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Albinism pageant in Zimbabwe breaks down prejudice

May 26, 2019

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HARARE: Mr and Miss Albinism Zimbabwe 2019 pageant contestants backstage early Saturday.—AP
HARARE: Mr and Miss Albinism Zimbabwe 2019 pageant contestants backstage early Saturday.—AP

AYANDA Sibanda, a model with albinism, has invariably been called “yellow” or “white” by friends and even some relatives. But she hardly recalls anyone referring to her by her actual race. “I am black, that’s what I thought, but then I am always made to feel otherwise,” said the 18-year-old who was crowned Miss Albinism Zimbabwe on Friday night. About 70,000 of Zimbabwe’s estimated 16 million people are born with albinism, according to government figures. They often stand out, making them a subject at times of discrimination, ridicule and dangerously misguided beliefs. “Some have superstitions that we can bring luck or cure HIV,” said Brenda Mudzimu, organiser of the pageant.

In nearby Malawi and Tanzania, albinos are sometimes killed for their body parts for use in witchcraft. No such killings have been recorded in Zimbabwe. But people with albinism say life is still tough. The Mr and Miss Albinism Zimbabwe competition, now in its second year, is a chance to push back. “I want it to be normal for an albino girl to achieve without it being a newspaper headline,” Ayanda said. “They never say a black girl won Miss Zimbabwe. But if I were to win it, they would all say an albino girl won.” Friday night’s crown was her second in just weeks. Last month she was crowned second princess of Miss Teen Zimbabwe. “It was open to every race,” she said. But she said she has been told she lost some other pageants only because of her albinism.

The battle to impress pageant judges started three days earlier at a boot camp with lessons in catwalking and confidence-building. Putting this event together was a “nightmare”, however, because of lack of adequate sponsorship, said organiser Mudzimu. She said she hoped more sponsors will chip in as the pageant grows and gains more popularity “like the so-called normal ones”.

Published in Dawn, May 26th, 2019