Africans With Albinism Hunted: Limbs Sold on Tanzania's Black Market

Murders spurred by toxic mix of ignorance, prejudice and traditional beliefs.

ByABC News
October 2, 2009, 5:55 PM

Mwanza, Tanzania<br>Aug. 26, 2010 &#151; -- Mariamu Staford, a soft-spoken, 28-year-old single mother from rural Tanzania, has earned a grim distinction: She is one of only a half-dozen people with albinism -- a group that has faced discrimination in East Africa -- to survive a brutal attack by criminals wanting to sell the limbs of albinos on the black market.

In her first interview with American journalists, Staford greeted ABC News with a shy smile, wearing a short-sleeve blouse that revealed the scars of her ordeal.

In the fall of 2008, men armed with machetes entered her hut while she was sleeping and began cutting at her arms in a gruesome attempt to amputate them, Staford told ABC News.

Click here to find out how to help Tanzanians with albinism

"In the middle of the night, a group of men stormed in and said, 'We are going to cut your arm off, and if you scream we'll cut the other arm off,'" she said. "And then they started to chop my right arm off. And because I was screaming, they also started to do the same with the other."

After her attackers fled, it took six full hours for Staford to get medical treatment. Five months pregnant at the time, she lost both arms and her unborn child.

A devout Christian and member of her church choir, Staford was caught up in a grisly trade inspired by a renegade set of witch doctors; they claim potions made of the blood, skin or bones of an albino can make people wealthy and bring good luck.

We spoke just outside the two-room mud-floor building, where she lives with her parents, four young siblings and her son, a toddler. Her artificial limbs, donated by a well-wisher, lay discarded because they were painful and cumbersome.

Despite Tanzania's reputation as a tourist mecca known for safaris and visits to Mount Kilimanjaro, people with albinism are being hunted down like animals. Since 2007, 57 Tanzanian albinos, including children, have been murdered by gangs of men who hack off arms, legs or genitals. To date there have been 66 confirmed attacks, but many more cases are believed to have gone unreported. The country has one of the largest populations of albinos in the world – as many as 150,000 according to some estimates -- and they are being targeted for their white skin.