When Rapson Mbilu Rambuwani was born with albinism, community members urged his parents to kill him. Today, he’s become a champion for people with the condition.
When Rambuwani was born about 50 years ago, members of his family and community regarded him as a reject. Some even suggested he be killed, as his birth was regarded as a bad omen for the family and the community.
“My parents, Sophy and Ephraim Rambuwani, were under a lot of pressure from relatives and community members who could not accept me because I had albinism,” he says. “Some even suggested that I must be killed, while others wanted my mother to be banned from the village of Mandala in Nzhelele, Venda.”
“Fortunately my parents stood together and decided to keep me instead of allowing me to be killed, like what happened to other children who had albinism in the area,” he adds.
While his parents accepted him, other children did not and refused to play or even share a desk with him during school.
“Fortunately, my rejection taught me to be strong,” Rambuwani tells OurHealth. “I decided to ignore the treatment I got because I learned to believe that I am also God’s creature.”
Albinism is a genetic disorder that runs in families. Even parents who do not have the condition can carry the genes for it and may pass it along to their children. People with albinism have little or no pigment in their eyes, skin, or hair because their bodies do not produce a substance called melanin. Melanin also helps protect skin from the sun, which means that people with albinism can be at a higher risk for skin cancer and need to take precautions like wearing sunscreen or covering up when spending long periods in the sun.
The ‘white man of Limpopo’
Rambuwani found comfort in other children who were also born with albinism and became increasingly interested in music, participating in school and church choirs.
After passing matric, Rambuwani studied for a teachers’ diploma at Tshisimani College of Education. In 1999, he released his debut gospel album, Mune Wanga, which became an instant hit. He has since performed in countries like Zambia, Mozambique, Botswana and Swaziland.
Rambuwani became a household name in Limpopo and became active in community structures like civic organisations, politics and the Vhembe District Municipality’s Disability Forum in which he acts as a full-time counsellor. He has also presented a radio programme on disability on the University of Venda’s community radio station, Radio Univen, for almost a decade.
Dubbed ‘the white man of Limpopo’, Rambuwani continues to help disabled people to get grants, as well the sunblock needed by people with albinism to protect their skin.
He says people with disabilities shouldn’t be afraid to come forward to get help and to believe in themselves.
“I am also urging people who were born with albinism to believe in themselves and live normal lives as we are also free,” he says. “The days of people with albinism being killed for muti purposes are over.”
As another way of opening up to the community, Rambuwani also released an album called Mbilu Nwananga, which talks about how he was almost killed as a baby after being rejected by the community.
He says he released the album as another way of creating awareness about discrimination against albinos.
Rambuwani is married to Gloria and they are blessed with two children, 24-year-old Nduvho and Zwivhuya, 22. Neither was born with albinism.