In a humble home in Moletji in rural Limpopo a mother sits at her linoleum-covered kitchen table. Smiling proudly, she brings out a piece of plastic and unwraps the medals one by one.
DORCAS SEMENYA (50) removes a gold medal last and places it carefully on the table. It’s the medal her daughter won at the recent World Athletics Championships in Berlin.
This little pile of medals tells the story of a child from a remote village who achieved the impossible. It’s a story of hope and breathtaking success that has culminated in one of the greatest tragedies because of her looks.
Dorcas Semenya shakes her head, bewildered. Nobody at Athletics South Africa (ASA) has bothered to contact her and explain things, she says.
“What is this intersex?” she asks. “There’s no such thing as an in between. Your child is either a boy or a girl.”
For Caster the African junior championship event in Mauritius was the sort of breakthrough every athlete dreams of. She broke Zola Budd’s 25-year-old record and became the darling of South African sport.
Overnight Dorcas became the most famous mom in Moletji. But while the community celebrated, a bizarre drama unfolded.
On 19 August Caster rocketed out of the starting blocks in Berlin and delivered a stunning performance - and it was the spark needed to ignite the bomb.
As questions arose about her gender the media swamped her Moletji home. Dorcas showed off Caster’s birth certificate: she is a girl and that is that.
Then an Australian newspaper claimed that gender tests by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) showed Caster had both male and female sexual characteristics. And if the leaked test results turn out to be the real deal when the IAAF gives its official report in November the chances are slim she’ll be able to compete as a woman.
Back in Moletji Dorcas has gone from ecstatic to despondent in the space of a few weeks. She now feels like a prisoner in her own community.
When she hears a car stop outside her house she runs out the back and hides at a neighbour’s house. She’s hurting, she says - all the media attention is taking its toll. But she wants people to know of the pain the IAAF and ASA have caused her family.
“Who are these people to make decisions regarding my child’s future without consulting me?” Dorcas asks.
Since the storm broke she has been able to speak to her Mokgadi only by phone. “My child is strong, that I know. I tell her, a test can’t change what you and we already know.”