JOHANNESBURG - Ashwin Willemse is ready and willing to speak to SuperSport about the studio walkout scandal that rocked the broadcaster and South Africa on May 19 - before he takes the matter to the Equality Court.
An independent inquiry into the matter - led by advocate Vincent Maleka - found no evidence of racism on the day when Willemse downed his mic and walked off the set at SuperSport. Willemse, the former Springbok wing, said he had felt patronised and undermined by fellow in-studio colleagues Nick Mallett and Naas Botha.
But while both analysts were cleared of racism by the Maleka inquiry, Willemse is adamant the incident was rooted in racism. He opted to not take part in the inquiry because, according to his lawyer, Nqobizitha Mlilo, the process was flawed and the forum inappropriate.
“The individual interviews that were conducted by Advocate Maleka could not be tested and that is not an appropriate process to follow,” Mlilo said. “To participate in that process would be fruitless there is no value in the findings without Mr Willemse’s evidence. The only place where we can test the evidence, and cross-examine the individuals versions is at the Equality Court and we are in the process of finalising our documentation.”
Mlilo, however, made it clear that Willemse was open for discussions with SuperSport and that would determine their next step. “Ashwin is an independent contractor and not an employee of SuperSport and his participation in the inquiry was voluntary from the beginning. He is, however, willing to speak to them and if the process yields something positive then that will be the end of the matter.”
SuperSport chief executive Gideon Khobane and MultiChoice boss Calvo Mawela had stated publicly two days after the May 19 incident - following an internal review and interviews with all the role players - that there was no evidence of racism that led to the incident.
Mlilo said the studio walkout incident was the straw that broke the camel’s back and what happened was “not a new issue”. “There’s a long history and you can’t only use one day’s incident to determine whether racism was at play or not.”
Maleka found in his investigation that SuperSport were aware of the uncomfortable relationship between Willemse and Mallett yet linked them in studio together, despite objections made by Mallett in this regard. The former Bok boss had, in an email to his employers, requested that he and Willemse not work together because they “irritated the hell out of each other”.
Maleka writes in his report: “Mr (Thato) Monale (executive producer for rugby at SuperSport) indicated that the robustness of the debate between Willemse and Mallett, often when it revealed the contradictory stance they both displayed during the analyses, was important to the studio show and enriched the commentary.”