The government’s pledge that it would construct houses for people with the condition of albinism has turned into a thorn in the flesh of those who were promised, as they are being subjected to long, painful delays as danger lurks in the background. JARSON MALOWA writes.
Houses have become the carrot that national leaders dangle to the populace, especially marginalised groups such as people who have the condition of albinism.
This is the view of 30-year-old Edna Kapinga who, in 2019, escaped by a whisker after her daughter – who also has the condition of albinism— tipped her that some people wanted to abduct her [the mother].
She is one of the people with the condition of albinism in Machinga District, one of the Southern Region districts that have become notorious for attacks on people with her condition.
“My 13-year-old daughter saved my life. One would have thought that people with albinism do not have to depend on each other, instead of depending on the government, but this is the situation we have found ourselves in because the government seems to be dilly-dallying on its pledge to construct houses for us.
“As things stand, we live in dilapidated houses and we are always looking over our shoulders because we cannot tell what people are thinking about us, let alone what they intend to do to us,” she says, almost helplessly.
During the second term of Peter Mutharika’s administration— whose reign was cut short on June 23 2020 after he lost the battle for the presidency to Lazarus Chakwera, who is now driving the ship called Malawi— the government promised to construct 600 houses for people with albinism.
At the time, Ministry of Social Welfare officials even came up with a design for the houses, which, they promised, would be safe; safer than ramshackle houses some people with albinism call home these days.
The current administration reiterated the need to keep people with albinism out of harm’s way by constructing houses for them.
However, as Kapinga puts it, “We are still waiting for the houses. To other people, these are mere houses; to us, however, such houses are a source of salvation. It is not a liberating experience to always live in fear in one’s own country”.
She is not the only one who, everyday, cannot tell, for certain, if the sun will rise and set without her falling in harm’s way.
Forty-four year-old Rhoda Wilson, who dwells in a grass-thatched house at Ngokwe Trading Centre in the district, does not remember a day she was not wary of strangers.
The risky part is that, less than two kilometres away, an open, loosely guarded border marks the boundary between Malawi and Mozambique.
Apart from living in perpetual fear, she does not have a reliable source of income— which means she may, every now and then, fall in the hands of strangers as she searches for piecework so that, at least, she can have something with which to fill her stomach.
“My husband divorced me over two years ago. I do not have a job and earn a living by doing piece work here and there. Many
a time, I sleep without eating nsima [the staple food], let alone rice and other body-building and energy-giving foods.
“And, then, when it comes to shelter, I can confidently say that I am dwelling in a house that should, in an ideal world, not be inhabited. Above everything else, I fear for my safety because a month hardly passes without me getting a report about an attack on a person with albinism in some part of the country, if not right here in our district,” she said.
The only positive thing she can say about duty-bearers is that she finds it easy to secure sunscreen. Officials at Machinga District Health Office have made it a point to always stock sunscreen lotion in health facilities they look after.
As such, Wilson always has a steady supply of the skin-protecting lotion.
The problem is: “I always have to cover long distances to get the sunscreen lotion. Sometimes I come at night. This area is a risky one. Yes, the government is doing its best to ensure that we have sunscreen lotion— but distance to where we get it is long. I have to walk on foot to get sunscreen lotion.”
In rural Malawi, around 96 percent of women like her have to cover 10 kilometres on average to access healthcare services and products, according to biomedicalcentral.com.
Paramount Chief Kawinga of Machinga sympathises with people with albinism, saying, when promises are made, those responsible for implementing them do not move quick enough.
“It is high time the needs of people with albinism were prioritised,” the chief says.
This is happening when the government, in the 2021- 22 National Budget, has set aside K300 million for supporting implementation of the National Action Plan for Persons with Albinism.
In the same budget, K400 million has been set aside for the construction of houses of persons with albinism.
However, people with albinism are not upbeat; they think that the government is out to give them a bluff meal— again!
Not Association of Persons with Albinism Chairperson for Machinga, Byson Makolopa, who feels that the government has taken the right step.
“They have been promising us 600 houses for ages. This time, there is a glimmer of hope. We just pray that resources will be put to good use,” he said.
Home Affairs Minister Richard Chimwendo Banda reiterates that the government is committed to meeting the security needs of people with albinism.
He says President Lazarus Chakwera’s administration is doing everything possible to address challenges, including those that hinge on security, so that every citizen of Malawi could freely contribute to national socio-economic development efforts.