Swaziland moves to protect albinos from bounty killers and witch doctors

Cape Town, South Africa - Police in Swaziland will set up a national register of albinos after a horrific killing of an 11-year-old albino girl shocked the tiny landlocked nation.

“It is true that we are soon going to be engaged in that exercise where a register for all albinos will be taken," said Wendy Hleta, a spokeswoman for the Royal Swaziland Police, in comments to the Swazi Observer newspaper.

The police force says it needed to keep track of albinos to protect them from bounty hunters who kill and then sell their body parts for traditional medicine.

While the practice is widely condemned and rejected throughout the continent, some Africans do believe albino body parts have magical and medicinal powers when dished up by witch doctors. Some think the concoctions bring good luck while others believe they can bring anything from political power to a cure for HIV/AIDS.

The body parts of albinos – who lack pigment in their skin, hair, and eyes – can now sometimes sell in local black markets for tens of thousands of dollars. As a result, they have been targeted across eastern Africa, particularly in Burundi and Tanzania, where three months ago a man was sentenced to death for killing a five-year-old albino girl.

Now, after a clampdown in those countries, welfare workers fear the capture and murder of albinos is heading south to nations such as Swaziland.

Even though the killing of 11-year-old albino Banele Nxumalo was the first recorded killing of an albino in Swaziland, rights groups there are concerned about a coming trend.

“Swaziland which has been identified as a destination, source, and transit point for human trafficking, which also occurs for trade in body parts, is clearly no longer exempt of this type of crime, where young albinos are being targeted,” said the Swaziland Action Group Against Abuse.

The police announcement to start a register to protect albinos signals a desire to nip the problem in the bud.

Meanwhile, the Traditional Healers Association of Swaziland sought to distance themselves from the gruesome killing, saying it was the work of "witches and warlocks."