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About this story

Author: Mackenzie Reiss

Date: January 2011

People: Mthuthuzeli Ngqob

Fun facts: Mthuthuzeli is a qualified computer teacher for the blind. His dream is to have his own recording studio.

Mthuthuzeli Ngqoba is quite a rarity. He is an albino. The quiet-spoken man has endured ridicule and teasing, with the help of his music.

Albino man’s music salves the soul

By: Mackenzie Reiss

Mthuthuzeli Ngqoba, 32, is like most people in Grahamstown. He was born and raised there, and he speaks the native Xhosa language. He isn’t particularly well-off, but he earns enough to put food on the table and to help pay for a small two-bedroom home that he shares with his parents.

But “Thuthuzi,” as his friends call him, is an outsider. He is an albino.

Out of all the ethnicities on the African continent, Albinism is least prevalent among Xhosa people. Thuthuzi is the one out of every 4,794 people that is born albino, with little to no skin pigmentation, poor eyesight, and a high sensitivity to light. His eyes are crossed and move rapidly back and forth, another symptom of his condition that makes reading extremely difficult.

Growing up, Thuthuzi was tormented by other children at school and on the streets. In the township — where nearly 100% of the residents are black, Xhosa people — his pale skin made him an easy target for prejudice and verbal abuse. They called him names like “white man” or “baboon.”

Music became his outlet for the stress and pressures of being different. Since his eyes and skin are so sensitive to light, he spends much of his time inside his home with the windows and doors closed, to block out the sun’s harmful rays. But rather than feel isolated, Thuthuzi views that time alone as an opportunity to hone his musical talent.

He is completely self-taught — aside from a few pointers from friends — and plays both the guitar and keyboard with striking proficiency. Thuthuzi was a member of a local band for a number of years, and now writes his own music with the dream of someday owning his own recording studio.

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  • Most stunning was Salif’s dancer. All Mali’s musicians have great dancers, but Salif produced the most extraordinary athlete of the festival: a young albino man with yellow braids and extremely long arms, whose twisting, rhythmic torso appeared to be pure cream from head to waist.

    Below the stage, Bozo fishermen presented river puppets representing life on the river. These puppets placate the river spirit Faro and Mali’s Lady of the Lake Mamywata. The farmers of the Bobo village Mouni sent their koro masks to Segou – huge, barrel-shaped bush spirits who normally appear only in the planting season at the start of the rains to promote fertility.

  • Albino man’s music salves the soul. By: Mackenzie Reiss. Mthuthuzeli Ngqoba, 32, is like most people in Grahamstown. He was born and raised there.

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