Politicians weigh in on Semenya debate

Politicians have weighed in on the Caster Semenya controversy, with Social Development Minister Edna Molewa saying on Tuesday the athlete had been humiliated.

“What is deeply regrettable about this whole controversy is that these unfounded claims were perpetuated by fellow women competitors who lost out in the race,” she said at the Ambassadorial Forum in Pretoria.

She said there would have been no questions about Semenya’s gender if she had not won the race.

“Caster Semenya’s humiliation is a poignant reminder of the torturous road and hurdles that many women around the world and in our country have to overcome to assert our position in society.”

Semenya had been subjected to humiliation following reports that she was a man.

Molewa said women who led the historic march of 1956 did so against the oppressive regime that treated women as inferior citizens in their own country of birth.

“Today, women face another form of humiliation that is equally oppressive—crime and abuse.”

Looking relaxed but shy and awkward under the glare of media attention, Semenya returned home
on Tuesday.

The president of Athletics South Africa, Leonard Chuene, said he had resigned from his seat on the International Association of Athletics Federations board because of how Semenya had been treated by the organisation.

“We are not going to allow Europeans to describe and define our children,” he told a news conference, which Semenya attended although she did not address reporters.

Semenya was greeted warmly at the airport by several thousand singing and dancing fans as she arrived from Berlin. The 18-year-old, dressed in her team tracksuit with her gold medal around her neck, then was brought to a stage set up in the parking
lot.

On Tuesday, Semenya spoke very briefly at the presidential guest house in Pretoria after South African President Jacob Zuma gave a speech celebrating the athletes’ return.
Semenya strode confidently to the podium and described her last race and those that led to it.

She said that before her final 800m race, her coach told her, “‘last 200, kill them’. I did what he said, but I took a lead in the last 400. I celebrated the last 200. It was great,” she said with a smile as her teammates stood up to applaud.

Zuma said South Africa’s minister of sport and recreation had written to the IAAF to express “our disappointment and the manner in which the body has dealt with 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.”

When asked what he would do if the IAAF ruled to revoke the medal, he said, “they’re not going to remove the gold medal. She won it. So that question does not arise.”

The IAAF will decide Semenya’s case according to whether her “conditions ... accord no advantage over other females” after consulting a gynecologist, an endocrinologist, a psychologist, an internal medicine specialist and a gender expert.

Her genes and physiology as well as how she sees herself and how she is seen by her community could play a role in their determination.

Semenya’s supporters say the allegations against her are motivated by jealousy and show racial discrimination against Africans.

On Sunday, Lamine Diack, the IAAF president, said the affair was handled badly.

“I deeply regret that confidentiality was breached in this case and that the IAAF were forced into a position of having to confirm that gender testing was being carried out on this young athlete,”
Diack told reporters in Berlin. “It is a regrettable matter and I have requested an internal inquiry to ensure that procedures are tightened up and this never happens again.”

‘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 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 the airport.

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.

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