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By IDO LEKOTAPolitical Notebook | Oct 08, 2009 | COMMENTS [ 0 ]

ON TUESDAY I listened attentively to ANC general secretary Gwede Mantashe assuring Caster Semenya's family of the ruling party's support for the athletic wonder girl.

ON TUESDAY I listened attentively to ANC general secretary Gwede Mantashe assuring Caster Semenya's family of the ruling party's support for the athletic wonder girl.

"The youngster needs support. We are going to fight to ensure that she continues to run as a woman," Mantashe said.

Last month Sports and Recreation Minister Makhenkesi Stofile was even more forthright about the support the ANC-led government was prepared to give to South Africa's golden girl.

Stofile threatened to go to "war" if the IAAF excludes the 800m gold medallist because she is a "hermaphrodite".

"I think it would be the third world war. We will go to the highest levels to contest such a decision," the minister was quoted as saying.

It is common knowledge that politicians have a penchant for verbosity whenever they want to express their strong feelings about an issue.

I was, however, struck by the usage of the war metaphor by Mantashe and Stofile.

Also of interest was how the ANC and ANC Youth League have not articulated what they would actually do to ensure that Semenya continued to run as a female athlete if indeed it could be scientifically proven that the level of testosterone in her body gave her an unfair advantage over other female athletes.

Instead we have had ANCYL president Julius Malema threatening fire and brimstone against those who argue that Semenya is a "hermaphrodite".

As usual, the South African public has been called on to support this "great unexplained" idea of supporting Semenya.

There is in fact a perception out there that the ANC and ANCYL are engaging in political posturing.

Those who hold this view believe that the ANC and its youth wing are politically milking a situation in which Semenya's rights have been infringed by Athletics South Africa and the IAAF.

To correct those in the public holding the view that the politicians are once again engaging in a game of "smoke and mirrors" there are a few practical things that the ANC and the ANCYL can do.

Firstly they must come out against the use of the word "hermaphrodite" when describing Semenya or anyone else who is found to have the abnormal biological make-up that she has.

(Semenya is said to have internal testes without ovaries and an uterus. She is also said to have a high level of the male hormone testosterone that could give her an unfair advantage over female athletes.)

The word "hermaphrodite" is archaic and has been banned by the medical fraternity. The accepted medical terminology is "intersexed".

In fact, according to Johannesburg-based gynaecologist Dr Herman Netshidzivhani, the newly accepted terminology used to describe Semenya's condition as "abnormality of gender development or differentiation".

So instead of questioning whether there is a Sepedi word to describe a "hermaphrodite" the "young lions" and their mother body should be educating the South African public about these new developments towards understanding Semenya's condition.

By the way, the Sepedi name for "hermaphrodite is not setabane. It is sekgeramatona. But like its English version, this name is derogatory and demeaning and should therefore not be used.

Most importantly, if the IAAF eventually rule that Semenya cannot compete with female athletes because her condition gives her an unfair advantage, the politicians must put their money where their mouths are and offer to pay for her surgical conversion into a woman.

Netshidzivhani explains that this can be done by surgically removing the internal testes and introducing more female hormones into her body.

The advantage is that Semenya has external female genitalia, says the doctor.

Lastly the ANC must support any legal action taken against ASA, the "suits" who illegally sent Semenya for a gender testing, and the IAAF for the insensitive manner in which it handled her case.


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