World Vitiligo Day: ‘I want people to accept me as I am’, says student activist Dineo Mkhabela

Dineo Mkhabela's Inspiring Journey living with vitiligo. Photo: Supplied

Dineo Mkhabela's Inspiring Journey living with vitiligo. Photo: Supplied

Published Jun 25, 2024


June 25 marks the commemoration of World Vitiligo Day— a day dedicated on raising awareness about vitiligo, advocating for those affected by the condition, and fostering global understanding and acceptance.

Vitiligo manifests as white patches on the skin, varying in size and location, due to the destruction of melanocytes, which produce melanin—the pigment responsible for skin colour. Despite affecting about 1% of the global population, vitiligo is often misunderstood.

World Vitiligo Day plays a crucial role in dispelling myths and misconceptions through awareness campaigns, fostering empathy, and encouraging a more informed perspective on this condition.

Currently, there is no definitive cure for vitiligo, making it a chronic condition that requires ongoing management and treatment.

Dr Anand Ganesan, a dermatologist and vitiligo expert at UCI Health, emphasizes the challenges faced by patients due to the lack of a definitive cure.

"All we had at the time was light therapy and topical steroids, which were minimally effective," he said.

This chronic condition requires ongoing management and treatment, underscoring the need for continued research into its causes and potential therapies.

“Today, there has never been more hope for patients with the autoimmune disease, which affects an estimated 70 million people worldwide, at least 25% of them children,” said Dr Ganesan.

To gain insights into the personal journey of living with vitiligo, IOL spoke with Dineo Mkhabela, a 21-year-old student at Cape Peninsula University of Technology. Dineo has been living with Vitiligo for 17 years.

She was diagnosed with vitiligo at the age of three, she has faced numerous challenges, including bullying and low self-esteem during her childhood.

"I did not want to attend school sometimes, and often felt like I needed to hide myself because of being different," Dineo said.

Dineo Mkhabela is raising awareness about vitiligo on TikTok.

Inspired by figures like Winnie Harlow, known for her confidence and self-acceptance despite vitiligo, Dineo found the strength to embrace her uniqueness.

"I told myself that I am beautiful, unique and there is nothing that I can do to change my skin condition," she said.

Dineo has a TikTok account that she created to interact with people and to show them her skin condition so she can be accepted.

Despite her positivity, Dineo has encountered hurtful comments on Tik Tok, with some foolishly remarking “just change your skin to one colour; your skin looks scary”, while others have said “why are you trying to bleach your skin?"

She also expresses frustration when people suggest products or treatments to cure her condition.

“I want people to know that vitiligo is condition not a disease, it can happen to anyone.

“It is not contagious or infectious. It is painless and it is not related to albinism. I want people to accept me as I am and know that I am normal just like them,” Dineo said.