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Zimbabwe Hosts Albinism Pageant to Help Break Down Prejudice

Ayanda Sibanda, a model with albinism, has invariably been called “yellow” or “white” by friends and even some relatives. But she hardly recalls anyone referring to her by her actual race.

“I am black, that’s what I thought, but then I am always made to feel otherwise,” said the 18-year old who was crowned Miss Albinism Zimbabwe on Friday night.

Ayanda Sibanda smiles, after being crowned Miss Albinism Zimbabwe 2019 at an albino pageant held in Harare, early Saturday, May 25, 2019. About 70,000 of Zimbabwe’s estimated 16 million people are born with albinism, according to government figures. They often stand out, making them a subject at times of discrimination, ridicule and dangerously misguided beliefs. The Mr. and Miss Albinism Zimbabwe competition, now in its second year, is a chance to push back. (AP Photo/Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi)

At the pageant, competitors and organizers spoke frankly about color and prejudice.

About 70,000 of Zimbabwe’s estimated 16 million people are born with albinism, according to government figures. They often stand out, making them a subject at times of discrimination, ridicule and dangerously misguided beliefs.

“Some have superstitions that we can bring luck or cure HIV,” said Brenda Mudzimu, organizer of the pageant, one of a growing number of such events in Africa .

In nearby Malawi and Tanzania, albinos are sometimes killed for their body parts for use in witchcraft. No such killings have been recorded in Zimbabwe. But people with albinism say life is still tough.

The Mr. and Miss Albinism Zimbabwe competition, now in its second year, is a chance to push back.

“I want it to be normal for an albino girl to achieve without it being a newspaper headline,” Ayanda told The Associated Press. “They never say a black girl won Miss Zimbabwe. But if I were to win it, they would all say an albino girl won.”

Friday night’s crown was her second in just weeks. Last month she was crowned second princess of Miss Teen Zimbabwe. “It was open to every race,” she said. But she said she has been told she lost some other pageants only because of her albinism.

Contestants are seen during rehearsals for the Miss Albinism Zimbabwe 2019 at an event in Harare, Friday, May 24, 2019. About 70,000 of Zimbabwe’s estimated 16 million people are born with albinism, according to government figures. They often stand out, making them a subject at times of discrimination, ridicule and dangerously misguided beliefs. The Mr. and Miss Albinism Zimbabwe competition, now in its second year, is a chance to push back. (AP Photo/Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi)

She and others, including university students and a nurse, strutted down the tiny runway Friday night to Ed Sheeran’s hit song “Perfect,” posed for judges and answered questions to cheers from the crowd.

The loudest cheers were for the male models, competing for the first time.

“My God, he is such a hunk,” shouted one woman in the crowd. “This is what I call a real man,” yelled another as the eventual winner of Mr. Albinism, Edson Mambinge, a 21-year-old fitness trainer, strolled by.

“When I am modelling, albinism is not my peculiarity. My fitness is,” Mambinge said.

Amping up the energy, poet Rufaro Chinyanga went lyrical to unpack the racial complexities.

“Walking down the streets I hear these voices, ‘You ghost, you pig, you half caste’ and I go home with my heart in my hands and I say, ‘Mother, tell me the truth, did you have an affair with a white man?’ And she looks at me and says, ‘My son, you are just white yet black, black as they are.’”

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