FREE CASTER SEMENYA

Posted on Friday, September 25th, 2009 at 4:15 pm and is filed under Archive | 0

If Leonard Chuene had any integrity, he would already have made a public apology to Caster Semenya, at the same time as announcing his immediate resignation as president of Athletics South Africa (ASA). Chuene should have made these announcements a week ago, at the press conference where he admitted lying about Semenya from the start of this sad and shabby affair.

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Now it seems that the board of ASA, having given him a vote of confidence yesterday (Thursday), has as little integrity as Chuene. Which is to say, none. This incidentally is the same board who commended Chuene two weeks ago for his handling of the Semenya case.

This does not necessarily mean that Chuene’s post is secure, since the national sports ministry and the South African  Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee (SASCOC) may step in and demand Chuene’s departure anyway. However, given that the sports minister threatened ‘World War Three’ if Semenya’s gold was withdrawn, no one should hold their breath on this one.

To recap: doubts about Semenya’s gender emerged three months ago, when her masculine figure and an unfeasibly huge improvement in her 800 metres times, contributed to her winning the African junior 800 metres title. By the time she won the world senior title by over 15 metres, the clamour for clarification about gender tests became a cause celebre around the world.

2009 World Outdoor Championships

Chuene incited a bunch of rabble-rousers in South Africa, by claiming that she was being victimised by racists, and that IAAF’ demands for pre-Berlin gender tests were lies. It turns out (on his own admission) that it was Chuene who was lying, in almost everything he said about Semenya.

In refusing to apologise or resign, Chuene is demonstrating the same arrogance and insensitivity that led him to ride roughshod over wiser counsels. Like the ASA team doctor who apparently advised that Semenya be withdrawn from the Berlin team, on the basis of results of gender tests, conducted in South Africa. Chuene repeatedly claimed that these tests had not been done prior to the world championships. The subsequent resignation of high-performance coach Wilfred Daniels suggests that not everyone in ASA is as incompetent and mendacious as its boss.

The worst thing in all this is the continuing public exposure of a potentially vulnerable young woman, who was ‘used’ to win a gold medal, and has subsequently been forced into being a poster child for racial politics in South Africa.

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Those of us who saw through Chuene’s bluster from the start (see column, August 26) can draw little comfort from being proved right. It’s confirmation of another depressing chapter of abuse in Africa. Yes, the colonialists, such as my British predecessors have a lot to answer for. But when ruling parties lose democratic elections, as in Kenya and  Zimbabwe, and insist on staying, in what are mockingly called ‘power-sharing’ governments, in order to further their kleptocratic agendas, it is hardly a good example to anyone, either in government or any public office throughout Africa.

Unfortunately South Africa, the major power in the region, was heavily implicated in those electoral farragoes, with former SA president, Thabo Mbeki feeling he owed more to Robert Mugabe’s anti-colonial activism 40 years ago, than to the Zimbabwean president’s current demagoguery. Ditto Mbeki’s bow before vested interests in Kenya.

South Africa, with the model of sanity and sanctity that was Nelson Mandela, avoided the meltdown that was widely predicted when majority-rule was installed. But South Africa has enormous social problems, not least its incidence of HIV/AIDS, easily the highest in the world, with an estimated 5.5m infected people in 2008.

Yet like with ‘democracy’ in Kenya and Zimbabwe, the example of successive South African presidents, Mbeki and Jacob Zuma has been the biggest drawback to addressing the problem.

Mbeki’s refusal to accept coventional wisdom on the causes of HIV/AIDS resulted, claimed a Harvard research paper in an extra 300,000 deaths, despite increasing availabity of low-cost retrovirals. As for Zuma, a man with several wives, although exonerated by the court at a trial for rape in 2006 (pre-presidency), he admitted sex without a condom with someone he knew was HIV positive, but said in his defence that he, “took a shower afterwards”.

Zuma’s lack of concern for the health and safety of his wives reflects a society, whose attitudes to women still leave much to be desired; as Mandela once implied when, in one of his first post-prison speeches, he talked about the future of South Africa as, “non-racist and non-sexist”.

Because the other worldwide statistical tables that South Africa tops are those for murder and rape. And they have begun to come together in South Africa in the most disgusting fashion, exemplified by the gang rape and murder of Eudy Simelane last April.

A former footballer for the SA national women’s team – then a coach, and hoping to officiate at the forthcoming soccer World Cup – Simelane, an overt lesbian, living in a township was, in the words of Judge Ratha Mokgoathleng, “stripped naked, stabbed, assaulted, raped. What more indignity can a person endure?”

The judge, sentencing a second man to over 30 years imprisonment this week, denied that Simelane’s sexuality had anything to do with her death. But Phumi Mtetwa, executive director of the Lesbian and Gay Equality Project said, “How did people know her in the township? She was a soccer player, who was ‘butch’ and was known. People are killed because of who they are”.

Is it attitudes like that to women, especially those who are ‘different,’ which led Leonard Chuene to think that he could use and abuse Caster Semenya as a political pawn?

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