Zimbabwe's top female athlete found to be a man
SAMUKALISO Sithole was one of Zimbabwe’s rising stars in the tough world of international women’s athletics.
A multiple medal winner, the 17-year-old raised the troubled southern African country’s flag in junior triple jump, javelin, shot-putt and running events.
The teenage athlete has taken home thousands of pounds’ worth of prize money from regional competitions, investing in land and cattle and stoking the envy of residents in the sleepy mining town of Kwekwe, central Zimbabwe.
There is just one problem: Sithole is a man.
In what newspapers are calling one of the biggest scandals ever to rock Zimbabwean sport, Sithole is believed to have competed in dozens of events dressed as a woman. He was outed in early January by an angry acquaintance at a railway station in Kwekwe, according to the state-controlled Herald newspaper yesterday.
The acquaintance, identified only as Mr Mkandla, told four women who were planning to travel with Sithole to the country’s second city, Bulawayo, that their friend was actually a man.
Sithole tried to run away, but for once his athletic prowess failed him and he was caught by Mr Mkandla and handed over to police, the report said.
A doctor at Kwekwe General Hospital was asked to examine Sithole and confirmed the athlete was a man.
Sithole appeared before Kwekwe magistrate Siphathimisiwe Makuvaza last Friday to answer charges filed by one of the women he was travelling with.
Melita Mudondiro of Mbizo suburb in Kwekwe claims her dignity was offended when she undressed and went to bathe in front of Sithole believing him to be a woman.
On one occasion last month "the complainant returned from the bathroom wrapped in a towel and entered her bedroom where the accused was seated. She unwrapped herself and remained naked in full view of the accused," the Herald said, quoting court papers.
"All along she was under the impression that Sithole was a woman because of his feminine features and dressing," it said.
Prosecutors said the court had had difficulty deciding whether to remand Sithole in male or female holding cells, because he was adamant he was a woman.
In his defence, the athlete told the magistrate he was born with a congenital deformation.
He said his parents consulted a traditional healer from the south-eastern Chipinge district, who prescribed a herbal remedy to make him fully female.
Sithole said his parents had been able to pay only half the healer’s fee. As a punishment the healer recently made his penis grow, Sithole claimed.
He said he believed that if he was allowed to pay the outstanding balance to the traditional healer he was sure he would "revert to the female gender". Sithole said he had arranged to pay the healer on 3 March, the day his trial is set to begin.
If convicted, Sithole faces a fine and is also likely to face a life ban from the sport, once the National Athletics Association of Zimbabwe completes investigations. Sithole brought home Zimbabwe’s only gold medal from the Southern Region Athletics Championships in neighbouring Botswana last June. He has also won prizes in women’s events in Mozambique and Mauritius.
One of the first female athletes to be outed as a man at international level was the Polish sprinter Ewa Klobukowska, who failed a sex test at the 1967 European Cup Final in Kiev.