/ 18 September 2009

Let down by everyone

History is littered with betrayals — few of them with noble intentions.

The betrayal of 18-year-old Caster Semenya at the hands of those who should have protected her must rank among one of the cruellest acts ever to dominate global attention for the wrong reasons.

Former Athletics South Africa (ASA) coach Wilfred Daniels has been a refreshing drop in an ocean of men and women who run the sport — from Johannesburg to the International Association of Athletics Federations’ (IAAF) head office in Monaco. Daniels did the noble thing — he resigned.

A teenage girl’s life has been destroyed, possibly beyond repair, by a group of selfish and powerful individuals who placed their own interests before those of an innocent child.

Are they fit to call themselves parents, one wonders? It has become increasingly clear that the ASA, under the leadership of Leonard Chuene, has lied to the nation about its conduct and role in the humiliation Semenya has endured.

The majority, unlike Daniels, have not admitted their cruelty and continue to enjoy the handsome perks of their positions.

God only knows what Semenya must be going through. Her athletics career has come to a halt.

And for what? It is shameful that those responsible for the destruction of this young life can still look at themselves in the mirror. The IAAF has also betrayed Caster by flouting its own privacy regulations.

We question the motive behind its leaking of the test results to the Australian media.

There is no apology that either the ASA or their bosses in the IAAF could possibly make that would repair the devastation done to Semenya. We read with disgust the ASA’s continued attempts to absolve themselves from blame, their latest Houdini act being a commission of inquiry.

An investigation would need to look no further than the ASA’s front door.

Appearing before Parliament would be commendable if we believed it would deal decisively with the culprits responsible for betraying Caster and the nation. We know very well the connections ASA bigwigs enjoy in the National Assembly.

The ball has therefore landed in President Jacob Zuma’s court once again. He must deliver on his promise to root out corruption by instituting a judicial inquiry.

It is vital that his office rescue national assets from irresponsible hands.

Wake-up call
Richard Goldstone’s meticulously researched and even-handed report on Israel’s three-week war in Gaza in January this year should serve as a loud wake-up call to those who insist on defending the Israeli government’s every action.

Goldstone went to great lengths to reflect both sides of the conflict, insisting that his brief from the United Nations Human Rights Council should include the actions of Hamas, both before and after the Gaza invasion.

He and his three fellow panellists condemn Palestinian rocket attacks on Israeli territory as a war crime and a possible crime against humanity and underscore Hamas’s role in carrying out extrajudicial executions and the arbitrary arrest and detention of political opponents.

It is absurd to brand their report an legitimation of Hamas, as the Israeli government has tried to do.

But there can be no escaping the fact the Israel Defence Force (IDF) and the Israeli government take the heaviest hits. The Gaza attack is excoriated as a deliberately disproportionate attempt to punish and terrorise Palestinian civilians, and as involving breaches of the Geneva Convention which could incur criminal prosecution.

Among the contraventions cited is the use of civilians as human shields — one of the accusations routinely levelled by Israel against Palestinian militants. Israel’s years-long economic blockade of Gaza is condemned as a collective punishment inflicted on all the inhabitants of the territory.

The Goldstone report is quite clear that Israel may be guilty of systematic persecution of the Palestinians, a crime against humanity. Given the horrific persecution of the Jewish people down the ages, this is an ugly irony.

Israel’s response to the worldwide condemnation of the Gaza invasion has been denial and subterfuge. It refused to cooperate with Goldstone’s investigation or to allow him entry to Israel. It allowed the IDF to investigate itself.

And, as we report in this edition, its supporters are doing their utmost to discredit human rights organisations that have criticised Israel, stooping to the sort of smear tactics South Africa’s apartheid propagandists would have rejoiced in.

As the former head of the London-based Institute for Jewish Policy Research, Antony Lerman, argues in the Mail & Guardian, increasingly extreme right-wing governments have turned Israel into the neighbourhood bully, while its defenders have increasingly become the adversaries and underminers of the human rights movement.

It is time for the knee-jerk apologists to open their minds and face the facts.