'I'm proof that people with albinism are capable of doing anything': model Nontobeko Mbuyazi

11 August 2019 - 00:00 By SUTHENTIRA GOVENDER
Nontobeko Mbuyazi combines her international modelling career with educating people about albinism.
Nontobeko Mbuyazi combines her international modelling career with educating people about albinism.
Image: Anna Dabrowska

She’s been labelled a “ghost” and accused of bleaching her skin by cyber bullies because of her pale colouring and blonde hair.

But KwaZulu-Natal model Nontobeko Mbuyazi — who lives with albinism — has not allowed the online torment she’s endured for speaking out about her skin condition, deter her from making the glossy pages of magazines like Vogue.

The Richards Bay beauty is now on the radar of iconic fashion houses like Dior and Jean Paul Gaultier and is preparing to cast for top designers for London’s fashion week in September.

About two years ago, Mbuyazi, 22, was an unknown criminology student with aspirations of being a model.

She was spotted by photographer Val Adamson, who immediately recognised star potential when she saw Mbuyazi sashaying down the ramp at a local fashion show.

“Her skin was just amazing. I knew she had the making of a great model,” Adamson said.

She, together with makeup artist Jackie Jetnarayan and stylist Musa Hlatshwayo, helped Mbuyazi compile her portfolio and introduced her to Durban agency Models International which honed and groomed her.

Then Cape Town-based Topco Models came into the picture and the world became Mbuyazi’s oyster.

Speaking from Hong Kong this week, Mbuyazi said her first job there was a shot for fashion and beauty magazine Ming’s.


“I was also featured in Apple Daily which is a local news outlet in Hong Kong, I did a shoot for Vogue Hong Kong, the list is endless...

“I’m still in Hong Kong, I’ll be leaving for London in a few weeks to cast for fashion week which my mind still cannot physically process. I’m super excited about it and a bit nervous but mostly excited because it’s every model’s dream,” Mbuyazi said.

Sian Shuttleworth, who handles international placement and scouting for Topco Models, said the grooming Mbuyazi received from Durban counterpart Models International prepared her to compete “in this very tough industry”.

“Topco Models has introduced Nontobeko to amazing clients worldwide who have showed great interest in her such as Jean Paul Gaultier, Dior and Vogue to name a few.

“She was recently booked for the Brooks Brothers Supima campaign in Cape Town which is featured globally. I was recently in New York on a scouting trip and saw Nontobeko all over. Her career has blown up in only a few months and this is just the beginning,” said Shuttleworth.

But Mbuyazi’s purpose for taking to the ramp runs deeper than fame and fortune.

Having been a victim of cyber bullying, Mbuyazi — the co-founder of Masiqoqane, an organisation that creates awareness about albinism — wants to use the international catwalk as a platform to help stop the gruesome murders of those living with albinism.

According to the UN, “in some communities, erroneous beliefs and myths, heavily influenced by superstition, put the security and lives of persons with albinism at constant risk”.

There are some in Africa, including SA and Tanzania, who believe that limbs of people living with albinism hold magical powers that can bring luck and ensure good health. There is also a false notion that having sex with a person living with albinism can cure HIV/Aids.

“I believe that people tend to attack things they do not understand so whenever people make assumptions about my condition instead of turning into defensive mode I educate them about my skin condition,” said Mbuyazi.

She hopes that her face splashed in global publications will not only break down barriers but inspire other women living with albinism to fulfill their dreams.

“I am living proof that people living with albinism are capable of doing anything even though sometimes we have to work twice as hard as ‘normal’ people would,” said Mbuyazi.

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