After a long journey from Swaziland, Walter Maphalala, left, visits Port Townsend with Pastor Tony Brown of Trinity United Methodist Church. The young man was granted a tourist visa. (Jeannie McMacken/Peninsula Daily News)

After a long journey from Swaziland, Walter Maphalala, left, visits Port Townsend with Pastor Tony Brown of Trinity United Methodist Church. The young man was granted a tourist visa. (Jeannie McMacken/Peninsula Daily News)

Young man threatened in Swaziland arrives in U.S.

PORT TOWNSEND — Walter Maphalala, 19, flew 40 hours to reach Seattle-Tacoma International Airport from Swaziland, leaving behind a life that put him in jeopardy because of his mere existence.

As the wheels of his jet touched the runway Aug. 19, his first Facebook post read: “No longer a slave.”

Maphalala has albinism. He’s considered special in Swaziland, prized for his white flesh and that makes him a highly sought-after human, with a local bounty of 1 million Rand ($70,000). Several people from his area with the same genetic condition reportedly have been killed in the last year, their skin used as “good luck charms” in witch doctor rituals.

He had been threatened. He was being followed. He knew the clock was ticking.

Hosted in Bellevue, Maphalala visited the pastor who helped him leave the danger, and met the congregation of the church in Port Townsend over the weekend

It was completely by coincidence that Pastor Tony Brown of Trinity United Methodist Church and other Methodist volunteers met him last year.

Brown and his group volunteered to build a playground and do work at an orphanage in Manzini, the county’s second largest urban center.

Maphalala’s mother enrolled her son for his safety. He left his home village of Nhletjeni, his four sisters and two brothers, and the memory of his father who died last year, and began classes.

He still was not safe. He was being followed again.

After meeting Maphalala and hearing his story, Brown knew he had to do something to help save his life.

Efforts for asylum were rejected, but Brown said Maphalala was approved for a six-month tourist visa.

“If we can’t get asylum and his visa expires … well, we are working on that,” Brown said. “We have a lawyer in New York who is making the pieces move.”

The organization helping Maphalala, Under the Same Sun, advocates for people with albinism. According to Brown, they are pretty certain now that since he’s now in the U.S., they can make a good case for asylum because of the dangers he faced in Swaziland.

“To be just 19 and leave your county and travel to meet people whom you’ve met one time, he’s very brave,” Brown said.

The church paid for Maphalala’s ticket, but it was only one way. To get into the U.S., he had to have a return ticket. Brown said he paid a lot of extra money and bought a fully-refundable one.

“I’m confident I will get the money back,” Brown said.

Maphalala is an enthusiastic young man who is drinking in all the sights and sounds of our community. He said he learned English by “watching movies, listening to music and reading books.” Manzini is a city that has some American influence, but being here is not the same as the county he saw on films.

“The environment is very different,” he exclaimed. “The temperatures are low. The people I’ve been meeting are so friendly and everything is good. I went on the ferry and I was amazed. I was impressed with the Hood Canal Bridge and hope to see it open.”

Maphalala knows what he wants to do after he’s settled. He’s staying in , with host and Methodist Church member Alicea Rieger who flew to Swaziland to accompany him to Washington. She’ll host him for the next six months She was part of the church group who met him last year.

“What I want to do is my education. I want to work in economics,” Maphalala said.

Rieger has arranged for him to take three classes at Bellevue College.

“These are three good classes for Walter to keep him engaged in learning until he has a new visa where he can engage in the public school system. Two are day classes and one is an evening class,” Rieger explained.

She said getting him on the Bellevue College campus to interact with other young people who are also new to the U.S. will be important for him. He’s scheduled to take Grammar Review, English Conversation, and Everyday Idioms and Expressions, all specially designed for non-native speakers.

Each class costs $378.96. Textbooks for the classes are an extra charge.

“Many people have been asking how they can help and this is one way — donations towards his classwork,” Rieger said.

Maphalala is staying in touch with his family, especially with one of his sisters, through a donated iPhone and WhatsApp, a free messaging and voice over internet service. He said he doesn’t plan to return to Swaziland for many years, and will do so only to see his mother and siblings.

On his long journey to America, Walter’s first stop was in South Africa.

“My dreams are coming true. I will be free,” Maphalala thought as he saw his county from above. “And then when we fly I said I’m leaving South Africa for good. My life will be free every day. I have a new, happy life.”

To help Maphalala, visit, click the donate button and from the menu find Walter’s Asylum.


Jefferson County Editor/Reporter Jeannie McMacken can be reached at 360-385-2335 or at

More in News

Jason Minnoch, left, and Jim deBord move a set of musical chimes as Al Oman and Jo Johnston look on during preparations on Wednesday for Sunday’s playground opening of the Dream Playground at Erickson Playfield in Port Angeles. The playground, rebuilt by volunteers in May after much of it was destroyed by arson in December, will host an official reopening and dedication ceremony at 3 p.m. Sunday. (Keith Thorpe/Peninsula Daily News)
Reopening ceremony Sunday

Jason Minnoch, left, and Jim deBord move a set of musical chimes… Continue reading

Port Townsend, YMCA sued over 2022 pool ban

Confrontation with transgender employee at center of lawsuit

More muscle than wind in Phase 2 of Race to Alaska

Winds die down, force sailors to alternate with human power

Chris Fidler.
Port Angeles man honored with Distinguished Alumni award

Chris Fidler of Port Angeles has received the Distinguished Alumni… Continue reading

Members of the Makah Tribe bring a gray whale to shore on May 18, 1999. A federal ruling Thursday will allow the tribe to take 25 whales in a 10-year period. (Peninsula Daily News file)
Makah Tribe granted waiver to hunt gray whales

Ruling to allow tribe 25 in 10-year period

Team Roscoe Pickle Train of Port Townsend, which includes Chris Iruz, Enzo Dougherty, Odin Smith and Pearl Smith, were first out of the Victoria Inner Harbour at the start of the Race to Alaska on Tuesday. The cannon fired at noon and 38 racers headed to Ketchikan, a 750-mile contest that started in Port Townsend on Sunday. (Steve Mullensky/for Peninsula Daily News)
Racers restart in Victoria on their way to Alaska

One rescued by Coast Guard; two others try wheeling over land

Sequim city council members approved a $2.45 million purchase of 16.52 acres off West Hendrickson Road to be used for a future park. It remains closed to the public as it’s being leased for agricultural use until plans and funding can be put in place for the future park. (Matthew Nash/Olympic Peninsula News Group)
Sequim purchases 16 acres for park

City negotiated with McCord family for 2 years

Clallam sheriff pursuing $9.6M grant for public safety facility

Defense program geared to supporting military installations

Kayakers to attempt to cross strait on Friday

Six kayakers will attempt to paddle south across the… Continue reading

Jefferson PUD has bought the former AP&T building at 193 Otto St. in Port Townsend.
Jefferson PUD purchases office building for expansion

The Jefferson County Public Utility District commissioners have approved… Continue reading

East Jefferson Fire Rescue crews respond to a structure fire in the 300 block of West Kinkaid Street. A garage was destroyed.
Fire destroys garage in Irondale

A fire destroyed a garage in the 300 block of… Continue reading

Lindsey Sehmel.
Sequim hires director of community and economic development

The city of Sequim has hired Lindsey Sehmel as its… Continue reading