Tuesday, 22 September 2009

Caster and b******s

Poor Caster Semenya! As if she wasn't having enough trouble with the medical issues regarding her gender, she now has the ANC Youth League piping up on her behalf.

To get an idea of how bad that is, just imagine how you'd feel if you confessed to your best friend that your love life wasn't all that it could be and then discovered that she was setting up blind dates for you with Hannibal Lecter, Peter Sutcliffe, Beelzebub and the Pope.

It's like a joke: “Which would you like first, Caster: the good news or the bad news? Well, the good news is that someone is speaking up in your support. The bad news is that it's Julius Malema!”

I am obliged to my long-suffering ex-boss and friend, Shaun de Waal in Johannesburg, for the following corker from the ANC Youth League: “Even if a test is done, the ANC YL will never accept the categorisation of Caster Semenya as a hermaphrodite, because in South Africa and the entire world of sanity, such does not exist.”

Isn't it great to know that the future of South Africa is in the hands of such lofty intellects?

At this point I must admit that, as far as I'm concerned at least, the ANC Youth League has form. In the very early 1990s, when apartheid was crumbling faster than a block of cheap Caerphilly cheese, one of my university friends - let's call him Kurt to protect the guilty - was a loyal member of the ANC YL. Acting under instruction from some controller or other he was persuaded (God knows how, since he was a very bright boy and didn't suffer fools gladly) to throw a hand grenade through the windows of the Johannesburg office of the Conservative Party. Undoubtedly the CP espoused some pretty loathsome ideas, but at this stage of the game they were a spent force, their leader Andries Treunicht was dying and the release of Mandela was just around the corner.

Kurt was arrested on suspicion of treason, placed under house arrest with his parents in some godforsaken dorpie in the Northern Transvaal and I was left with the task of faxing him cultural First Aid packages from the university's Comparative Literature department, whereupon my phone was tapped by the SA Police.

Tell people that your phone is being tapped in the real world and they'll start rolling their eyes and making the universal gesture which means, “This one's lost it” when your back is turned, but in South Africa at that time it was pretty common. My friends took great delight in phoning me and whispering phrases like, “The eagle has landed”, which at least had the effect of riling Kurt's unwanted minders.

The whole point of this tale is that during this time I didn't notice the ANC Youth League, who were at that time under the leadership of Cyril Ramaphosa who should have known better, being exactly helpful of or supportive towards Kurt or his accomplices.

Now, with Semenya's medical condition being splashed over the front pages of the world's papers, it seems that they are back to their old tricks.

Julius Melema has already made himself look like a violent dope with his 2008 statement that the ANC YL would take up arms in support of Jacob Zuma if necessary, so this latest piece of idiocy shouldn't come as any surprise.

Not that the rest of the South African population has exactly helped Caster. Pictures of a makeover designed to make her look glamorous were published on the front pages of You magazine, a publication which, at least when I was living in Jo'burg, used to feature such deathless National Enquirer-isms as “The Hairy-Faced Children of Mexico” and “The Woman Who Married a Penguin”. Hardly the type of journal to persuade readers of their golden girl's normality.

Stories have already emerged of Semenya's sexual identity being questioned within South Africa, not surprisingly given that this is a society which has always taken quite a conservative approach to gender issues. A black lesbian friend of mine once told me that she was constantly fearful of attack by men enraged by her lifestyle. Homosexuality was as loathed by the black population of South Africa, who deemed it decadent and European, or “un-African”, as it was by the conservative (or verkrampte) white population, who thought it ungodly.

Caster's teacher allegedly said that he had always thought her a boy, while witnesses at a service station reported that she was refused access to the women's toilets because of her masculine appearance.

Truly, this is not a condition that one would wish on even a worst enemy and the fact that, at only 18 years old, Semenya has had to witness her future being played out in the most public way possible must be excruciating. This has not been a case of steroid abuse or cheating at any level, but if her testosterone levels give her an unfair advantage, her athletics career is clearly over.

So please no more statements of support, Mr. Malema – this unfortunate young woman has suffered enough.

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