UK & World News

  • 1 January 2014, 15:16

Albinism: Model Thando Hopa Fights Taboos

Thando Hopa is challenging all manner of perceptions.

She is a South African model with albinism - one of the very few in the world - and she's a young woman with a law degree, tackling male chauvinism as a prosecutor.

But it's smashing traditional notions of what is beauty that she is passionate about.

Having albinism means she has no pigment in her skin, hair or eyes due to an absence of melanin.

This means she is very prone to sunburn and her eyes are extremely sensitive to light.

She's officially classified as blind. But in Africa, it also means she stands a high risk of being hunted down and killed or tortured and used as "muti" or medicine.

Those with albinism are believed to have special healing powers in Africa.

Some also believe that if you kill a person with albinism this will bring you extraordinary riches.

Thando has never felt in danger, but she is acutely aware that many others like her are not so fortunate.

At the very least, those with albinism in Africa suffer discrimination and prejudice.

It's this knowledge which has prompted her desire to be a role model for those less fortunate.

She turned down three other modelling offers before she agreed to a request by Gert-Johan Coetzee, South Africa's rising fashion designer.

"Right now I'm known as Thando the model with albinism," she told Sky News.

"I want there eventually to be a day when I am known not as someone with albinism, but just as Thando.

"I want to make a difference, and not just one about perception.

"I want practical help for those with albinism so they get help buying suncream and help with their eyesight."

She's certainly given others with albinism much more confidence - but their lives are tough.

Bellina Motsoahae, 23, has albinism, and has two children, one with albinism. She also has two sisters with albinism. 

They all live together in a tiny one-room house.

They are very stoic about their challenges, but the children have all been bullied and their father has deserted them.

Bellina believes the fathers of her two children only struck up a relationship with her because they believed sleeping with a person with albinism would somehow enhance their lot, maybe bringing them riches.

Neither of them have stayed with her.  

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