By Steria Manda:
Charles Ndau, a person with albinism from Kaiya Village, Traditional Authority Chakhumbira in Ntcheu, thought his day of salvation had finally come when government announced plans to construct secure houses for persons with albinism across Malawi.
But the euphoria and joy that filled the hearts and minds of persons with albinism following this announcement is slowly dying down in Ntcheu District.
“We now strongly believe that the government never intended to build us houses. It was just a podium thing by politicians to show the world that they are doing something to protect us,” Ndau says.
Statistics from the District Social Welfare Office indicates that Ntcheu District has a total population of 185 persons with albinism, with the majority of them living under dehumanising conditions in addition to suffering severe forms of persecution and discrimination in society.
And just like it is the case in other districts, where violation of the rights of persons with albinism is rampant, people with albinism in Ntcheu encounter multiple and convergent barriers to the full enjoyment of their rights to health, education and work.
They also face challenges in accessing social services, particularly health-related social services.
They are often denied justice and face barriers to accessing effective remedies for human rights violations.
Ndau is one of the people who were denied justice in a case where a Mozambican businessman abducted and hid him inside an unlit building at Lizulu Trading Centre in February, 2016.
“He was about to kill me, but I fortunately managed to escape. I lodged a complaint at the police and Malawi Human Rights Commission, but six years down the line, there is no sign that I will ever get justice in the case,” he says.
At the height of abductions, attacks and killings of persons with albinism in 2016, the Association of Persons with Albinism in Malawi (Apam) pleaded with former president Peter Mutharika to provide them with modern and secure houses.
The association appealed to him to enlist its members as special beneficiaries of the modern and affordable homes his government was constructing for poor and vulnerable people across the country under the Descent and Affordable Housing Subsidy Programme.
In his speech at the time, the former president had stressed his government’s determination to continue protecting lives of persons with albinism.
“I want to assure you that my government will not tolerate this malpractice, which has brought fear and a sense of insecurity among persons with albinism, their relations and their friends.
“This is evil and a threat to the most fundamental human rights in our Constitution and we will deal accordingly with those who are associated with these barbaric acts,” he said then.
However, he avoided commenting on an appeal from the association to build secure houses for people with albinism in Malawi until January 2020 when his government announced that it would construct 600 houses for them in the next five years.
But his dream died following his exit from the hot seat after losing in the 2020 presidential election.
And then President Lazarus Chakwera assured the nation that he would complete all the development projects initiated by his predecessor, including the construction of secure houses for persons with albinism.
Chakwera said his administration would construct 793 houses for people with albinism across the country from 2021 to 2025.
The houses will also have fences around them to enhance security.
Additionally, the houses are being built strategically close to other houses in the community to ensure that people with albinism receive maximum security from their neighbours as well as community members.
The houses have toilets, bathrooms, storerooms and kitchens all inside a brick wall fence to provide maximum security during day and night.
The Ministry of Lands has been charged with the responsibility of constructing the houses while the Ministry of Gender, Social Welfare and Community Development, through the Department of Disability and Elderly Affairs, is responsible for identifying beneficiaries.
But it is the pace at which the government is implementing the project that is worrying Ndau and many others with albinism.
He complained to journalists on a tour Malawi Human Rights Resource Centre (MHRRC) organised in Mangochi and Ntcheu that the government has constructed only two houses in Ntcheu, which are yet to be completed.
The development has sparked controversy and speculation among people with albinism that funds were abused.
“We are told the first phase of the project in which these houses were placed has expired. Yet, we don’t have a single house ready for occupation. How can this inspire confidence in us that we shall ever have these secure houses?” asked a seemingly demoralised Ndau.
Apam District Coordinator for Ntcheu, Precious Kapenuka, said failure by the government to construct the promised secure houses has created anxiety among their membership.
Kapenuka stated that although there has been a significant reduction in cases of abductions, attacks and killings owing to a series of awareness initiatives, lack of secure houses remains a major concern to them.
“Most of our members are not economically empowered to build secure houses for themselves. It is unfortunate that the government’s plan to construct these houses for us not being realised,” he said.
Ntcheu District Senior Assistant Social Welfare Officer, Mike Makalande, said his office does not know when the two houses will be completed.
Speaking when he presented a progress report in Parliament during the last meeting, in August 2022, former minister of Lands, Housing and Urban Development, Sam Kawale, said government had completed 16 houses for persons with albinism in the country.
Kawale said the 16 houses were ready for occupation, which is part of phase one in which a total of 28 houses would be constructed in 13 districts of Karonga, Mzimba, Kasungu, Nkhotakota, Lilongwe, Dedza, Ntcheu, Mangochi, Machinga, Mulanje, Neno, Mwanza and Nsanje.
Kawale further told Parliament that government has already commenced procurement of materials for the second phase, which will cover 11 districts of Chitipa, Nkhatabay, Salima, Ntchisi, Dowa, Chiradzulu, Thyolo, Chikwawa, Blantyre, Balaka and Lilongwe.
Meanwhile, MHRRC has intensified its awareness campaign on the rights of persons with albinism through its project called ‘Cultivating an Environment for the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Persons with Albinism in Malawi’ (Ceppam) funded by the European Union.
MHRRC Programmes Officer Enock Chinkhuntha said the main objective of the initiative is to build the capacity and empowering persons with albinism with necessary knowledge and skills to understand their rights and to hold duty-bearers accountable.
“Ultimately, we want to eliminate all forms of violence against persons with albinism in the targeted districts, strengthen policy and legal frameworks to protect, promote and defend the rights of persons with albinism.
“So, we are working with the Ministry of Gender, Community Development and Social Welfare, District Councils and other human rights organisations to achieve our goal,” Chinkhuntha said.