'I’ve reached out to Nick and to Naas'‚ says Ashwin Willemse

Ashwin Willemse.
Ashwin Willemse.
Image: Carl Fourie/Gallo Images

Former Springbok wing Ashwin Willemse has decided not to pursue an Equality Court case against SuperSport.

Speaking on 702 and CapeTalk on Tuesday‚ Willemse said he had now instructed his legal team that he was prepared to participate in a Human Rights Commission hearing about his walkout on live TV in May.

And he said he had not ruled out returning to SuperSport as a rugby presenter and pundit alongside Naas Botha and Nick Mallett‚ the two presenters involved in the on-screen incident.

“I’ve reached out to Nick and to Naas‚ because I’ve seen the effect this process has had on my family‚” Willemse told presenter Eusebius McKaiser.

“That same spirit of reconciliation is what I will use to engage all parties involved‚ including SuperSport. There are no doors that are closed.”

The 36-year-old 2007 Rugby World Cup-winning squad member walked out on Botha and Mallett at the SuperSport studios in Randburg after a Super Rugby game on May 19 between the Lions and the Brumbies at Ellis Park Stadium.

Willemse‚ who represented the Springboks in 19 Tests between 2003 and 2007‚ spoke of being labelled a “quota player” and refused to be “patronised by two individuals who played in an apartheid/segregated era”.

He went on to say he “can’t work with people who undermine other people” and that he was “glad it happened on live TV so that people can see”.

A SuperSport inquiry into the incident‚ chaired by advocate Vincent Maleka‚ cleared Botha and Mallett of racism after Willemse refused to participate.

He told McKaiser on Tuesday: “I attended the hearings‚ and we weren’t comfortable with the terms of reference‚ so we decided not to participate. We indicated that we believe this was not the appropriate forum.”

Asked why he had remained silent for almost two months since his walkout‚ Willemse told McKaiser: “I understand the magnitude of what has transpired‚ and what it has started‚ and I want to make sure I deal with this matter appropriately.

“At the end of the day‚ it’s not a light matter. I see this in the teary eyes of elderly folk who meet me on the streets‚ and say ‘thank you for standing up for me’.

“It’s legitimate pain‚ and so my silence was a case of me allowing the process to unfold up until a point where we can deal with this matter in the appropriate manner‚ and we’ve not been granted that opportunity as of yet.”

“I was advised that we should go to the Equality Court‚ but upon reflection I have indicated to my legal team that the Human Rights Commission is there to respect the constitution‚ and the constitution ensures that our human rights are protected.

“Out of respect for that‚ I informed [my legal team] that I feel we should honour the submission which SuperSport has indicated it will now send to the Human Rights Commission based on the report of advocate Maleka.

“We will participate in that process. I will be allowed to go there and engage in that appropriate forum‚ and in that process restore my dignity.”

Since the Willemse walkout‚ allegations of racism have been levelled against SuperSport management by at least four black presenters. SuperSport spokesman Clinton van der Berg confirmed they had received the letter‚ which is believed to have been written on behalf of Owen Nkumane‚ Xola Ntshinga‚ Kaunda Ntunja and Gcobani Bobo.

The anchors accuse the channel of discrimination‚ lack of pay parity with white colleagues and alleged intimidation and victimisation.

A list of grievances included claims that certain roles at the channel are “reserved for non-white pundits”‚ and complained of “victimisation‚ public humiliation‚ abusive language‚ intimidation and other inappropriate management”.

They also alleged white contractors are paid more than black contractors‚ who they believe are expected to do more work.

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