Minister for Sport Toko Xasa has called on SuperSport to suspend rugby analysts Naas Botha and Nick Mallett amid a groundswell of strong support for Ashwin Willemse after he walked out during a live TV broadcast on Saturday night.
Willemse walked out of the studio after saying he was “not going to be patronised by two individuals (Mallett and Botha) who played their rugby during the apartheid era”.
The DA and ANC were among those who supported the former Springbok wing, with DA leader Mmusi Maimane tweeting: “What @Ashwinwillemse experienced yesterday is still sadly an experience for too many South Africans.
“We must build an equal society, where we confine to history a system of racial superiority and inferiority. We must continue to pursue a diverse SA however difficult it is.”
Xasa said she condemned what she termed “the continued behaviour of white entitlement in the sport of rugby”, while Willemse also received strong support from former Boks such as Gio Aplon and Thando Manana.
“This behaviour of entitlement by some white South Africans who continue to think that their whiteness represents better (sic), must come to an end. If it was not for a barbaric, nonsensical apartheid system that privileged them, we would not have implemented the quota system to normalise an otherwise abnormal system,” Xasa said.
“Willemse is not just a former Springbok player, but in 2003 he was named SA Rugby Player of the Year, Young Player of the Year and the Players’ Player of the Year. Players like Willemse, (Bryan) Habana and (Siya) Kolisi continue to make us proud as a nation and affirm that they are not token players or quota players.”
She said the incident follows another racial incident in which the K-word was used during an Under-21 match between the Roodepoort and Wanderers rugby clubs.
“It is clear that Ashwin Willemse was referred to as a quota player by his fellow panellists, despite his many successes in the field of play.
“I call upon SuperSport to suspend the two panellists while they are busy with a full investigation. The continued appearance of Mallett and Botha will be seen as an endorsement of their alleged racist behaviour,” said Xasa
There have been previous reports of alleged tension between Willemse and Mallett, with Willemse saying at one stage last year that Mallett was always contradicting him.
Former Bok and Stormers legend Gio Aplon said yesterday he “saluted” Willemse.
Aplon said on Twitter: “I believe all Ashwin Willemse wanted was to be treated fairly and equally by his counterparts, nothing more and nothing less, and for standing up for that I salute him.’’
Manana said he was “so glad” Willemse had “finally put Mallett and Botha in their place”.
Before he walked off the set, Willemse said: “I think it’s important for me, because I’ve been in the game for a long time like most of us here.
“As a player, I was labelled a quota player for a long time, and I’ve earned, and worked hard to earn, my own respect in this game.
“So I’m not going to be patronised by two individuals (Mallett and Botha) who played their rugby during the apartheid era, a segregated era, and come and undermine.
‘‘So for me, I’ve had my fair share and I can’t work with people who undermine other people.”
SuperSport spokesperson Clinton van der Berg said the broadcaster would issue a full statement today.
“SuperSport is conducting an investigation to ascertain all the facts. Suffice to say we regard the situation in a serious light.
‘‘We have had preliminary discussions with Ashwin, which must remain private.” said Van der Berg.
SuperSport had “noted” the sports minister’s statement and call for the suspension of Mallett and Botha, Van der Berg said.
Columnist Mark Keohane has strongly backed Willemse on the sport pages of the Cape Times today.
Keohane writes: “Willemse’s protest is in the subtle and overt prejudices he has faced in a studio environment over a sustained period of time.
“His stance is to be applauded as a catalyst for change; not (to be) further belittled through ridicule.”