African business, politics and lifestyle
South African fury at sex test for track star
Eighteen-year-old Mokgadi ‘Caster’ Semenya is being celebrated as a national hero in South Africa after winning the 800 metres at the World Athletics Championships, but the decision by international athletics officials to order a gender verification test has stirred deep anger – and brought accusations of prejudice against the country and the continent.
Many in South Africa feel a victory by their talented young athlete is being tarnished by bad losers and a world all too ready to mock. Sensitivities to prejudice are never far from the surface in the country where apartheid white minority rule ended just 15 years ago.
South Africans point out that headlines such as “Is she really a HE?”, in Britain’s Daily Mail, and the question of gender verification only surfaced when Semenya started to do much better than her peers.
“It shows that these imperialist countries can’t afford to accept the talent that Africa as a continent has,” the South African Football Players Union said in a message of congratulation to Semenya.
Politicians stepped in too.
“The ANC YL condemns with contempt those who are questioning her gender,” said the ever vocal Youth League of the Ruling African National Congress.
Some even drew parallels between Semenya and an unpleasant episode from the colonial era – Sarah Baartman, a South African woman, was taken from her rural homeland in 1810 and paraded to the world as a freak because of her unusual physical features. Her remains were finally brought back to South Africa in 2002 and laid to rest.
Whatever the results of the officials’ tests on Semenya – and the scientific procedures could take months – most South Africans are convinced that she is not a cheat but a great athlete who will return to a huge welcome.