The Mallett/Botha/Willemse Saga
I have mostly refrained from public comment about the in-studio spat between Ashwin Willemse and his fellow SuperSport presenters, Naas Botha and Nick Mallett. I did not see it happen as I tend to avoid the after-game discussions by the nodding heads in the studio, I like to make up my own mind about what I had seen in a game. When I heard of the incident, I had to go back and watch the recording.
I had no insight into what had happened off-air that might have motivated the entire episode, so I chose to hold my peace.
I did follow some of the social media uproar that exploded across the internet, puzzled and somehow amused by the way people with zero knowledge of the incident instantly took sides. From the Minister to the Keyboard Warriors, they all took sides, without the vaguest idea of what had actually happened in that studio.
I simply watched, and avoided comment as much as possible.
In one discussion on social media I was motivated to intervene when someone suggested that Ashwin Willemse was a “quota” player and “not very good” at that.
That statement was so clearly racist, thoughtless and stupid that it deserved comment.
Ashwin Willemse was a very good rugby player.
You do not become South Africa’s Rugby Player of the Year by being a “not very good” rugby player and some quota statistic. In 2003 he was named SA Rugby Player of the Year, the SA Young Player of the Year and the SA Players’ Player of the Year, the last of those awards based on votes cast by his fellow players!
Capped 19 times for South Africa, he scored 4 tries for his country. He was a very good rugby player.
He showed remarkable guts and determination to fight back from serious injuries in 2004 and 2006 that would have ended the career of many others.
Willemse subsequently retired from international rugby stating “There are no controversial issues around my decision at all. I love the team, and the guys are exceptional. It was such a breath of fresh air being able to return to the Lions after some time overseas last year, and it has been so exciting. I have been able to play the best rugby of my career with the Lions, and I will miss each and every one of my teammates. The time, however, has come for me to move onto the next phase of my life”.
In 2012, Willemse launched the GreenSmile Foundation with former Springbok rugby player Breyton Paulse. It is dedicated to helping educate and create better opportunities for children from socio-economic hardships. He is not one of those who do not give back to the community either.
I must add that all three the men involved in the SuperSport Saga were very good rugby players. All three represented their country, all three have served rugby in various capacities after their retirement from playing, and all three have the credentials to talk about the game of rugby.
One might be more literate than another, or have better public speaking skills than another, or even better pronunciation of certain words or terms in a language that is not his mother-tongue, but that does not detract from the knowledge or the views, and validity of different opinions.
(Those who choose to mock literacy or pronunciation do so at their own peril – can you speak a second language without stumbling or making mistakes?)
Suffice to say that these are three men with strong personalities, you do not become a Springbok rugby player if you are a weakling.
The SuperSport Studio Incident
Senior advocate Vincent Maleka’s 50-page report on his investigation into the incident on the 19th May has been released.
The report is very clear in finding that there was no racism involved in the incident and the interaction between the three men and the studio anchor Motshidisi Mohono.
You can read the entire report by following the link at the end of this article, where you can access and download the article from my Dropbox facility. You can also download it from SuperSport themselves.
Headlines such as those on the SARugbyMag website “Mallett: Willemse Talks Garbage” and News24’s “Mallett: ‘We irritate the hell out of each other’” are not helpful in understanding the issues as they are set out in the report and seem to me to be designed to be somewhat sensationalist, stirring the pot and milking the issue to attract readers rather than providing clear, unbiased reporting.
Much has been made of Willemse’s decision not to cooperate with advocate Maleka’s enquiry. We are told that his attorney wrote to Maleka that Willemse remained adamant that racism had somehow caused his outburst. I quote his lawyer, Nqobizitha Mlilo: “We are at an advanced stage with preparing those documents, and we will be approaching the Equality Court.”
Whether this is Willemse’s personal opinion, or whether he is being advised by some third party or parties to take this position, we do not know. That is not for me to decide or comment.
Ashwin Willemse has a right to believe this, and he has a right to refer his allegations to the appropriate investigating authorities for further investigation.
I am sure that the Maleka Report will be considered by such an investigation.
When three knowledgeable, experienced, and respected individuals with strong opinions and strong personalities get together to discuss a subject, differences of opinion are inevitable.
How individuals react to such differences is a matter for their own conscience.
I will, however, add that SuperSport appear to be the real “bad guy” in this entire spat. They had received numerous requests for the three individuals not to be deployed at the same time, and chose to ignore those requests.
I will now leave this subject alone.
The ball is firmly in Ashwin Willemse’s court. He can have another go at playing the ball, if he wants to.