Cape Town - Messages of support have poured in for Ashwin Willemse after he walked off the set of a live SuperSport TV broadcast on Saturday night after a verbal clash with Nick Mallett and Naas Botha.
It is unclear what angered Willemse, who was a fellow analyst for the Super Rugby match between the Lions and the Brumbies, to such an extent that he decided to leave the studio while on air.
In video clips posted on social media, Willemse mentioned that he was “not going to be patronised by two individuals who played in apartheid”, referring to Mallett and Botha, who were Springboks in the 1980s.
Willemse has not yet responded to requests for comment from IOL Sport.
SuperSport posted on Twitter: “SuperSport is aware of the on-air incident and is looking into the matter. SuperSport views this incident in a serious light - we will conduct a full investigation and interview all relevant individuals.”
On social media, South Africans showed support for Willemse using the hashtags #IamAshwinWillemse and #HandsOffAshwinWillemse, and many related their own stories. People also changed their profile picture to that of the former Springbok wing.
Whatever happened prior to @Ashwinwillemse walking off set,its not difficult as black person to relate to his articulation of how he is feeling-his experience is experience of many&most black people,where even one's protestations are patronised against #IAmAshwinWillemse
In the seconds preceding your walk- off a look crossed your face that reminded me of my late brother when the pain of condescension became unbearable. Thank you for creating this moment for us to take an honest look at ourselves. #AshwinWillemse
What happened last night is a reminder to what people experience everyday. It happens in workplaces, corporate South Africa and the media. You are never “accepted” but “tolerated”#Ashwinwillemse
Protect Ashwin Willemse at all cost !!!!! What he did tonight for players of color is IMPORTANT!!!!! He is national treasure ! #AshwinWillemse
We've all felt like Ashwin at some point. Be it at work, at an educational institution or on a committee of some sort. I'm glad he walked out. It must've been liberating. #AshwinWillemse
Poor Ashwin. It's going to be said he overreacted. But the truth is there isn't always explicit evidence when you feel undermined, it’s a feeling, a vibe that you get. And then there’s the matter of proving it. YOU have to justify your reaction to it. #AshwinWillemse
A Facebook post on the issue by journalist and commentator Bobby Brown was shared nearly 1000 times:
Some said the ball was now in SupersSport's court and they would be watching closely to see how the channel handled the incident.