Black, Yet White: A Hated Color in Zimbabwe - The New York Times

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February 9, 1997

Black, Yet White: A Hated Color in Zimbabwe
By DONALD G. McNEIL Jr.

HARARE, Zimbabwe— John M. Makumbe is a professor of political science. Richard Nyathi is chief
librarian for a Government ministry. Stanley S. Gunda is a senior financial officer in another ministry.
Not so long ago, they might have been killed at birth.
Even today, pregnant women refuse to shake their hands. On crowded buses they sit apart. On the street
they see mothers point and warn their children, ''If you don't behave, I'll let that monkey get you.''
Messrs. Makumbe, Nyathi and Gunda are albinos. In Africa, far more than on any other continent, that is
a lifelong curse. They lack the gene that codes the skin pigment melanin, and they are very nearsighted.
As white-skinned men in a black society, they are shunned and feared as the products of witchcraft,
taunted by children and drunks as ''peeled potatoes,'' ''monkeys'' and ''ghosts.''
There is a stereotype that all albinos are intelligent and accomplished, as these three men are. But
Professor Makumbe said successful albinos were ''a teeny-weeny minute number.'' Most, he added,
languish at home without education because they cannot see the blackboard at school or because their
parents, told such children die young, will not pay for their schooling.
In parts of Africa, albinos rarely live beyond 40. Mr. Nyathi has already lost a 30-year-old brother to
skin cancer. And Professor Makumbe said he thought ''many just die of frustration -- of broken hearts.''
With a handful of other albinos, Professor Makumbe has founded the Zimbabwe Albino Trust. He
dreams of a powerful human rights organization that battles prejudice on albinos' behalf. But his first
goals are almost pathetically humble: to raise enough money to buy sunscreen lotion and spectacles for
albinos who cannot afford them, and to raise $20,000 for a survey to count albinos in Zimbabwe and see
what they need most.
In the United States, about 1 person in 20,000 is an albino, according to doctors at the University of
Minnesota Medical Center, which has a clinic that studies the genetics of albinism. The condition is
more common among blacks than among whites, and almost unknown among Asians.
In parts of Nigeria, as many as 1 in 1,100 are albino; in parts of South Africa the incidence is 1 in 1,800.
It varies sharply from country to country and tribe to tribe, said Jennifer Kromberg, an expert on
albinism at the South African Institute for Medical Research. For instance, in South Africa it is twice as
high among Tswana as among Zulu, she said, because Tswana encourage marriage between cousins
while Zulu forbid it.
Estimates for Zimbabwe vary. One done early last year found that 1 schoolchild in 4,700 was albino. An

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