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Monday, August 24, 2009

: ANC slams 'racist, sexist' attacks on Semenya


By Edwin Naidu and Maureen Isaacson

AMID an international row over her gender, South Africa's golden girl Caster Semenya will return home to a hero's welcome.

The ANC Women's League, (ANCWL) and the ANC Youth League (ANCYL) will be at OR Tambo International Airport when the Limpopo teenager returns on Tuesday.

They will also organise picket protests across the country, voicing their outrage at what they have described as "the sexist and racist vilification" of a young woman who has become a symbol of Africa's triumph on the world athletics stage.

The ANCWL said on Saturday its members would turn out in great numbers to celebrate Semenya, who won the women's 800m final in Berlin at the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) world championships last week.

The IAAF subjects "suspect" athletes to an investigation by a panel consisting of an endocrinologist, a gynaecologist, an internal medicine expert, an expert on gender and a psychologist.

O Saturday ANCYL leader Julius Malema called on the government not to allow the IAAF to go ahead with its gender test on Semenya.

"The... decision to test Semenya is racist and sexist and we must not allow them to do it," he said.

He was addressing the ANCYL regional conference in Durban.

Calls for Semenya to be tested were made because she was black and because she had surpassed her European competitors, Malema said.

He added that the league would not allow Europeans to continue treating black people as if they were monkeys.

"She must just give back their medal if they continue calling for her to be tested.

"We will give her a proper gold here in South Africa," the youth league leader said.

The furore has left Semenya's father flummoxed.

Jacob Semenya, a gardener for the Polokwane Municipality, said this weekend: "From the time she could walk, Caster only wanted to play with boys.

"Her three elder sisters wore dresses, as little girls do, but Caster refused. She has never had a skirt, only trousers.

"I knew she was different to the others, and even now if you speak to her on the telephone you might mistake her for a man.

"But I used to change her nappy, and I know she's a woman. What better proof do people need?''

He cheered after her gold medal victory, but felt physically sick when he heard the news that his daughter was to have the gender tests, he said.

"I really have been concerned for her well-being. However, Caster phoned home from Germany and was very stoical about her plight.''

On Sunday the ANCWL blasted the scrutiny to which Semenya has been subjected, as well as the pending gender testing.

"She's our child and the claims made against her are sexist and racist," said ANCWL deputy president Nosipho Ntwanambi.

"We will welcome her because she has raised the flag for the African continent... in the month that we celebrate women in South Africa.

"We will raise our disgust at the manner in which Semenya has been treated by the international athletics body," said Ntwanambi, who is also the ANC's chief whip in the National Council of Provinces

"Semenya has done us proud, more so because she comes from a poor village, Masehlong, in Limpopo, and her achievement ought to be celebrated as a symbol of hope for young women in our country.

"As ANC women, we are disgusted about the gender row that has broken out, and will highlight this during our picketing.

"The time for racist behaviour should have been over a long time ago, but people still can't get used to the fact that Africans can compete and win on the global stage," said Ntwanambi.

Africans, including Maria Mutola of Mozambique, an Olympic 800m champion, were often the subject of controversy when they had won.

"It's as if Africans are not supposed to win on the world stage," she said.

Shireen Hassim, a gender specialist and political science professor at Wits University, said: "Semenya may not conform to the stereotype of what a woman may look like, but given that there is no clear-cut test for gender and sex, the testing that the IAAF is proposing is highly invasive... both physically and psychologically."

Javu Baloyi, the spokesman for Commission for Gender Equality (CGE), said the furore around Semenya's gender was uncalled for, particularly as it seemed to divert the attention from her achievement - winning a gold medal at the world championships.

"The CGE supports the statements by the Athletics SA, Caster's coach and her parents... that, yes indeed, she is a woman, and that's that.

"We view the saga as being a blatant discrimination, which could have been avoided from playing itself out in the public domain had the parties involved been sincere with one another.

"Instead of occupying ourselves with negativity, it will be ideal for all well-wishers to start preparations... to welcome our hero, who had done her country proud."

According to the IAAF, it could take several months before the results of the complex gender testing are finalised.

(Source: www.iol.co.za)

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