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gender bend it like beckham?

Stuart White

The World in Black-N-White

I’m going to talk about a transgender issue today but I hasten to clarify that I’m not planning on entering the area of sexual orientation, nor the debate on self-identification per se.   Also I know I’m going to have to tread carefully because this whole area is a moral and metaphysical minefield but as the songs says ‘fools rush in where angels fear to tread’!

I restrict myself to one aspect only and that is the area of sports, specifically professional athletes and it is here where some of the  problems of the gender fluid society are manifesting themselves.  Let me begin with a name with which you will probably be familiar – Caster Semenye.  You will probably recall that  Ms. Semenye, a professional South African sprinter, caused a great deal of debate and controversy when she first burst on to the athletics scene about 10 years ago. 

There were those who questioned her gender, based on her looks and physique, and therefore questioned her rights to compete as a woman.  She was subsequently required to undergo gender testing before being allowed to continue competing and there the matter seemed to end, until now.   This report is from the AFP and The Times:

Women's 800m champion Caster Semenya could be forced to take testosterone suppressants if she is to compete in women's competitions, athletics chief will tell a court.  The IAAF, the International Association of Athletics Federations, is to argue that Semenya should be classified as a 'biological male' and forced to take testosterone suppressants if she is to compete alongside other women.

Ahead of a landmark hearing at the Court of Arbitration (CAS) next week, The Times said that the IAAF will contest Semenya and other athletes with 'differences of sexual development' (DSD) should only be able to compete with lower testosterone levels to ensure a level playing field. However, the IAAF hit back at the 'biological male' claims on Wednesday.  'The IAAF is not classifying any DSD athlete as male. To the contrary, we accept their legal sex without question, and permit them to compete in the female category,' the IAAF said in a statement.

However if a DSD athlete has testes and male levels of testosterone, they get the same increases in bone and muscle size and strength and increases in haemoglobin that a male gets when they go through puberty, which is what gives men such a performance advantage over women.  'Therefore, to preserve fair competition in the female category, it is necessary to require DSD athletes to reduce their testosterone down to female levels before they compete at international level.'

Semenya, along with South Africa's athletics association, is challenging the IAAF's new eligibility rules that would oblige DSD runners in women's middle-distance races to have significantly reduced levels of testosterone for the previous six months. As well as Semenya, the silver and bronze medallists of the 800m at the Rio Olympics, Francine Niyonsaba of Burundi and Kenya's Margaret Wambui, have also faced questions about their testosterone levels.

'If the CAS rules that legal recognition as female is sufficient to qualify for the female category of competition, and the IAAF is not permitted to require athletes of female legal sex who have testes and consequently male levels of testosterone to reduce those levels down to the female range, then DSD and transgender athletes will dominate the podiums and prize money in sport,'

To clarify, high levels of testosterone, known as the male hormone even though it also is present in females, greatly affect the physique of the individual, boosting upper body strength, muscle development and stamina.  It is for this reason that almost all professional sports have historically been separated into men’s and women’s events, so that players of each sex literally and metaphorically play on a level playing field. 

In practical terms this means that men’s sport is effectively played at a higher level in terms of how far a ball is kicked, batted or thrown, how fast a swimmer can power through the water and of course how quickly an athlete can run round the track.  Without separation, then, there could be no fairness.  In the words of Jonathan Taylor, the IAAF's London-based lawyer , otherwise   “women with normal female testosterone levels will not have any chance to win.”

There is, of course, no suggestion that Ms. Semenye is a closet transgender, merely that her body might produce an excess of testosterone but her case does lend itself to the debate in as much as any male athlete self-identifying as a female would clearly have an unfair physical advantage where they to compete in a female event.  Under present IAAF rules, this is not permitted; however it is permissible for a male who has transgendered to a female to compete in the new gender but they can perform professionally only after they have taken testosterone suppressants for a specified period of time. 

In amateur events, however, there is no such restriction and therefore such trans athletes could presumably compete and qualify for professional status by unfairly trouncing the female competition at lower levels , thereby fast-tracking themselves to the entry ranks of the professional sport.

Like I said, it’s a minefield  when it should just be a playing field.

I now move on to a related issue and one which would seem to be more clear cut but in today’s semotive climate  can apparently be raised as a serious point.  A female MP in the British parliament this week made a speech in which she pointed out the disparity in the pay gap between male and female footballers. 

Specifically she cited the anomaly that in the  women’s FA cup leagues, the prize money was a mere £1/4m  ( P3,75m) whilst in the men’s league the trophy netted a cool £30.6m (P459m).  This she  branded a national disgrace and she called on her fellow MPs to support her call for equal pay in the footie ranks.

Begging your pardon, Honourable member but It will never happen!  Professional men’s football is less a sport and more big business.  It generates huge income from ticket sales, television rights, sponsorship deals, club clothing, souvenir and memorabilia sales and advertising.  Top players and managers earn silly money salaries with so many zeros  even they lose count. 

And so long as punters keep on coming through the turnstiles it will ever be so.  The women’s sport, however, languishes in the shadows for all the reasons laid out above – the men compete at a higher level and that’s a biological fact, not an opinion.  Sorry, ladies, it is what it is.  I have made no judgements here, merely laid out facts and its for you to draw your own conclusions.   I will, however, come to a close on a much lighter note which is from a posting on the internet by what must be a puzzle-loving wag who pointed out that an anagram of the name Caster Semenye comes out as ‘Yes, a secret man’.  You couldn’t make it up!

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Chronic Joblessness: How to Help Curtail it

30th November 2020
Motswana woman

The past week or two has been a mixed grill of briefs in so far as the national employment picture is concerned. BDC just injected a further P64 million in Kromberg & Schubert, the automotive cable manufacturer and exporter, to help keep it afloat in the face of the COVID-19-engendered global economic apocalypse. The financial lifeline, which follows an earlier P36 million way back in 2017, hopefully guarantees the jobs of 2500, maybe for another year or two.

It was also reported that a bulb manufacturing company, which is two years old and is youth-led, is making waves in Selibe Phikwe. Called Bulb Word, it is the only bulb manufacturing operation in Botswana and employs 60 people. The figure is not insignificant in a town that had 5000 jobs offloaded in one fell swoop when BCL closed shop in 2016 under seemingly contrived circumstances, so that as I write, two or three buyers have submitted bids to acquire and exhume it from its stage-managed grave.

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The Era of “The Diplomat”

30th November 2020

Youngest Maccabees scion Jonathan takes over after Judas and leads for 18 years

Going hand-in-glove with the politics at play in Judea in the countdown to the AD era, General Atiku, was the contention for the priesthood. You will be aware, General, that politics and religion among the Jews interlocked. If there wasn’t a formal and sovereign Jewish King, there of necessity had to be a High Priest at any given point in time.

Initially, every High Priest was from the tribe of Levi as per the stipulation of the Torah. At some stage, however, colonisers of Judah imposed their own hand-picked High Priests who were not ethnic Levites. One such High Priest was Menelaus of the tribe of Benjamin.

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Land Board appointments of party activists is political corruption

30th November 2020

Parliament has rejected a motion by Leader of Opposition (LOO) calling for the reversing of the recent appointments of ruling party activists to various Land Boards across the country. The motion also called for the appointment of young and qualified Batswana with tertiary education qualifications.

The ruling party could not allow that motion to be adopted for many reasons discussed below. Why did the LOO table this motion? Why was it negated? Why are Land Boards so important that a ruling party felt compelled to deploy its functionaries to the leadership and membership positions?

Prior to the motion, there was a LOO parliamentary question on these appointments. The Speaker threw a spanner in the works by ruling that availing a list of applicants to determine who qualified and who didn’t would violate the rights of those citizens. This has completely obliterated oversight attempts by Parliament on the matter.

How can parliament ascertain the veracity of the claim without the names of applicants? The opposition seeks to challenge this decision in court.  It would also be difficult in the future for Ministers and government officials to obey instructions by investigative Parliamentary Committees to summon evidence which include list of persons. It would be a bad precedent if the decision is not reviewed and set aside by the Business Advisory Committee or a Court of law.

Prior to independence, Dikgosi allocated land for residential and agricultural purposes. At independence, land tenures in Botswana became freehold, state land and tribal land. Before 1968, tribal land, which is land belonging to different tribes, dating back to pre-independence, was allocated and administered by Dikgosi under Customary Law. Dikgosi are currently merely ‘land overseers’, a responsibility that can be delegated. Land overseers assist the Land Boards by confirming the vacancy or availability for occupation of land applied for.

Post-independence, the country was managed through modern law and customary law, a system developed during colonialism. Land was allocated for agricultural purposes such as ploughing and grazing and most importantly for residential use. Over time some land was allocated for commercial purpose. In terms of the law, sinking of boreholes and development of wells was permitted and farmers had some rights over such developed water resources.

Land Boards were established under Section 3 of the Tribal Land Act of 1968 with the intention to improve tribal land administration. Whilst the law was enacted in 1968, Land Boards started operating around 1970 under the Ministry of Local Government and Lands which was renamed Ministry of Lands and Housing (MLH) in 1999. These statutory bodies were a mechanism to also prune the powers of Dikgosi over tribal land. Currently, land issues fall under the Ministry of Land Management, Water and Sanitation Services.

There are 12 Main Land Boards, namely Ngwato, Kgatleng, Tlokweng, Tati, Chobe, Tawana, Malete, Rolong, Ghanzi, Kgalagadi, Kweneng and Ngwaketse Land Boards.  The Tribal Land Act of 1968 as amended in 1994 provides that the Land Boards have the powers to rescind the grant of any rights to use any land, impose restrictions on land usage and facilitate any transfer or change of use of land.

Some land administration powers have been decentralized to sub land boards. The devolved powers include inter alia common law and customary law water rights and land applications, mining, evictions and dispute resolution. However, decisions can be appealed to the land board or to the Minister who is at the apex.

So, land boards are very powerful entities in the country’s local government system. Membership to these institutions is important not only because of monetary benefits of allowances but also the power of these bodies. in terms of the law, candidates for appointment to Land Boards or Subs should be residents of the tribal areas where appointments are sought, be holders of at least Junior Certificate and not actively involved in politics.  The LOO contended that ruling party activists have been appointed in the recent appointments.

He argued that worse, some had no minimum qualifications required by the law and that some are not inhabitants of the tribal or sub tribal areas where they have been appointed. It was also pointed that some people appointed are septuagenarians and that younger qualified Batswana with degrees have been rejected.

Other arguments raised by the opposition in general were that the development was not unusual. That the ruling party is used to politically motivated appointments in parastatals, civil service, diplomatic missions, specially elected councilors and Members of Parliament (MPs), Bogosi and Land Boards. Usually these positions are distributed as patronage to activists in return for their support and loyalty to the political leadership and the party.

The ruling party contended that when the Minister or the Ministry intervened and ultimately appointed the Land Boards Chairpersons, Deputies and members , he didn’t have information, as this was not information required in the application, on who was politically active and for that reason he could not have known who to not appoint on that basis. They also argued that opposition activists have been appointed to positions in the government.

The counter argument was that there was a reason for the legal requirement of exclusion of political activists and that the government ought to have mechanisms to detect those. The whole argument of “‘we didn’t know who was politically active” was frivolous. The fact is that ruling party activists have been appointed. The opposition also argued that erstwhile activists from their ranks have been recruited through positions and that a few who are serving in public offices have either been bought or hold insignificant positions which they qualified for anyway.

Whilst people should not be excluded from public positions because of their political activism, the ruling party cannot hide the fact that they have used public positions to reward activists. Exclusion of political activists may be a violation of fundamental human or constitutional rights. But, the packing of Land Boards with the ruling party activists is clear political corruption. It seeks to sow divisions in communities and administer land in a politically biased manner.

It should be expected that the ruling party officials applying for land or change of land usage etcetera will be greatly assisted. Since land is wealth, the ruling party seeks to secure resources for its members and leaders. The appointments served to reward 2019 election primary and general elections losers and other activists who have shown loyalty to the leadership and the party.

Running a country like this has divided it in a way that may be difficult to undo. The next government may decide to reset the whole system by replacing many of government agencies leadership and management in a way that is political. In fact, it would be compelled to do so to cleanse the system.

The opposition is also pondering on approaching the courts for review of the decision to appoint party functionaries and the general violation of clearly stated terms of reference. If this can be established with evidence, the courts can set aside the decision on the basis that unqualified people have been appointed.

The political activism aspect may also not be difficult to prove as some of these people are known activists who are in party structures, at least at the time of appointment, and some were recently candidates. There is a needed for civil society organizations such as trade unions and political parties to fight some of these decisions through peaceful protests and courts.

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