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South Africans await IAAF ruling on Caster Semenya

Semenya, who has dominated the 800m over the last decade, has remained largely silent through the court battle

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caster semenya
South African Olympic 800m champion Caster Semenya celebrates after the 1.500m senior women final at the ASA Senior Championships at Germiston Athletics stadium

Fiercely loyal South African fans hope their Olympic champion Caster Semenya gets the all clear Wednesday when the outcome of a landmark hearing on proposed rules to restrict female athletes’ testosterone levels is delivered.

Her battle with the IAAF over the regulations has left some wondering why she has had to go through the mill to prove her athletics bona fides.

“They wanted her to prove that she is a woman first of all, and now that she’s proven that, they want to make her less of a woman. How does that even make sense?” sprinter Ashwin Classens asked.

Both on the track and in her legal battles, Caster Semenya inspires passionate devotion in South Africans.

For months, South African politicians, fellow athletes and supporters have reacted with fury as Semenya has been threatened by the new regulations that could scupper her career.

Proposed International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) rules require “hyperandrogenic” athletes — those with “differences of sexual development” (DSD) — to lower their testosterone levels if they want to compete with women.

The Court of Arbitration for Sport in Switzerland is due to deliver its verdict on Wednesday after an initial hearing in February.

South Africa’s ministry of sport has been promoting Semenya on social media ahead of the verdict using the hashtag #NaturallySuperior and the slogan “Hands off Caster”.

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa recently sent Semenya a powerful message of support, describing her as a “beacon of hope”.

“My daughter. This is only to remind you of your greatness; because you constantly remind us that nothing beats the enduring power of the human spirit,” he tweeted during the hearing in February.

“You may run alone on the track, but know now that you run with 57 million & more,” he added, referencing the population of South Africa.

South African lawmakers from across opposing parties wore black T-shirts during a debate in parliament in February carrying messages of support, including “We say NO to stigmatisation of women in sport” and “We oppose subtle hatred”.

‘Worst form of racism’

In the debate, National Freedom Party lawmaker Nhlanhlakayise Khubisa said “what is happening to Caster is the worst form of racism”.

“She is being crucified for being an excelling, resilient, unwavering and unmatched athlete — our creme de la creme,” he said.

The opposition Inkatha Freedom Party called on African athletes to boycott future IAAF events if the “unfair” rules were allowed to stand.

Named one of Time Magazine’s 100 most influential people of 2019, the 28 year-old from the country’s northern province of Limpopo has been breaking 800 metres records since she was 18 years old.

But the gender controversy has dogged her career.

“Semenya has taught us that sex isn’t always binary,” Time Magazine said, adding that regardless of the ruling, “Semenya will have already made a singular historical contribution to our understanding of biological sex.”

Sports Minister Tokozile Xasa, who flew to Switzerland to be alongside Semenya at the February hearing, labelled the rules “discriminatory” and “racial”.

“This is tantamount to modernising barbarism,” Xasa said, defending a South African hero who has the rare ability to bridge racial divides in the fractured country.

Other sporting bodies such as Cricket South Africa have also stood behind Semenya and athletes are backing her.

“There’s no man that I see in her… I love her,” long-jump coach Maria Diamond told AFP.

Liezel Tron, a 17 year-old heptathlon athlete, said Semenya inspired her and others.

“I’ve seen her run and it is amazing… She deserves to run and compete with all of us.”

The IAAF says the rules are essential to preserve a level playing field and ensure that all female athletes can see “a path to success.”

Semenya, who has dominated the 800m over the last decade, has remained largely silent through the court battle while her legal team has condemned the IAAF’s tactics and policies.

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Southern Africa

South Africa’s apex court rules spanking children as unconstitutional

The court upheld a 2017 ruling that sentenced a father for assaulting his 13-year-old son for watching a pornographic film

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South Africa's apex court rules spanking children as unconstitutional
The Constitutional Court in Johannesburg, South Africa. (File photo)

South Africa’s highest court on Wednesday upheld a ruling that spanking or corporal punishment of children at home was unconstitutional, saying the practices violate child rights.

In a much-awaited decision, the South African Constitutional Court backed a 2017 court ruling that sentenced a father for assaulting his 13-year-old son for watching a pornographic film. 

A religious freedom group had challenged that case, saying while it does not promote abuse, parents should have the right to raise their children according to their religious beliefs.

However, the nine constitutional judges unanimously ruled that spanking should be banned.

“The vulnerability of children, their rights to dignity and to have the paramountcy of their best interests upheld, as well as the availability of less restrictive means to achieve discipline, render moderate and reasonable chastisement unconstitutional,” they ruled.

The court banned corporal punishment in prison in 1995 and in schools in 2000.

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Traditional rulers demand customary rituals for burial of Robert Mugabe

Once Mugabe’s remains were returned to Zvimba on Monday, traditional leaders demanded the burial remain in line with local rites

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Traditional rulers demand customary rituals for burial of Robert Mugabe

As public wakes for late Zimbabwean leader Robert Mugabe have drawn to a close, traditional chiefs are demanding the body be buried according to spiritual traditions.

Those requests have been part of a dispute over the final burial of Mugabe, who died September 6 almost two years after a coup ended his increasingly autocratic 37-year rule.

He died during a medical trip to Singapore aged 95, leaving Zimbabweans torn over the legacy of a man who some still laud for his role as a colonial-era liberation hero. 

Mugabe’s burial has already been caught up in a dispute between his family — who wanted to bury him at his rural homestead Zvimba — and the government, which pushed for the body to rest at a national monument in the capital. 

They finally agreed Mugabe would be buried at the National Heroes Acre monument, in about 30 days, once a mausoleum was built for him.

But Mugabe was a non-practising chief in his homestead, and the burial feud has highlighted the spiritual beliefs, superstitions and rituals surrounding deaths of traditional leaders in parts of Zimbabwe.

Once Mugabe’s remains were returned to Zvimba on Monday, traditional leaders demanded the burial remain in line with local rites.

One of the Zvimba chiefs, Raphael Zvikaramba, said they had “so far” accepted the government’s proposal, but refused to comment on the details.

“(Zvimba) chiefs are buried in caves and the burial is secretly conducted at night,” Mugabe’s nephew Dominic Matibiri told reporters, standing outside his late uncle’s rural house.

‘Not just a president’ –  

A prominent Zimbabwean traditional healer, Benjamin Burombo Jnr, detailed the cultural beliefs and superstition surrounding the deaths and funerals of chiefs.

Traditional rulers demand customary rituals for burial of Robert Mugabe
A Catholic priest consoles a family members as the coffin of late former Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe lies in state at the Mugabe homestead in Kutama village, 80 km northwest of Harare, Zimbabwe, on September 16, 2019. (Photo by Zinyange Anthony / AFP)

“When a chief such as Mugabe dies, he is not a person that can be buried at Heroes Acre, that is forbidden. He should be buried in a cave,” Burombo told reporters.

“Mugabe was not just a president, but he was the embodiment of the spirit of Kaguvi,” he added, referring to one of Zimbabwe’s revered spirit mediums and pre-colonial nationalist leader.

When a chief died, often his body “would be dried”, his teeth “extracted” and his finger and toenails “ripped off”, Burombo said. 

He said the body would then be wrapped in skin hides before burial, and could even be swapped with a token such as a goat’s head to be buried instead.

“You can build that monument, but it doesn’t mean that is where the remains of Mugabe will be buried… it’s just for people to continue remembering him.”

Mugabe grew up Catholic and was educated by Jesuits. But according to Burombo, he still followed “traditional norms and practices” despite “going to church”.

Exaggerating the mystery –

Mugabe’s remains currently lie in his childhood village of Kutama, in Zvimba district, about 90 kilometres west of Harare.

During a mass held in his honour, Priest Emmanuel Ribeiro — a former acquaintance — said the former President “was secretive and private” about his beliefs.

Traditional rulers demand customary rituals for burial of Robert Mugabe
Zimbabwe’s former first lady Grace Mugabe (2L) follows proceedings during a body viewing ceremony of late former Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe hosted at Murombedzi Growth Point, about 107 km northwest of Harare, Zimbabwe, on September 16, 2019, as people have been accorded the opportunity to view Mugabe’s body a week after his death. – (Photo by Jekesai NJIKIZANA / AFP)

Retired sociology professor Claude Mararike told reporters the secrecy surrounding the funerals of traditional chiefs had “long vanished”.

He said that in the past, a death would only be revealed days or even weeks after burial.

“Very few people knew where the chief was buried,” Mararike said. “There were caves where a particular clan normally buried their own chiefs.”

But Mararike said that long-standing political tensions between the family and government “might have precipitated” the discord and mystery surrounding the funeral.

Mugabe’s family are still bitter over the role current President Emmerson Mnangagwa played in his ouster.

A former guerrilla who fought alongside Mugabe against colonial forces, Mnangagwa was fired as first Vice President in 2017. Mugabe had branded him a “traitor”.

Soon after, protesters took to the streets and military officers pressured Mugabe to step down in what was widely seen as a struggle between Mnangagwa’s faction and loyalists to Mugabe’s wife Grace inside the ruling ZANU-PF party. 

“There obviously was quite a lot of anger among the Zvimba people on how their son was removed from office,” said Mararike.

“The late President Mugabe might have said something before he died,” he added referring to how he wanted to be buried, “but what he really said we don’t know”.

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South Africa apologises to Nigeria after xenophobic attacks

Buhari and Ramaphosa are expected to meet at a state visit in South Africa next month

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South Africa apologises to Nigeria after xenophobic attacks

A South African envoy expressed the country’s “sincerest apologies” to Nigeria on Monday, after a wave of anti-migrant attacks swept through Johannesburg and surrounding cities in recent weeks, fuelling diplomatic tensions. 

A meeting with Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari in the capital Abuja was held to convey President Cyril Ramaphosa’s “sincere apologies about the incident that has recently transpired in South Africa,” the special envoy, Jeff Radebe, told reporters. 

READ: Police arrests several shop looters in South Africa

“The incident does not represent what we stand for,” he said, adding that South African police would “leave no stone unturned, that those involved must be brought to book.”

In a statement after the meeting, Nigeria’s presidency said “President Buhari responded to profuse apologies from the South African president, pledging that relationship between the two countries will be solidified.” 

Johannesburg and surrounding areas were rocked by a series of deadly attacks on foreigners in recent weeks, with many directed against Nigerian-owned businesses and properties.

South Africa apologises to Nigeria after xenophobic attacks

At least 12 people were killed in the violence that left hundreds of shops destroyed.

READ: Nigeria ramps up security to protect South African businesses

No Nigerians were killed according to South African authorities but the violence led to condemnation across Africa, particularly in Nigeria, fuelling diplomatic tensions between the continent’s two leading economies.

The violence also prompted reprisal attacks against South African firms in Nigeria and the temporary closing of South Africa’s diplomatic missions in Lagos and Abuja.

Last week, almost 200 Nigerian migrants were repatriated back to Lagos, Nigeria’s commercial capital, following the unrest. 

At least 400 more are expected to return out of some 100,000 Nigerians estimated by the government to reside in South Africa.   

Buhari and Ramaphosa are expected to meet at a state visit in South Africa next month.

READ: 189 Nigerians repatriated from South Africa after xenophobic attacks

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