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The Barbra Banda Ban Shows Black Women Aren't Allowed to Be Too Strong

Failing to meet gender protocols, the Zambian captain was dropped ahead of WAFCON. In African female football, there needs to be a case for bodily integrity.

In Morocco, the 2022 Women’s Africa Cup of Nations (WAFCON) has begun. Ruled out from the competition is Zambia’s captain Barbra Banda, after failing eligibility tests to prove her gender. These tests align with FIFA regulations, which the Confederation of African Football (CAF) is obligated to follow. Originally named in Zambia’s WAFCON squad, the 22-year-old forward had been on medication to reduce her naturally high testosterone levels. Yet, she didn’t meet the criteria from CAF.

Banda has been a star player for Zambia’s national team since debuting at the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup. At the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, she became the first player to score two consecutive hat-tricks in the history of the Olympic Games. Also, she was the top scorer in the Chinese League in the same year, scoring 18 goals in 13 matches for the Shanghai Shengli.

Here’s a player whose trajectory on the continent is being derailed. But how did we get here?

Photo Credit: Jiang Wenyao/Xinhua via Getty

Africa’s football governing body has a responsibility to ensure fairness and equality. But it’s necessary to understand what undergirds these gender tests. On the surface, it became a policy after Equatorial Guinea hosted and won the African Women’s Championship in 2008 when their victory was tainted with claims from Nigeria and Cameroon that two of their players were men.

CAF introduced “femininity testings” in 2011, collaborating with national associations. Sanctioned by FIFA, professional female footballers were expected to undergo gender evaluations before tournaments. In the light of Banda’s exclusion from WAFCON, these regulations continue to emphasize the tumultuous relationship between gender and sports. More than that, it upholds a colonial reasoning that punishes Black people for failing to enter neat categories of gender.

Gender verification in women’s sports has a long, convoluted history. Esteemed bodies like the International Olympic Committee (IOC), and the International Amateur Athletic Federation (IAAF), have been advancing methods to maintain “female purity” in women’s competitions. This simplistic logic has racist and misogynistic undercurrents, formulated centuries ago from the corridors of European science to justify colonial domination over Black people and sexist discrimination against white women.

Several intersecting fields of western inquiry have created a pathology and hysteria around manhood and womanhood and who should be excluded from it. In the 19th century, a developing intellectual canon mapped out gender as binary, including biological sex. To make the gender binary work, physical traits, hormones, chromosomes, genitalia and other characteristics had to be seen as either exclusively male or female. Existing outside of the binary was to be seen as abnormal or freakish.

As a linchpin of white supremacy, the gender binary continues to be reified in a way that female masculinity becomes grotesque. Black women face a peculiar demonization. Banda has hyperandrogenism. In this case, women are observed to have high levels of androgen. In other words, they produce testosterone more than what’s considered abnormal for women. In the medical sense, this refers to AIS (Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome).

Per CAF stipulations, this is why she went on hormone treatment to reduce her elevated levels of testosterone. We aren’t privy to her current testosterone status. Following CAF’s verdict, it raises important questions about anti-Black surveillance in sports and Black women’s relationship with testosterone.

In the view of CAF, women can be strong, but not too strong.

Photo Credit: Kohei Chibahara / AFP

On whether female athletes with high testosterone levels have a competitive advantage over their peers, research and theories have shown that this isn’t straightforward. In addition, natural endowments have given certain people an advantage in sports. Why weren't there rulings to alter these characteristics? The racial double standard of decorated swimmer Michael Phlelps, who wasn’t asked to increase his lactic acid, comes to mind. So is the reality that basketball doesn't have height divisions.

Banda is in a team sport where players make contributions based on individual talent and skill. In the grand scheme of things, why must her input be solely seen through the lens of a hormone and not hard work and practice? An athlete who isn’t a stranger to vilification and smear campaigns in sports is Caster Semenya. For years, this embattled South African athlete has been caught in the crossfire of scrutiny from sports governing bodies and the public in order to prove that she’s really a woman.

In 2021, two Namibian athletes, Christine Mboma and Beatrice Masilingi, failed to meet the criteria for female classification in the Olympics. It led to their withdrawal from the 400m running events. As much as these incidents spark outrage on social media, it has amplified the rhetoric of several groups with a stake in transphobia, from alt-right conservatives to anti-trans feminist circles. Testosterone testing on female athletes today holds up a mirror to the transphobic panic amongst “natural-born” women.

The prejudice against trans women — with visual judgment informed by the presence of idealized feminine aesthetics, or lack thereof — has crossed over into the domain of policing women who aren’t trans. It's an inevitable outcome of transphobia. Banda isn’t trans, but the actions from CAF imply that she’s a suspect of committing gender fraud.

African national football associations should care enough about gender politics and how it impacts the well-being and functioning of female footballers. They should see how their collaboration with CAF sends an overarching message: that only men can be the paragon of athleticism and performance. Upending colonial gender is a tall order, but diplomatic confrontations with CAF like close-door meetings is a start.

When these measures fail, female footballers should get support from their teams and supporters as they protest for bodily integrity.

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Black South Africans Ended Apartheid, Not F.W De Klerk

In light of the former apartheid president's death, international coverage has mistakenly portrayed De Klerk as the anti-apartheid genie of South Africa's dreams. Allow me to clear a few things up for you.

Why is "Don't speak ill of the dead" something we as a society subscribe to? Who's going to complain? The dead?

Last week, a rare form of cancer took down former South African apartheid president F.W De Klerk at age 85, and the reactions from South Africans (and the world) have been as controversial as the former politician's life.

The National Party's apartheid regime was a time in South Africa where your life, well-being, and identity were decided for you, and determined by the color of your skin. The NP (National Party) terrorized South Africa for close to 50 years, only "successfully" being taken down by a referendum in 1992 where white South Africans (only) were asked if they agreed with the government's plan to phase out the apartheid regime. We are forever grateful to the 69% that voted yes, while silently, innocently hoping that the 31% that voted no have seen their last days. After the "success" of the referendum, the late, great Nelson Mandela and his party, the African National Congress (ANC), took over the land after winning South Africa's first-ever democratic election, held in 1994. And the rest is (a painful, greedy, unthinkable) history.

Insert Mr. Frederik Willem De Klerk, the last president of South Africa's apartheid regime.

Freddie W. became the state leader of the National Party in 1989, taking over from late, openly racist, former President P.W Botha. This after having been essentially born into the National Party —his family were long-time supporters and members — and curating his own reputation and successful career, as he worked through the ranks of the pro-white, anti-Black political party. By the time De Klerk took over the NP, South Africa was ungovernable. Forty years after their conception, we finally learned how to get the government and not-so-liberal citizens to stop in their tracks and honestly read the room — absolute anarchy. However, through peaceful negotiations, Mandela was freed, racial discrimination was criminalized (allegedly) and a new South African constitution was created.

I was born into a two-year-old democracy in 1996, and grew up as a 'Born Free'. I was not born into the struggle but experienced the ramifications of putting a bandaid over a systemic, political, and social-sized bullet hole. At no point during my years of learning about apartheid in school was F.W De Klerk painted as the grand-master champ of ending it. Now that he's died, the media seems to be making attempts to upgrade his legacy.

Calls to forgive De Klerk and "liberate ourselves from the prison of bitterness", according to The Daily Maverick, fall short when you remember that he ordered the brutal murders of The Cradock 4 and refused to give their families peace of mind. The Globalist made sure to mention that, " De Klerk had the courage to take a bold decision with gigantic risks" and that they, "suspect that in the fullness of time, history will judge De Klerk favorably." The Globe and Mail's Riedwaan Ahmed said that De Klerk's final apology and farewell, "brought him to tears", as he decided that forgiving De Klerk was what Mandela would've wanted us all to do. While SA based publication The Sowetan echoed Ahmed's argument, further daring to conclude that De Klerk 'deserves' a state funeral as, "Tata Madiba, Nelson Mandela, taught us the gospel of reconciliation and forgiveness and it would, therefore, be a kind gesture from our president to bestow De Klerk with an honor of a state funeral."

F.W De Klerk was not an honorable leader, and he did not end apartheid — Black South Africans did. Black South African activists, to be more specific. The Sharpville Massacre, The Soweto Uprising (where Black students were murdered for protesting the racial discrimination in their schools), and the murders of Steve Biko, David Sibeko, Victoria Mxenge, Chris Hani and so many more deaths are the reasons why apartheid fell. Stop crediting that white man. Yes, De Klerk freed Nelson Mandela, but how many people were left behind? How many people were forced into exile, never to return to their families?

To commend F. W De Klerk for "putting an end" to apartheid in South Africa is inaccurate, disingenuine, and shows a very clear lack of awareness or knowledge of the damage that man and his colleagues bestowed on any South African to ever exist. The racial superiority gifted to his white South African counterparts (due to no real reconciliation or acknowledgment of what their great-grandparents, grandparents, and even parents did) is proof enough that De Klerk's influence still blows along the Port Elizabeth winds.

His incessant desire to refer to the apartheid era as "separate development", the lack of accountability or remorse shown in the immediate aftermath of the apartheid regime and everything he said and did up until his death makes it harder to focus on the good stuff. De Klerk apologized for apartheid on a few occasions but always mastered the art of not knowing when to shut up. In a 1990 interview with CNN's Christiane Amanpour, De Klerk said, "As much as [apartheid] trampled human rights, it remains morally indefensable. But, ethnic unities with one culture and one language can be happy and can fulfill their democratic aspiration in an owned state." This after Mandela was forced to share his noble peace prize with De Klerk, "for their work for the peaceful termination of the apartheid regime, and for laying the foundations for a new democratic South Africa."

International sanctions and pressure pushed De Klerk to end the regime — not his humanity and love of a "rainbow nation". In 2020, De Klerk finally admitted that he didn't see apartheid as that big of a deal. Or rather, in his words, "Not a legitimate crime against humanity." First of all, it was 2020 — read the room. Even if Freddie DK did genuinely believe that apartheid was the best thing to happen to South Africa, how does one lack the social insight, understanding, and ability to think cognitively so severely? Secondly, why were we still asking him if he thought apartheid was a bad time? On top of that, why was De Klerk allowed a platform at all after Mandela took over? Why he was allowed in the room with so many legitimate freedom fighters and changemakers will be forever symbolic of the pleasures life affords an even semi-intelligent white man.

In an undated video posted after his death, an older De Klerk vehemently apologized for his part in traumatizing, villainizing, and forever augmenting the racial/ethnic relationships that exist in South Africa. That was very nice of him to do, however, apologizing for crimes against humanity that you imposed over 20 years ago, while on your death bed is not an honorable thing to do. You do not leave a clean slate behind because you own up to your crimes at the nth hour. Apartheid "ended" 26 years ago. Where was this hindsight on the 1, 5, or 10 year anniversaries of democracy?

F.W De Klerk's death does not take away from that fact he was responsible for and benefitted from a system of racial oppression that generations of South Africans will have to deal with. I'm all for forgive and forget but to say that the apartheid government failed because De Klerk secretly loved Black people and was waiting for his chance to finally free us, would be illogical and disrespectful to the history of the country.

Bad people exist and the bad they did does not go away when they die.

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