JOHANNESBURG – Ashwin Willemse declined to take part in the investigation into his SuperSport studio walkout because he felt it was an attempt to plaster over what he believes to be a racist incident.
In a letter written by Willemse’s attorneys to Advocate Vincent Maleka – who was tasked to investigate the matter – the former Springbok wing is adamant that racism was the cause of the incident which saw him walk out of the studio during a live television broadcast.
Willemse’s attorneys added in the letter that the “narrative perpetuated by SuperSport that there was no racism reinforces his view and infringed his human rights and dignity”.
In Maleka’s 50-page report into the matter, he states that Willemse “declined” to be interviewed and writes: “The essence of the reasons (given by Willemse) are that the incident was rooted in racism, and he informed the CEOs of his submission to that effect.”
Willemse was referring to the joint statement made by SuperSport CEO Gideon Khobane and MultiChoice CEO Calvo Mawela three days after the incident when – after spending two days discussing the May 19 events with Willemse, Mallett, Botha and others – they said there was no evidence of racism that could serve as the basis for Willemse’s walkout.
Maleka, however, conceded that ”this report is impoverished by the absence of Mr Willemse’s version of events. He is aggrieved by what happened on May 19, and considers racism to have inspired the conduct of his colleagues”.
Willemse walked off the set, stating he would not be undermined and patronised by fellow studio analysts Nick Mallett and Naas Botha.
Maleka quotes from a letter Mallett wrote to Scott Steward, an executive producer at SuperSport, in which Mallett says: “It would be great if Ashwin could be moved to the morning show where we don’t have to work together.
“I think he talks garbage, we irritate the hell out of each other and the working environment is just unpleasant and tense.
“I am very happy to work with Breyton (Paulse), Shimmy (Hanyani Shimange) or Bobs (Gcobani Bobo) instead as, unlike with Ashwin, I respect their hard work and rugby opinions.”
In the report of his findings, Maleka writes: “I should add that the legal representatives of Mr Willemse conceive the present review process as an attempt ‘to administer a balm (of some sort) to injuries inflicted upon Mr Willemse’s rights to dignity and not to be discriminated against based on the colour of his skin’.”
On Tuesday, though, SuperSport cleared Mallett and Botha of racism and backed them to continue in their roles as rugby analysts, but they also stated, in releasing the findings by Maleka, that they’d like to see Willemse return to work.
“Naas and Nick will come back on air, and my intention is to reach out to Ashwin and have further engagements with him,” said Khobane.
“I still see a place for Ashwin at SuperSport, and would like to understand his viewpoint as to why he decided not to participate in this process. It is important that we don’t close the door on him, because he can still add value.”
Khobane said he would engage with Botha and Mallett on Wednesday to find out when they would be available to return to work.
Botha, Mallett and Willemse were not available to comment on Tuesday evening.
Maleka said in his report that the conduct of Botha and Mallett during the off-air conversation with Willemse and during the live studio broadcast of the post-match commentary of the match “does not manifest naked racism and was not motivated by racist considerations”.
Khobane said on Tuesday the incident had caused reputational damage to SuperSport, and that “everyone felt the incident put the SuperSport brand in disrepute, and further polarised South Africa, but everyone showed remorse.”