The Albino Aid Multipurpose Association (AAMA) has been fighting for the rights of its members—and highlighting their challenges—since its formation three years ago. Albinism occurs when one of several genetic defects makes the body unable to produce or distribute melanin—a natural substance that gives colour to the hair, skin, and eyes. The defects may be passed down through families and could result in complications such as crossed eyes, light-sensitivity, rapid eye-movement and vision problems. In this wide-ranging interview, AAMA president Motlatsi Mosaase speaks with the Lesotho Times (LT) reporter Lekhetho Ntsukunyane about the organization, the challenges albinos face in their lives and how the association received news that one of their own—Dr Kananelo Mosito—had been appointed President of Lesotho’s Court of Appeal.
LT: Could you please give us a background of the Albino Aid Multipurpose Association?
Mosaase: The Albino Aid Multipurpose Association was established in April 2012 under the Societies Act of 1966. It is a national organisation which mainly seeks to help albinos in their challenges, as we all know that they have special needs. For instance, they are people with sensitive skin to sunlight, poor vision and, to a certain extent, you find that others cannot cope with this condition at all. So basically, the Albino Aid Multipurpose Association wants to ensure Basotho who are albinos get the necessary assistance they might need.
LT: How popular is the AAMA in Lesotho? Are your activities well-known among communities and also, how have Basotho responded to the association?
Mosaase: We are currently doing countrywide tours to introduce ourselves to the nation. Things are very slow at this point because we are still a very young organisation. In fact, it has been very difficult to get by and function as an organization but still, we have been able to visit places such as Pitseng, Morija, Ha-Mokhalinyane, Thupa-Kubu and Ha-’Matholoana. These tours are basically to find out where albinos are because we are trying to grow our membership, which is very important for an organisation if it is to be effective in its mandate. At the same time, because this condition does not necessarily affect albinos alone; it affects everyone because we are related, so we also need to pass on the message and teach people what exactly albinism is. You see, people don’t believe that albinism is normal. And I always beg to differ. People need to understand that albinism is normal because we also have albino plants, and albino animals, so the way I understand this is that it was God’s creation from the beginning. So this is what we also teach people as we go around the country. Like I said, we also find new members and try and see how we can help them. Normally, after teaching people about albinism, we give those with the condition items such as hats to protect them from sunlight. We sometimes also give them sunscreen and proper lotions which will help so much in protecting the skin.
LT: What challenges are you facing as you conduct these tours?
Mosaase: One of the main challenges we face is that we have not been able to find these lotions in bulk so that everyone who might need them can benefit. The other problem is we cannot say for a fact how many we are in the country. However, we are hoping that with the next census, which is next year, 2016, we are trying to work together with the government to see if we can be part of that and help establish how many albinos are in Lesotho. Albinos are included in the census but we are not separated from the rest of the community so that there can be official determination of the numbers.
There are some questions which, if asked during the census, can actually bring an accurate picture of the number of albinos in the country. People just need to go deeper into that and understand what albinism is. This would also help the government to set policies related to albinism, just like other countries do. It also helps us, as an organization, to effectively and transparently seek funding and mobilise resources. We are being asked by potential funders how many albinos are in the country and we have not been able to be precise on this.
LT: Apart from the challenges you have just mentioned, what other socially related problems does the albino community face in Lesotho?
Mosaase: Yes; there are social challenges everywhere. Right from the very beginning when you start to realise at primary school that you are an albino. It is probably the toughest time because you find that even the children, sometimes through lack of understanding and because of their youth, become very nasty to you because you are an albino. They find you very mean until sometimes they are used to being around you and grow and understand your condition. At some stage you find that some love you, some don’t and some are even afraid of you. With me, in particular, one of those things which have probably happened to every other albino, is that people will just force you to face the sunlight as a way of torture or trying to experiment with us how the sun affects albinos. They will also be saying nasty things that will make you feel inferior. You then grow up and become a teenager, then you try to date girls and you encounter problems too. But then again, on the other hand, you still get away with some other girls who understand this condition. I, for one, have a wife. I have been married for seven years and I have two children who are not albinos.
LT: What keeps you strong under such challenges?
Mosaase: It is basically the support system I have. Since the beginning, my family has really supported me. That really helps to boost your self-esteem. However, you find that other people may not have the same kind of support. That is why there is an association such as ours that can be this missing support system for people who might not enjoy the same compassion that I have.
LT: Your association has issued a statement showing support to your fellow albino, Dr Kananelo Mosito, following his appointment as president of the Lesotho Court of Appeal in January this year. The appointment has been challenged in the courts by the Attorney General and he has lost the case. Tell us about this statement and why you found it necessary to issue it?
Mosaase: The statement just shows that even though the appointment of Justice Mosito was challenged, he has the credentials needed for the job as stated by the judgment of the Court of Appeal. As an association, in which Ntate Mosito is an honorary member, we feel so much excited by his appointment to the helm of the apex court, as well as about him being an albino. We even thought that he could be the first albino on the African continent, even in the world, to be appointed President of an Appeal Court. So as albinos who grew up in Lesotho, we were so much taught about him as a role model. We were literally told by our parents and guardians that we should go to school to be like Advocate Kananelo Mosito. So basically, by issuing the statement, we wanted to congratulate Ntate Mosito and also make it known to other albinos that no-matter who you are, you can even achieve the highest of dreams. We wanted to pass the message that anything is possible for as long as you do not look down on yourself because you are an albino and pity yourself. As an albino association, I think we just wanted to pass that message of confidence to the rest of the albino community in colleges, universities and all over, using Dr Mosito as an example.
LT: Tell us exactly how important it is for albinos to be recognised and appointed to positions as high as Court of Appeal president?
Mosaase: It is such a good feeling for us as albinos. As an honourary member, Dr Mosito can give a lot of counsel to us. And as an association we feel that with Dr Mosito being in that position and other fellow albinos as well achieving great things, we will be getting more recognition. It is actually a confidence-booster to every albino living in Lesotho.
LT: There is an allegation that following the dismissal of Justice Michael Ramodibedi, as Chief Justice in Swaziland, and his subsequent return to Lesotho, the government of Lesotho could reinstate him to his previous position of president of the Lesotho Court of Appeal and remove Dr Mosito. What is your position over this speculation?
Mosaase: I don’t know much about how far the law says about that. As an association, you know we were just so much happy that His Majesty (King Letsie III) appointed Dr Mosito to that high post. Now if, through our government, it would happen that Dr Mosito is replaced, I think there would really be some changes in our national constitution. I don’t think His Majesty would appoint Dr Mosito and then be happy if all of a sudden he is being replaced by someone who has held a similar position before. I would say it would say a lot about our constitution. And if it happens we will definitely not be happy. It will kill all the excitement that we have had since Dr Mosito was appointed to the post early this year. For us it would be a setback.