On Tuesday night last week, 30-year-old Edna Kapinga heard a sharp cry of agony from her daughter’s bedroom in a small grass-thatched house with windows covered by worn-out sacks.
Kapinga rushed to check on her 13-year-old child with albinism, who was panting with fear as she recovered from the fright that had consumed her.
Someone had attempted to drag her out of her bed. He escaped through the window through which he had probably entered the room.
“We failed to run after the stranger to apprehend him. We were just the two of us in the house,” says Kapinga of Misi Village in the area of Paramount Chief Kawinga in Machinga District.
She admits she cannot identify the man even if she mets with him today.
That scares the Standard Five learner at Makengere Primary School in the Eastern Region district, who reckons the man who had almost attacked her might not have given up on his mission.
Her mother, who divorced the girl’s father before she was born and lost her second husband some time back, cannot provide the required security to her daughter, who sometimes experiences delusions of being attacked.
She is now living at a new place where her mother frequently checks on her.
“My house is not safe for my daughter. That is why I decided that she moves elsewhere,” Kapinga says.
Despite that her daughter is out of the place where she was nearly abducted, Kapinga still harbours fears she may be attacked again.
Her hope is in fate especially after police officers from Ntaja inspected her place and concluded that it was not safe for her daughter, who wishes she had a different skin condition.
Few days before, a 26-year-old man with a skin condition similar to that of the nearly abducted girl had been brutally murdered in neighbouring Mangochi District by men who, after being pressed by the police, confessed to having done the heartless act.
Such news is horrifying Village Head Misi who thought the attacks, which have left over 25 persons with albinism dead since 2013, had finally come to an end.
“The resurgence is disturbing. The girl needs a good and secure house where she can live with her mother,” Misi says.
A member of a community policing group in Kapinga’s village, Jack Sapanga, admits they are equally incapacitated when it comes to dealing with such attacks.
He says community policing members cannot be everywhere and that they cannot use certain equipment which is exclusive to police officers.
Sapanga insists the girl is still not living in a safe and secure place.
“Her mother is single and cannot afford to build a secure house for her and the daughter. The girl needs ultimate protection but her family is poor. Government should come in and help,” he says.
He further suggests that families with children or relations with albinism need to be considered with solar-powered electricity so that their mobile phones are always charged for them to easily communicate with relevant authorities in cases of attacks.
Call for secure homes
Association of Persons with Albinism in Malawi Chairperson for Machinga District, Baison Makolopa, wonders why constructing safe and secure houses for people with albinism seems a tall order to the government.
“The previous administration promised to build houses for us. They visited to check who should get the houses. However, the arrangement proved inefficient as only one house was to be built in each of the 193 constituencies in Malawi,” Makolopa says.
He wishes the programme were revisited so that it reaches more persons with albinism who constitute at least 200,000 of Malawi’s 18 million-people population.
“The girl’s case is unfortunate; yet it speaks volumes about the horror we live with, especially those of us who are poor. She survived by God’s grace but remains traumatised,” Makolopa says.
The trauma will not diminish any time soon if she remains in a place her attackers may return to, Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace Coordinator for Zomba, Brice Chawiya, fears.
“Our appeal to the government is that they should honour the promise of constructing secure houses for persons with albinism,” she says.
Chawiya believes the distribution of one house per constituency is defective as it ignores the fact that some areas have more persons with albinism than others. Machinga is one of them.
He has interacted with several persons with albinism in that district and Zomba, through a European Union-funded project dubbed ‘Improving Lives of Persons with Albinism’ whose goal is to promote their rights and fight for their safety.
“We need to end these attacks. We must also ensure there is increased access to justice and healthcare for persons with albinism in Malawi,” Chawiya says.
Meanwhile, disturbed by the fresh incidents, the United Nations (UN)— which has repeatedly condemned the acts—has called on the government to allocate adequate funds for addressing the cause of the ghoulish attacks.
UN Malawi Resident Coordinator Maria Jose Torres believes appropriately implementing the National Action Plan on Persons with Albinism would be an important step towards winning the battle.
She said in a statement last week: “This is not an isolated incident. It is related to causes that go from harmful practice to poverty toward s discrimination and requires comprehensive approach. And this approach is embedded in the National Action Plan on Persons with Albinism.”