SPELL OF THE ALBINO

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Date: October 2011
Location: Tanzania
Distributor: Al Jazeera English (December 2011) – 24 min.
Credits: directed, filmed & edited by Claudio von Planta
Additional Cameraman: Peter Murimi
Undercover Reporter: Anas Aremeyaw Anas
Executive Producer: Ron McCullagh of Insight News TV
 
Winner of 2012 One World Media Award for Children’s Rights
Nomination for a 2012 RTS Award for Independents
 
SPELL OF THE ALBINO is a very disturbing investigation into the witchcraft driven albino body parts trade in Tanzania.

At the beginning of this assignment for Africa Investigates and Al Jazeera, I have to say I didn’t know much about the albino attacks in Tanzania. I’d read a few news reports on the Internet and based on my natural skepticism I probably felt most of them were exaggerated.
 

But within 3 weeks of my arrival in Northern Tanzania, where I was to be working alongside Ghana’s famous investigative journalist Anas Aremeyaw Anas, Tanzanian reporter Richard Mgambo and Isaack Timothy, our remarkable contact in the albino world, I had seen the aftermath of two, truly disgusting attacks. On Friday the 14th of October a 12-year-old albino boy called Adam lost 3 fingers and exactly a week later a 16-year-old girl called Kulwa had her right arm hacked off. It was a massive shock to realize that despite the best efforts of the Tanzanian authorities and widespread international condemnation, all this albino witchcraft madness was still a reality.
 

Albino body parts are apparently used to produce ‘good luck’ concoctions to boost power, success and wealth. But who wants to buy such potions? Who believes such superstitious nonsense? We had been told of very powerful people in business and politics spending thousands of dollars for albino body parts but in Adam’s case at least, that scenario didn’t seem to fit.
 

In fact, we heard that the intended buyers of Adam’s fingers would have most likely been found amid the local gold mining community, where thousands of men work in quite terrible conditions underground in the hope of getting rich. These miners apparently believe that albino bones can be used like dousing rods to find gold – lucky charms for lucky strikes, if you like. But few have any formal education and it’s clearly far too easy for witchdoctors to abuse their superstition and ignorance and make quick money with criminal trickery.
 

As it turned out, the police suspected some of Adam’s adult relatives of selling his fingers to one local witchdoctor. This seemed to accord with the stories we were told by other family members, who confirmed that some of these adults had indeed been present during the attack. Later two family members and one neighbour were subsequently arrested. Their guilt or innocence is yet to be established in court
 

But whoever is ultimately found to be responsible, we worked out that they may actually have been paid as little as US$100 for the body parts – an estimate based on the price of an albino potion, which a local witchdoctor tried to sell us for US$70. This is not the thousands of dollars, which has often been speculated.
 

Of course to Adam his fingers were absolutely priceless.
 

I have to ask, how is it possible to have such a total lack of empathy for the suffering of other human beings? Yes, it is true that 100 to 200 years ago, even in what is now the so-called developed world, children were working in coal mines and factories in dreadful slave labor like conditions or were being exploited, beaten and killed for a myriad of reasons, none of them remotely justifiable. It is also true that it took far longer than it should have done to change such things for the better and in parts of the world such abuse continues to this day.
 

But this is the 21st century and such things simply shouldn’t happen anywhere anymore. It is deeply disturbing, as I know every right-minded Tanzanian will agree, to discover that the barbarity involved in the attacks on the country’s albinos is even possible. Surely, the concept of equality between all human beings is not so hard to understand? Surely as a species we have grown away from such things?
 

Apparently not.
 

In a broader sense, for me the experience of making this film was akin to a wake-up call. All societies – not only in Africa – have the tendency to look for individual gain at the expense and at the misery of the weak. We are still far too far away from respecting universal human rights on a global level. Far too often human rights seem to be a privilege of rich countries. It is essential that we widen the circles of our own compassion on every front, to work on an individual level to prevent all violations of fundamental human rights. If we don’t all take this responsibility seriously and condemn any such abuse, whenever and wherever it takes place, in the strongest possible terms, then we all risk being tainted with the barbarism and moral bankruptcy of the Tanzanian albino attackers.

 

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1. Spell of the Albino | Von Planta Productions - May 4, 2012

[…] World Media Award nominated Spell of the Albino for their Children’s Rights Award. It’s great to see that this gruesome film about the […]

2. Spell of the Albino | Von Planta Productions - April 7, 2013

[…] Spell of the Albino got nominated for a Royal Television Award in the independent section: RTS Award 2012 Nomination Good to see that this disturbing film continues to attract attention. It will hopefully undermine the still wide-spread African believe in witchcraft. […]

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