Colour discrimination against persons with
albinism in South Africa
M Mswela, LLB, LLM; M Nöthling-Slabbert, BA, BA Hons, MA, DLitt, LLB, LLD

Department of Jurisprudence, School of Law, University of South Africa, Pretoria, South Africa

Corresponding author: M Nöthling-Slabbert (slabbmn@unisa.ac.za)

This article explores issues relating to discrimination against persons living with albinism,
against the background of colour discrimination. It also addresses calls for ‘colourism’ to be
recognised as a distinct form of discrimination. Although colour as grounds for discrimination is
prohibited in the equality clause of the Constitution, it is conventionally grouped with race and
ethnicity when unfair discrimination is interpreted. We argue that discrimination against persons
living with albinism should be possible based on colour as a prohibited ground, independent
from race or ethnic considerations.
S Afr J BL 2013;6(1):25-27. DOI:10.7196/SAJBL.236

Diverse sociological and psychological factors give skin colour its present connotations.1 In the
history of Africa, discrimination on the basis of skin colour is not new – the system of privilege
and prejudice founded on the extent of lightness or darkness of a person’s skin colour has been
addressed with such phrases as ‘colourism’, ‘shadism’, ‘skin tone bias’, ‘pigmentocracy’ and
‘colour complex’.2
Any label used to describe a person’s skin colour is fraught with problems, and may point to
discrimination, stereotyping and perceptions of beauty, even between those of the same race.2
For people living with albinism, their skin colour leads to negative social constructions amongst
Africans, including beliefs that they are evil cannibals or cursed.3 In some areas, including
Namibia, persons living with albinism have to hide out of fear of being killed and their body
parts used in muti rituals. In Tanzania, sangomas (‘jujumen’) believe that albinos are immortal
and that their genitals bring wealth; in South Africa, they are often perceived as a curse.3
We explore the issue of unfair discrimination against persons living with albinism, focusing
specifically on colour as prohibited grounds for discrimination in terms of section 9(3) of the
Constitution of the Republic of South Africa.4 Discrimination based on albinism has received
scant attention in the South African legal context. Because persons living with albinism are a

Select target paragraph3