People with her condition are often persecuted and pestered because of the way they look. They’re seen as odd, freakish and a source of potent magic by those too ignorant to know better.
But rising star Michelle Mosalakae is proving that albinism isn’t a deterrent to her dreams, and she’s using it to her advantage in her breakout role in Isibaya and by becoming Revlon’s first ambassador with albinism.
Speaking to DRUM in an interview late last year, the Isibaya actress spoke about growing up with the condition and following her dreams and in the entertainment industry.
Her recent success is all thanks to the love and support she received as a child, Michelle says.
“Growing up, I always I knew I had albinism. But I was never shameful about it. I was never discriminated against in my community.”
“I understand the complexity and stereotypes that come with albinism that are embedded in our society. The discrimination is based on the belief that certain body parts of people with albinism can bestow magical powers, Michelle said.
“Such misconception is based on irrational beliefs in some parts of Africa, including South Africa. It has been exploited by witch doctors and others who use such body parts as ingredients in rituals, fabrications and medicines with the claim that their magic will bring prosperity to the user.
“Because of these cruel and irrational beliefs, people with albinism have been hounded, killed and dismembered, and graves of albinos dug up and ruined. People with albinism have been ostracised because they are presumed to be cursed and bring bad luck,” she explained.
As an only child Michelle was raised in a home where she was taught she wasn’t any different to other children, so her condition didn’t deter her from reaching her dreams.
“I have wonderful parents. My mother told me I’m not different or less than anyone, she taught me self-love and planted that seed that’s stayed with me. As a person living with albinism you need to find self-love first, irrespective of what other people think. It’s a lesson that was reinforced at school.”
“I was surrounded by intelligent people who understand the condition – even St Mary’s Diocesan School for Girls in Hillcrest, Pretoria was incredibly embracing. That gave me self-confidence. I was told to love myself and they treated me like that as well.
“The attacks on us come from unfounded assumptions from people who are arrogant. It breaks my heart every time I hear such reports [of ritual killings]. I don’t understand why it happens. “But I grew up without fear. I was protected by people who don’t give in to stereotypes. I think the killings are based on a lack of understanding.”
Like Zakitha (The character she plays on Isibaya), Michelle is focussing on herself and living her dream.
“For now, it’s necessary for me to be in my own space, loving myself first. I’m still learning from the opportunities that have been given to me by God.”
She’s clearly concentrating on carving her career, so does she have time to date?
“Maybe in the near future. I’ve never been in a serious relationship. I hope once that happens, it will be someone who’ll give me love, where I’ll be able to find myself. He must be a patient and loving person.”
Her ideal husband is a God-fearing man, someone kind and independent with a healthy dose of confidence and self-drive.
“I can’t just pour myself in an empty cup,” she explains. For now, she’ll continue to hone her skill.
“I want to tell stories internationally and understand other people’s stories from around the world. “I adore many people in the industry so it’s hard to choose a favourite but [American actress] Viola Davis stands out for me. She’s great, she learned her craft very well.”
Michelle says she’s also learnt a few things from her time on Isibaya.
“I’m naturally a very organised person but I realised nothing in life is certain and you can’t live that way.” Setswana-speaking Michelle is also picking up isiZulu on set.
“I’ve learnt not to be concerned about something you don’t know; just focus on what you are confident in and be willing to learn.” She’s an inspiration to everyone. “You must always aim high,” she says.
“Dreams must always scare you so you can work harder and not let anything or anyone tell you that you can’t achieve them.”