Continue to walk tall, Zuma tells Semenya

Rumours that World Athletics Championship gold medallist Caster Semenya was not a woman were wrong and ill-spirited, President Jacob Zuma said on Tuesday.

Briefing the media in Pretoria after meeting Semenya and her fellow medal-winning athletes, Mbulaeni Mulaudzi and Khotso Mokoena, Zuma said Semenya showcased women’s achievements, power and strength.

“Miss Semenya had also reminded the world of the importance of the right to human dignity and privacy, which should be enjoyed by all human beings,” said Zuma.

In recognition of the supremacy of these rights, the government wished to register its displeasure at the manner in which Semenya was treated.

Zuma said Sport and Recreation Minister Makhenkesi Stofile had written to the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF), which decided that Semenya should undergo genetic testing.

He said the ministry would follow up on the matter.

“It is one thing to seek to ascertain whether or not an athlete has an unfair advantage over others, but it is another to publicly humiliate an honest, professional and competent athlete,” he said, extending his support to Semenya and her family.

“Continue to walk tall Mokgadi, we are proud of you, we love you. These events should not distract us from celebrating your outstanding achievements on the track”.

Zuma said the rumours were “wrong” and dampened the spirit of the young people.

“It was started deliberately to cause a kind of confusion and dampen the spirits of the country unnecessarily,” he said.

When asked about reports that the rumour emanated from South Africa, Zuma said: “If it did, those South Africans are really not demonstrating their patriotism to a serious degree.”

Throughout the address, Semenya sat silently with her eyes turned towards the ground.

‘The white-controlled media is wrong’
Meanwhile, international and local media came under fire on Tuesday for reports that suggested Semenya was a man, not a woman.

Leading the pack was African National Congress Youth League leader Julius Malema, followed by Athletics South Africa president Leonard Chuene and ANC MP Winnie Madikizela-Mandela.

“Once again the white-controlled media is wrong ...
please stop bothering Caster, she needs time to celebrate,” Malema told a press briefing at OR Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg.

By questioning Semenya’s gender the media was undermining, “the woman who gave birth to her and all women of South Africa…

“The media who wanted to plant a seed that there was something questionable regarding her gender, including those who complained to the IAAF earlier this year, are undermining all women of South Africa.”

“... Those radio commentators, at least we know your views, not only towards Caster, but to all of us. We know your loyalty lies in Australia,” Malema said.

Chuene said he was “traumatised” by the media, just like Semenya was.

“She [Caster] has been traumatised. I am traumatised ... I have been traumatised by the international hostile media.”

Madikizela-Mandela said: “They can write what they like, but nothing is going to dampen the spirit of this little girl.

“To those out there who performed those tests ... they can stuff their tests.”

Referring to journalists, she said: “We know your responsibility is to inform us, but do so patriotically without insulting one of our own. Use the freedom of press we gave you properly, because we can take it from you.”

Chuene, who earlier told a media briefing that reports questioning Semenya’s gender originated from within the country, would not be drawn to reveal which media organisation or journalist was responsible for reporting of Semenya to athletics governing body the IAAF.

“The problem of Caster not being a girl comes from South Africa, not Australia. But I have to observe protocol and inform the state president first,” he said.—Sapa