake Victoria depend on fishing for their livelihoods, but the industry has been going through a crisis for years now. 

Fifteen years ago fisherman Saidi M'hando claims he brought home up to 300 kilos of Nile perch in one night. 
 
You deposit an albino arm in your mine. It works like a magnet and pulls the diamonds out of the stone. 
 
Witchdoctor 

'These days I often come home without a single fish,' said M'hando, who lives in a small village near Mwanza . 'Some nights, it's as if the lake is dead.'

The fishermen have turned to the 'mgangas' for their survival. The Swahili word is used for school doctors as well as witchdoctors, who try to solve their clients' problems using magic. 

It is believed that a mganga can heal, but he can also use his secret knowledge to make the enemy of his client sick or even kill him. 

But 'the mganga reserves our arms and our legs for the rich,' explained Josephat.
'He sells the rest to the fishermen.' 

This is backed up by M'hando, who revealed: 'The mganga gives us things to weave into our nets.

'Hair that attracts the fish because it glitters — albino hair.' 

Indeed, a piece taken from a body part of an albino is usually sufficient for a potion or talisman. The rest the mganga saws and cuts into peanut-sized units to make charms for fishermen, miners and normal people. From a single arm thousands of such pieces can be produced, each worth a million shillings. 

Yet it is not the witchdoctor who gets his hands dirty with the killing.

The customer pays the mganga, who sends out the contract killers. The contract killers bring him the body parts, which he uses to make occult medicine for his clients. What is left over is cut into small pieces and traded on an international black market at top prices.

On the outskirts of Shinyanga lives a slight man with a pointy face and alert eyes who admits to being one of the few 'contract killers' to be caught.

'I needed some money, so I went with some friends to the mganga,' explained unemployed 'Lázaro', 29. 'The mganga told us, if we want to be rich, we should bring him the hand of an albino.'

Their victim's name was Esther Charles. The nine-year-old albino girl was Lázaro's neighbor in Kahama, a region in the district Shinyanga. Five of them kept watch outside.
Blood money: 'Lázaro', 29, was allegedly involved in the murder of nine-year-old albino Esther Walker in 2009. He was released from prison due to lack of evidence
Blood money: 'Lázaro', 29, was allegedly involved in the murder of nine-year-old albino Esther Walker in 2009. He was released from prison due to lack of evidence
Difficulties: About a million people rely on fishing in the Lake Victoria area, but it has been in crisis for several years as stocks deplete
Difficulties: About a million people rely on fishing in the Lake Victoria area, but it has been in crisis for several years as stocks deplete
Answers: The witchdoctors claim they can help the problem by giving the fishermen albino hair which will attract the fish
Life-changing: Vicky Ntema, of charity Under the Same Sun, with one of the trade's victims, Pendo Sengerema, 15
Miriamu just after she lost both her arms to the evil trade
Life-changing: Vicky Ntema, of charity Under the Same Sun, with one of the trade's victims, Pendo Sengerema, 15 (left). Right: Miriamu just after she lost both her arms to the evil trade in 2008

John, the gang leader, allegedly climbed alone through Esther's window, beat her unconscious, then chopped off one of her hands with a machete.

'The mganga asked us to,' Lázaro said. 'We had to do it.'

Lázaro said never saw the hand himself, but a secret police report allegedly reveals John did not take Esther's hand, but rather both legs and her head. 

The police found the body parts in a sack behind John's house when they arrested him the next day.

In prison John revealed the names of his accomplices. Lázaro was arrested and spent two years behind bars, only to be released in 2011, due to a lack of evidence.

But he never betrayed the name of the mganga in prison: he would rather have spent his life behind bars than utter a word regarding the identity of the mganga.

'The mganga would kill my parents, my brothers and sisters, my children and finally me.'

For Lázaro, what happened to Esther was apparently a one-time thing. But John, he explained, normally 'worked under contract'.

Before the assault on Esther, John had mutilated several other albinos.

'For an arm his clients would pay him two million. Roughly 1,000 euros,' he stated. 
'For a head, double that.'

The body parts are 'for the bosses, for politicians, top dogs in the government,' explained Lázaro. 

'The mganga uses the albino parts to help them win elections.'

Lázaro would not name names, but Vicky Ntetema knows his assessment of the buyers is pretty spot on.

'For people with albinism in Tanzania elections are a time of terror,' the director of the Canadian NGO, Under the Same Sun in Tanzania, which fights for the rights of albinos worldwide, said. 

'Mgangas have admitted to us that they help politicians to win elections by making magic potions for them using albino body parts.'

YOU DON'T HAVE TO GET YOUR HANDS DIRTY': MEETING THE WITCHDOCTOR 

It is just before midnight when we come to a clay hut at the end of a dusty trail on the outskirts of Shinyanga and push open the door. Inside, on a low stool, sits a barefoot man with sinewy limbs. In the lamplight his head casts a grotesque, grimacing shadow onto the clay wall.
We introduce ourselves as two of the countless Europeans that possess diamond mines in the nearby Democratic Republic of the Congo. We are on a business trip through Tanzania, we tell him, and have heard that the mganga can do something to make sure that our mine yields diamonds. In order not to arouse suspicion as to the real purpose of our visit we have enlisted the aid of a local middleman with black skin.

The mganga looks at us with a piercing gaze. Then he nods, lays a cloth on the ground and pours out sparkling stones, white cowrie mussels and old coins. He tells us to spit on a piece of bone shaped like a finger and stirs it around on the cloth with the softly clicking objects. He looks at them for a while. Finally the mganga tells us, his voice deep: 'Your mine is dead. That’s why it yields nothing.' He tells us he can make a medicine for us that will bring the mine to life. 'All your problems will be solved!'
Magic: This man told MailOnline the problem with an invented mine was that it was dead - but an albino arm would solve the problem
Magic: This man told MailOnline the problem with an invented mine was that it was dead - but an albino arm would solve the problem

The ceremony continues almost an hour before we work up the courage to ask exactly what the medicine is made of. Our middleman lowers his voice as he translates. The mganga’s face darkens, his teeth grind slightly. We lay two 10,000 shillings bills, about 10 euros, beside the finger-bone as if we are completely normal customers. The mganga pushes the money under the bone and says: 'You deposit an albino arm in your mine. It works like a magnet and pulls the diamonds out of the stone.'

We ask him how much that would cost. 'Ten million shillings.' More than £3,200. The number corresponds more or less to the findings of the Canadian NGO Under the Same Sun. Estimates by the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies headquartered in Geneva are similar. 

The skin of an albino can cost up to £6,100, a set of organs as much as £65,000. 

According to the Tanzanian Albino Society, the price for the complete body of an albino child is £128,000. An enormous amount of money in one of the poorest countries in the world.

We take leave of our mganga under the pretext that we want to think it over. 

'You don't have to get your hands dirty,' he tells us in an attempt to calm our nerves. 'You pay — the mganga sends his workers out to slaughter the albino.' Outside, under cover of night, the next customers are already waiting.  

Before the elections in 2010 in Tanzania and Burundi there was a series of mutilations and several deaths. In early 2013, two months before the elections in neighbouring Kenya, there was a dramatic increase in the number of attacks. And since last summer — since the kickoff of the campaign season in Tanzania — the number of atrocities has again shot up.

Tanzania's Secretary of the Interior, Mathias Chikawe, has always denied such accusations.

'We are against those who cheat people [into thinking] that they will be rich by possessing charms,' he stated at a press conference, saying that the government was doing everything it could do to stop crimes against albinos. 

So far without success. According to the United Nations, of the approximately 72 documented murders of albinos in Tanzania, in only one in five cases was the accused punished.

A newly founded task force is supposed to investigate suspects. It is one of several such task forces that have been formed since 2006, the conclusions of which are unknown.  

A large scale study from 2010 the American Pew Research Center found that 60 percent of Tanzanians — Christians and Muslims alike — believe that sacrifices to spirits or ancestors can bring luck. 

The best advertisement for the 'albino economy' are rumours and hearsay — from old stories about the magical power of body parts, to the current education campaigns of NGOs.  

The repeated descriptions of the horrific details of mutilations along with the miraculous power of human body parts has caused many Tanzanians to find a certain 'truth' to the albino magic. 
Safety: An armed guard defends children in Kabanga. Albinos are in particular danger this year because of the up-coming election and witchdoctors use their potions to improve the chances of politicians getting elected
Safety: An armed guard defends children in Kabanga. Albinos are in particular danger this year because of the up-coming election and witchdoctors use their potions to improve the chances of politicians getting elected
Devastated: Sophia sits in front of her hut with her baby daughter, Tatu. Her older daughter, Pendo Emmanuelle, four, was snatched by poachers working on behalf of a witchdoctor, who pay them for albino body parts. 'What happens if the men come back?' she whimpered
Devastated: Sophia sits in front of her hut with her baby daughter, Tatu. Her older daughter, Pendo Emmanuelle, four, was snatched by poachers working on behalf of a witchdoctor, who pay them for albino body parts. 'What happens if the men come back?' she whimpered
Terrifying: 'Maybe they'll use the girl as a living stockpile. Whenever they need new supplies, they'll cut a piece off of her,' albino campaigner Josephat said as he cried
Terrifying: 'Maybe they'll use the girl as a living stockpile. Whenever they need new supplies, they'll cut a piece off of her,' albino campaigner Josephat said as he cried

Josephat insisted it is only through education that albinos might someday be seen as and treated, not as spirits, but as completely normal people.

In the meantime, the occult market continues to grow, and the contract killers are improving their harvesting process.  


Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3162715/His-blade-dull-hacked-hacked-jerk-arm-tore-s-screamed-Tanzania-s-hunted-albinos-relive-horror-limbs-stolen-witchdoctors-buy-arm-1-000-head-double.html#ixzz3p8F6vgnV

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