Today the M&G posted another excellent and “it says it all” cartoon by that master of public comment, Zapiro. In the picture, titled “Revealed in Oz … “, it shows Caster Semenya dressed up like Dorothy, flanked on her right by the Tin Man, Scarecrow and Lion. The Tin Man has “Aussie editors” scrawled on its steel carapace, the Scarecrow looks like a dapper representation of Athletics South Africa and the Lion is imbued with “IAAF”.
Zapiro accuses the Aussie editors of having no heart, ASA of having no brain and the IAAF of lacking a spine. Semenya is stuck with the label “No Ovaries”, with the reference for that being contributed to the Aussie Tin Man holding a copy of the Sydney Daily Telegraph which was one of the first media institutions to break the story of Semenya’s reported dual sex.
Zapiro, often so on point, has once again got it right. Though speculation has been swarming in locust plague-type fashion, the real victim of this whole royal mess is Semenya herself. So when I logged onto the internet today and saw that Semenya is reportedly “shattered” by the media’s revelations, all of the authorities above, and to a lesser extent the South African media (including this writer) are to blame.
I wrote a piece on this forum when the story first broke about how the IAAF had committed culpable career homicide on Semenya by revealing the sex question before her 800m final, implying that the IAAF’s stance had racial overtones. Many readers felt that such an accusation was below the belt, and when Julius Malema of all people decided to get involved and hop on the race train, those readers were certainly proved correct in my opinion. Malema, a great leader he isn’t, but as a barometer of knee-jerk reactionary gutter politics, he isn’t the worst.
Since then we have found out that ASA has more dead bodies in its trunk then a 1920s Chicago Cadillac, the IAAF are still floundering on the issue and Semenya’s face and name has been plastered on newspaper stands, online platforms and TV media for weeks, virtually drowning the everyday media consumer to the point of not actually giving a damn any more (ironically this post falls into that category).
So, a month and a bit in, what have we learnt from Semenya-gate (to use an overworn and tiresome cliche)?
1. The IAAF needs a new media/marketing person to plug the public-relations disaster dyke that keeps leaking.
2. ASA appear to be in a mess, with one national coach resigning and claiming that ASA knew about the question over Semenya’s sex before the issue went from bud to rose (a rather repugnant smelling one at that). ASA, in the classiest manner, have denied this but watching their spokesperson flounder at the question of prior knowledge on e.tv (I stand to be corrected on that) said it all.
3. Many pundits got swept away in the emotion of the issue, without enough factual evidence to back up their assertions (Me: guilty as charged).
4. Through media saturation, Semenya has come to represent a cause, an issue and not a person, deprived of her right to privacy and the human sensitivity that comes with it.
5. Athletics is not a big enough sport to cause a diplomatic incident as the SA government has shown. With a winning Tri-Nations team rolling into town and President Zuma wearing a green-and-gold blazer, somehow I think Semenya might have drifted off the top people’s radar (and in fairness to them, they have better things to do. Sadly, those whose responsibility it is to handle such affairs have been shown to be incompetent).
There are other issues, such as the Aussie press, who at times seem to delight in embarrassing South Africa, but that is a completely different issue and a personal grindstone of mine.
Perhaps, when something of this explosive and high-impact nature re-appears on South Africa’s political, sports, media and administrative radar, we would have learnt our lesson from this. We could also take heed of 18-year-old Semenya, who throughout, has said the least to the media and carried herself in a manner belying her age and situation.
But, unfortunately, the sceptic in me feels we still have a long way to go.