A South African male model with albinism is redefining catwalk stereotypes

Sanele Xaba’s birth came with a shock. The son of a Zulu mother and a coloured father, Xaba’s skin was devoid of colour. But contrary to his grandfather’s first impression, his mother had brought the right baby home from hospital. Xaba has albinism, a condition that leaves him without pigmentation in his hair and skin. If his family was surprised, his peers at school were scornful. His appearance made him the target of brutality. With his self-confidence damaged to the point that he was contemplating suicide, Xaba’s life turned around when he was scouted by a modelling agency at 15.

For the first time he received a new reaction to his appearance. His differences were welcomed as unique and beautiful. He was celebrated and offered a job in an industry built on appearances. Xaba grasped the opportunity and became South Africa’s first male model with albinism. And while he brought something fresh to the catwalk, modelling was the catalyst for the growth of something deeply lacking in him. Self-worth. Purpose. He went on to become head boy at Durban’s Open Air School.

Since his discovery seven years ago, Xaba has developed into a fashion figure beloved by designers. His lustrous future in the industry aside, Xaba is determined to not be left holding onto a single string. He’s working full-time for financial services group Sanlam, while studying towards his BCom Law through UNISA. Modelling remains at the centre of his dreams though. Xaba hopes to one day open an agency in Durban, catering specifically to models with unique looks. Having once been isolated by societal norms, his ambition is to show people the countless faces of beauty. The barriers that Xaba has broken down open up opportunities for other South Africans to overcome adversity.