/ 20 August 2009

Semenya family: ‘She’s a girl’

The family of sprinter Caster Semenya says she is definitely a woman, despite questions raised about her gender, newspapers reported on Thursday.

”[The controversy] doesn’t bother me that much because I know she’s a woman — I raised her myself,” Semenya’s paternal grandmother Maputhi Sekgala told The Times.

Semenya won the 800m at the World Athletics Championship in Berlin, Germany, on Wednesday. She immediately found herself embroiled in controversy, when media outlets around the world scrutinised her masculine facial features and questioned her gender.

The International Association of Athletics Federations was investigating the gender allegations.

”What can I do when they call her a man, when she’s not really a man? It is God who made her look that way,” said Sekgala.

Semenya’s ”best friend” Deborah Morong also defended the sprinter’s gender.

Semenya’s father, Jacob Semenya, pleaded: ”I wish they would leave my daughter alone.

”She is my little girl. I raised her and I have never doubted her gender. She is a woman and I can repeat that a million times,” Semenya told the Sowetan.

Sekgala said her granddaughter had been teased at school for her looks and for being the only girl on the local soccer team.

The champion sprinter is from a rural village in Moletjie in Limpopo.

Several of Semenya’s family members gathered in a neighbour’s house to watch her victory on satellite television.

As Semenya crossed the finish line, they chanted ”Caster! Caster! Caster!”

”We always knew she would win, but were a bit nervous at the beginning,” said Semenya’s sister, Nkele (16).

Govt congratulates Semenya
Meanwhile, the Department of Women, Children and Persons with Disabilities said on Thursday that the success of Semenya is proof of her ”determination and resolve”.

”Semenya’s outstanding success despite negative media speculation about her gender demonstrates her determination and resolve to succeed,” the department said in a statement.

The ”humble background” of the sprinter and her victory in the women’s 800m at the World Athletics Championship in Berlin ”should encourage all our athletes to perform at their best and ensure that South Africa becomes a force to be reckoned with in the world of athletics”.

Semenya is a first year student at the University of Pretoria, which also congratulated her.

”Semenya is an example of someone who made the very best use of the space and opportunities created by the university to excel as a sportswoman,” said acting vice-chancellor Chris de Beer in a statement.

”Not only has she done the university proud, but she also serves as an inspiration and sets a shining example for other students to follow.” — Sapa