Despite its much lauded, progressive marriage equality laws, South Africa can be a shit place for gay people, especially black lesbians living in poor neighborhoods, but then this also happens there: Olympian Caster Semenya has announced that she wants to spend the rest of her life with her girlfriend. The news of the engagement (and her new relationship) seemed to have been ignored by other media outlets that got fat off of speculating about Semenya’s sexuality, levels of hormones, and general degradation at the hands of Olympic “gender testers.” But this happy news was reported by the tabloid Daily Sun, a local paper which is mostly often socially conservative and prone to sensationalism.
This is the Sun story’s first line: “Olympic silver medallist Caster Semenya has started the boldest race of her life! The golden girl of Mzansi has chosen her life partner–and paid lobola [bride price] for athlete Violet Raseboya.” (That’s them in the picture above.)
What follows is a sweet story about how Caster’s dad went to pay the bride price and neighbors and friends talking about Caster and Violet’s devotion to each other. Here’s a sample: “Caster’s dad, Ntate Jacob Semenya, was accompanied by other family members to negotiate lobola. Caster had made her intentions clear that she wanted to take Violet as her other half.” And: “Both families were happy to negotiate lobola and Caster’s family paid R25 000 to have Violet as their makoti.”’
There wasn’t even a to-do about the Exotic African Tribal Custom of lobola-payment, or a wink-wink about why it was Caster who was paying. What I loved most about the article was the matter of fact reporting by The Daily Sun, a paper not known for its progressive politics. But really, I should not be surprised. As my friend Herman Wasserman–who wrote a book on the explosion of tabloid media in postapartheid South Africa–reminded me: while The Daily Sun is socially conservative, it also tells stories you will never find in any other paper, and about people you won’t ever see in those papers. All this could be spoiled once the News24 commenters get hold of the story (if they have not already), but as a South African, I am really proud right now.
#Update: Via reader Mabel Thandi: In that grand tradition of tabloid news, Caster now denies the engagement. Still a nice story though.