Racial storm sweeps through South African rugby after Willemse walkout

21 May 2018


A racial storm is brewing in and around South Africa’s rugby fraternity following a live-on-TV protest and walk-out staged by former rugby player turned commentator, Ashwin Willemse.

Media reports suggest that Willemse, who is black, had a racial confrontation with co-presenters, veteran white rugby personalities Nick Mallett and Naas Botha.

Its not very clear what sparked the storm but reports suggest that the two Mallet and Botha labelled Willemse a quota player. Essentially this tag is designed to mean that he was not good enough as a rugby player and only made it because he was black – coaches selected him to satisfy the racial quota imposed on the them by the state.

A clip of Willemse’s protest and walkout has gone viral on social media. He’s heard saying: “I’ve been in the game for a long time like most of us here. As a player, I’ve been called a quota for a long time and I’ve worked very hard to earn the respect I have now. I’m not going to sit here and be patronised by these two individuals (Mallett and Botha) who played their rugby during the apartheid era, a segregated era.  I can’t work with people who undermine other people. Im glad it happened on live TV so that people can see.

This has caused angry reactions from different quarters. South Africa’s ministry of sport has called for full investigation of the matter and the suspension of Mallet and Botha from commentating.

The ministry’s spokesperson Vuyo Mhaga said they call for suspension of the two up until an investigation is done by Super Sport. “Failure to do that would be an endorsement, by the sports broadcaster, for an alleged act of racism against Mr Willemse.”

He added that “We expect Super Sport to do a full investigation. Every time elements of racism try to come up we must condemn and isolate it.”

A statement released by an entity titled SARU/SACOS legends is most stinging. It says the incident is indicative of the deep prejudiced that still exist. “The attitude and sheer smugness of Naas and Nick are still characteristic off and steeped in a mentality of superiority, old Apartheid style aloofness bordering on a “baas en kneg” relationship against those with a darker hue.”

“We have been privy to numerous occasions where these two gentlemen and a host of others as well, flout their Springbok colours as the ultimate badge of superior intellect on everything rugby from coaching, commentating, writing etc. They convey their comments in a subtle nuanced, latent and covert racist manner in running down players of colour, vying for a Springbok place, while similarly talking up the abilities of their former colleagues and team mates’ offspring.”

The statement said Willemse’s act was necessary. “He took the wind out of their sails with this action… He has in one fell swoop brought the denigration of players of colour into the public domain and smack bang into the international arena.

“All hail Ashwin…we afford you the greatest respect”

A political party called Independent Civic Organisation of South Africa (ICOSA) said in a statement the indent is indicative of

“We call on all non-white South Africans to cancel their DSTV subscription, till SuperSport remove the likes of Nick Mallet, Naas Botha, Toks Van Der Linde and Kobus Wiese. We also want the removal of all presenters who represent Apartheid South Africa on the rugby field. No more historical references for statistical purposes of the era before Unification.”


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