Ashwin Willemse – did he infringe the dignity, respect, and standing of Nick Mallet and Naas Botha?


The independent review into the Ashwin Willemse walk-out has found that the conduct of Nick Mallett and Naas Botha “does not manifest naked racism”. The former Springbok rugby wing walked off of the SuperSport set in May after he had accused co-hosts Nick Mallett and Naas Botha of patronizing him.

An independent review was conducted by advocate Vincent Maleka SC with the assistance of Wits University’s Professor Adam Habib. The full report can be read here –

The full Ashwin Willemse studio walk-off report



I have already written five blog posts featuring the Ashwin Willemse incident. In the firstThe Spur Incident versus that of the Pregnant Women (and yes also that of Ashwin Willemse) I pointed out that doing a Google search on “Ashwin Willemse Supersport Mallet” limited to 19/20 May 2018 I was startled to find 3 090 results compared to only 4 Google results for the first two days after which a CEO assualted a pregnant women. In the second postThe Ashwin Willemse Discussion I would love Eusebius McKaiser to listen to I compared how Eusebius McKaiser on his 702 Talk Show dealt with the incident compared to a similar discussion on the matter on the Gareth Cliff Show. In the third postAshwin Willemse and the critics of South African rugby in the 1980’s I highlighted what certain commentators wrote in opinion pieces, following the incident, about rugby in South Africa in the 1980’s and pointed out certain key instances where they have not been accurate with the truth and questioned why the need to support their points of view with falsehoods.

In the last two blog posts Non-Racial Rugby in South Africa: 1971 to 1990 – Part 1 (1971 to 1976) and Non-Racial Rugby in South Africa: 1971 to 1990 – Part 2 (1977 to 1990). I firstly provided an overview of international matches involving the Proteas [being the representative side of the South African Rugby Football Federation (SARFF)], and the Leopards [being the representative side of the South African Rugby Association (SARA)] for the period 1971 to 1976 to demonstrate that even before unification in 1977, rugby already made some progress in moving to non-racialism in the sport, and secondly I highlighted some of the milestones achieved under the umbrella of SARB towards non-racial rugby in the late 1970’s and the 1980’s.


The Maleka Report into the incident is well written and easy to follow and it’s clear that Advocate Maleka went to great lengths to try and get to the bottom of the incident. He  concluded that he could find no evidence of naked racism on the part of Messrs Mallet and Botha and that he based his conclusions on the following considerations:

  • What Messrs Botha and Mallett conveyed to Mr. Willemse during the off-air incident was not based on a belief held by them of superiority, based on their race or skin colour, or cultural or social background. They were motivated by a common concern that Mr. Willemse was not afforded enough time to express his analysis before the commencement of the live broadcast of the Lions/Brumbies rugby match.
  • Both of them confirmed that they did not use or direct overt racist terms such as “quota player” when they engaged with Mr. Willemse during the off-air incident. They also indicated that they did not reference their past background and achievement in the sport of rugby during years of apartheid or sports segregation in their off-air conversation with Mr. Willemse.
  • Second, there is nothing in the audio-visual clip of the post-match studio broadcast of 19 May 2018 which reveals utterances by Messrs Botha and Mallett of naked racism directed towards Mr. Willemse. Ms. Mohcno heard what Messrs Botha and Mallett said to Mr. Willemse. Mr. Monale also heard what they said during the live broadcast. Both Ms. Mohono and Mr. Monale did not regard or consider the utterances of Messrs Botha and Mallett to Mr. Willemse as being racist.
  • Third, Advocate Maleka placed weight on the collective opinion of Ms Mohono and Mr Monale. The opinion that there was no overt racism is held by persons across race and gender diversity who would ordinarily be sensitive to utterances that are overtly racist. The fact that they did not hold such an opinion is weighty enough, in his view.

  • Fourth, during his interview with the CEOs of MultiChoice and SuperSport on 21 May 2018, Mr.Willemse was asked whether he considered the conduct of Messrs Botha and Mallett to be motivated by racism. Mr. Willemse indicated that he did not regard their conduct as racist. Mr. Willemse was also asked whether he considered Messrs Botha and Mallett to be racists. He indicated that they were not, in his view. He was then asked whether he would be prepared to still work with them. He indicated a willingness to do so.

With regards to subtle racism (also called microaggressions), Advocate Maleka found no evidence of this playing any part. Messrs Mallet and Botha conduct were not motivated by malevolent intent, or a desire to hurt  Mr. Willemse and there is a rational explanation or justification for their conduct.

This is in line with my own initial assessment of what happened in the studioand as I reported in The Ashwin Willemse Discussion I would love Eusebius McKaiser to listen to. I also listened and viewed the video of the incident again and again with a very attentive ear to try and pick up any subtle racism (or microaggressions), whether covert or not, on the part of Nick Mallet and Naas Botha that can be viewed as either condescending or patronizing but could not identify any.

It should be noted that the concept of microaggressions (or subtle racism) is not without its critics as alluded to in this article The trouble with ‘microaggressions’ wherein its author, Emory University psychologist Scott Lilienfield, casts a critical eye over the concept and the evidence on which it rests. He questions how microaggressions are defined and assessed. He observes that the concept’s meaning is nebulous, to the point that there is no agreed understanding of what it includes and excludes. Any manner of experiences could in principle find shelter under its broad umbrella.

He concluded that “microaggression” is not the best way to think about subtle prejudice. Its definition is amorphous and elastic. It fails to appreciate the ambiguity of social interaction, relies too exclusively on subjective perceptions, and too readily ascribes hostile intent. By doing so, the idea of microaggression contributes to a punitive and accusatory environment that is more likely to create backlash than social progress.

Is this not exactly what happened in this incident? Those that crucified Nick Mallet and Naas Botha did not take into consideration the ambiguity of the social interaction that took place on the day in the studio, relied on their own subjective prejudices and immediately ascribed hostile intent on the part of Naas Botha and Nick Mallet against Ashwin Willemse. This created and accusatory environment against all concerned, including Ashwin Willemse, that created more of a negative backlash than contributing in any way to social progress.


This brings me to another angle, and that is how Ashwin Willemse, granted when being upset about something which I will come to later, infringed on the dignity, respect, and standing of Nick Mallet and Naas Botha by attacking their reputation as rugby players who according to him, only played segregated rugby in the Apartheid era. As for Naas Botha, he is one of the few SA rugby players inducted into the World Rugby Hall of Fame as he was in his own right a player of exceptional talent and recognised internationally as one of the games best flyhalves ever. He also did not just play rugby in the Apartheid era so Ashwin Willemse is wrong on this point, but also after 1990 when he captained the Springboks in tests against the All Blacks, Wallabies and France.

As for Nick Mallet he played in only two tests in the 1980’s due to South Africa’s sporting isolation, but his real claim to fame is when he capably and with distinction, coached the Springboks in the post-Apartheid era, and from 1998 to 2000, equaling the All Blacks long-standing world record of 17 undefeated international tests. His reputation is therefore not based mainly on being a former Springbok player which Ashwin Willemse lashed out against, but that of a post-Apartheid coach who ably coached the Springboks in this capacity to many victories.

In addition, and as pointed out in my blog posts Non-Racial Rugby in South Africa: 1971 to 1990 – Part 1 (1971 to 1976) and Non-Racial Rugby in South Africa: 1971 to 1990 – Part 2 (1977 to 1990). rugby under the South African Rugby Board (SARB) banner was played on non-racial, and therefore not a segregated basis, from 1977 onwards. Both Naas Botha and Nick Mallet, therefore, played their rugby yes, mainly during the Apartheid era, but not on a racial or segregated basis as claimed by Ashwin Willemse.

Ashwin Willemse, therefore, has a lot to answer for how he acted out against Naas Botha and Nick Mallet in the manner that he did. He could have taken his grievance up with the management of SuperSport afterwards, who would have had to investigate the matter in terms of their relevant procedures. In acting out as he did, he in my view unfairly impinged the dignity, respect, and standing of Nick Mallet and Naas Botha and that on a public platform where they could not defend themselves.


Almost on cue following the release of the report Eusebius tweeted as follows:

“I read every sentence of the #AshwinWillemse report. It’s amazing how 1652 Twitter ignore the FULL detail. Adv. Vincent Maleka SC is clear that his findings aren’t binding AND that Supersport should refer racism claims to the Human Rights Commission for final resolution.”

In response to this Max du Preez rightly tweeted “That it’s hypocritical to loudly protest against the EFF’s crude ethnic chauvinism one day and to refer to “1652 Twitter” the next”.

As for Ashwin Willemse, his lawyer revealed that he will approach the Equality Court to rule on the matter as he feels that Maleka’s investigation was ‘not the forum to voice his concerns’. His lawyer further indicated that the process was a fruitless exercise and that they believe the whole incident is rooted in racism. This despite Ashwin Willemse indicating in the initial SuperSport investigation that he did not regard the conduct of Messrs Botha and Mallett as racists and that he did not consider Messrs Botha and Mallett to be racists.

So if the conduct of Naas Botha and Nick Mallet was not racists as found by the thorough Maleka investigation and as confirmed by Ashwin Willemse himself, what then to make of the statement that the whole incident, rather than the conduct of Messrs Botha and Mallet in itself, is rooted in racism? All will, of course, be revealed in due time in the arguments put in front of the Equality Court, but I would not be surprised if it does not have to do with a rugby-based difference of opinion on whether Elton Jantjies versus somebody like Handre Pollard, is the best South African flyhalf with Ashwin Willemse arguing that Naas Botha and Nick Mallet are biased against rugby players of colour and always questioning their rugby playing ability whilst always favouring white players and not questioning their ability or form.

It’s a well-known fact that Ashwin Willemse has a soft spot for Elton Jantjies. In this light there is a telling part in the Maleka report which read as follows:

  • Next, the anchor introduced a topic for commentary. It related to the changes made to the Lion’s side and invited the analyst’s views thereon.
  • Mr Mallett provided a detailed analysis of the changes, and his analysis proceeded for approximately one minute. Thereafter, the anchor turned to Mr Botha and invited him to comment on the form of Mr Elton Jantjies, who plays for the Lions. Mr Botha provided his analysis against the background of live pictures from the stadium, depicting the warm up by Mr Jantjies. Now and then Mr Mallett would add his views to the points made by Mr Botha, in a manner that revealed a collegial conversation between them. The inputs from both takes about few minutes.
  • Then, the anchor suddenly announces that it is time to join the live broadcast of the match at the Emirates Airline Park stadium.
  • Throughout the pre-match commentary, Mr Willemse did not have the opportunity to provide a pre-match analysis. He stood next to a touch screen television monitor and listened to the analyses of his colleagues, as they were led by the anchor.

My guess is, although I have not had the opportunity to listen to or view the pre-match or half-time match analysis , that Ashwin Willemse, more likely than not, took umbrage to something negative either Naas Botha or Nick Mallet said about the form of Elton Jantjies in the pre-match analysis and that this further confirmed his belief that they are by nature biased against players of colour. This coupled with the fact that, due to circumstances beyond anybody’s control, he had no chance to contribute to the pre-match analysis and therefore not being able to contribute to the discussion on Elton Jantjie’s form, might have been what upset him so much to react the way he did in the post-match analysis. It’s of course pure speculation on my side at this stage, but it makes sense when viewed in the context of what happened on the day as explained in detail in the Maleka report.






Non-Racial Rugby in South Africa: 1971 to 1990 – Part 2 (1977 to 1990)

In a previous blog post, The Ashwin Willemse incident and the many critics of South African rugby in the 1980’s , I concluded that, maybe those so critical of South African rugby in the 1980’s like Gareth Stead, Pieter du Toit and Christi van der Westhuizen and others, are not fully aware of the strides made during that period already in starting to transform the sport, which yes still far from the ideal, in part laid the foundation for the post-Apartheid era of in rugby in South Africa and the full unification of the sport in 1992. I want to therefore highlight some of the milestones achieved in this regard (whilst fully acknowledging that it will not be a complete picture as SARU did not participate in any SARB sanctioned tournaments in the 1970’s/1980’s).

As background, rugby in South Africa was for a large part played on a segregated basis from 1886 until 1977. Separated rugby unions existed for the different racial groups during this period, the names of which changed a number of times over the years. This changed in November 1977, when the then coloured South African Rugby Football Federation (SARFF), black South African Rugby Association (SARA) and white South African Rugby Board (SARB) amalgamated to form the non-racial South African Rugby Board. This unification meant that players of colour of the former SARFF and SARA unions could play in the mainstream competitions of the new non-racial SARB, which was affiliated to the International Rugby Board (IRB). The South African Rugby Union (SARU), under the leadership of Dullah Abass, on the other hand decided not to be part of the unification process and continued under the leadership of the South African Council on Sport (SACOS) to make a case for “no normal sport in an abnormal society”.

In part 1 of this blog post Non-Racial Rugby in South Africa: 1971 to 1990 – Part 1 (1971 to 1976) , I provided an overview of international matches involving the Proteas being the representative side of the South African Rugby Football Federation (SARFF), and the Leopards being the representative side of the South African Rugby Association (SARA) for the period 1971 to 1976. The purpose was to demonstrate that even before unification in 1977, rugby already made progress in moving to non-racialism in the sport.

In this part 2 of the blog post I will highlight some of the milestones achieved under the umbrella of SARB towards non-racial rugby in the late 1970’s and the 1980’s.


1977 – Players of colour took part for the first time in the national rugby trials in Pretoria to elect the Springbok team to play against a World XV (the selectors were also racially mixed). This included Errol Tobias, Piet Boonzaaier, Hennie and Turkey Shields, Hannes Meyer, Louis Paulse, Randy Marinus (Randy Marinus: Een van rugby se onbesonne helde) and Charles Williams from the former SARFF and a number of other players from the former SARA.

SARU forbade its players to take part in the trials, though three did. None of the SARFF  or SARA players made the Springbok side but Hennie Shields was chosen for the Gazelles and Errol Tobias and Turkey Shields for the SA Country XV.

In that year, too, all grounds where SARB matches were played were open to all races.

Randy Marinus

Randy Marinus in action – He played against the 1976 All Blacks at the age of 19. He later decided to continue his career under the SACOS affiliated SARU. 

1977 – Timothy Nkonki and Hennie Shields selected alongside the Northern Transvaal captain, Thys Lourens, to travel to Argentina to be part of an Invitation XV to play in the centenary celebrations of the Club Atletico San Isidro.


Hennie Shields (right) with a visitor outside the SA Rugby Museum

1977 – Timothy Nkonki and Morne du Plessis participate in a festival match in France.

Michell tackled Leopards76

Joe Morgan getting scythed down by Mncendi Mnqatu (left) and Timothy Nkonki in a match between the 1976 All Blacks and the Leopards

1978 – Timothy Nkonki, Andrew Msuki and Solomon Mhlaba and a number of coloured players from the former SARFF participates in the Springbok trials ahead of the tour by France. Tour however cancelled with many saying that it robbed Nkonki from the opportunity to become the first black Springbok.

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Solomon Mhlaba

1978 – Two black teams from the former SARA as well as two coloured teams of the former SARFF participates in the Sport Pienaar Competition that catered for the second tier provincial unions in South Africa. They were SARA West, SARA East, WP league and SWD league. They played against teams like South Western District, Eastern Transvaal, Northern Free State and the like.  Other than the WP League under Dougie Deyers, the other teams found the going tough.

Dougie Deyers played more than a hundred matches for WP League and 38 for the Proteas, including matches against England (1972) and the British Lions (1974). In 1971 he was the captain of the Proteas team that toured the UK and England (for more on this see part 1 of this blog post – Non-Racial Rugby in South Africa: 1971 to 1990 – Part 1 (1971 to 1976) .

He was also a national selector from 1977 through to 1991 and in the post-Apartheid era from 1993 to 1995.


Dougie Deyers

1978 – The American Cougars (also known as the USA Cougars or United States Cougars) is the only rugby union team from the United States ever to beat a reigning Currie Cup championship team in South Africa. A combined and invitational side from the United States, the Cougars toured South Africa and Zimbabwe in 1978. On 12 August 1978 they lost 12-44 to a racially mixed South African Country Districts XV side at East London. Some 5,500 spectators watched as future Springbok Errol Tobias contributed two tries to the Districts’ total and aided in the scoring of two others.


The Cougars touring team to South Africa

1979 – The SARA West and SARA East teams combined to play in the Sport Pienaar competition. In the years to follow they, and the SWD League decided not to participate in the competition, but rather in the Golden Cup competition against teams of semi-provincial stature.

1979 – WP League continues to play in the Sport Pienaar competition and ended fourth in Conference 1 after winning four of their seven matches against stronger second-tier provincial teams.

1979 – Possibly the most significant event for the SA Barbarain rugby club was the first multiracial South African rugby team to tour outside South Africa when it went to the United Kingdom in October 1979. The tour squad had eight white players (SARB), eight coloured players (SARFF – Hennie and Turkey Shields, Nicky Davids, Charles Williams, Louis Paulse, Hannes Meyer, Errol Tobias and Pompies Williams) and eight black players (SARA/SARU – Morgan Cushe, Timothy Nkonki, Lillee Jonas, Sydney Ncate, Bridgman Sonto, Welcome Mtyongwe, Solomon Mhlaba and Arthur Poro) and was managed by Chick Henderson. Attempts were made from the start to integrate the squad’s three ethnic groups, with six of the eight white Barbarians rooming with black or coloured teammates on the first overnight stay. The squad was coached in English despite only two of the twenty four using English as their first language whilst tour singing was often in Xhosa.

The South African Barbarians take on Devon in 1979

SA Barbarians take on Devon in the opening match of their UK tour

Seven fixtures were played; the results were as follows:

  • Weds 3 October 1979 – Devon (Exeter) W 27-18
  • Sat 6 October 1979 – Cornwall (Camborne) W 23-7
  • Weds 10 October 1979 – Scottish Border Club (Galashiels) D 20-20
  • Sun 14 October 1979 – Co-Optimists (Hawick) L 4-24
  • Weds 17 October 1979 – Coventry W 41-24
  • Weds 24 October 1979 – Llanelli W 15-6
  • Sat 27 October 1979 – Newport L 15-21


The SA Barbarian team in action

The tour was a great success and seven of the members of the 1979 SA Barbarians went on the play for the Springboks including Errol Tobias.

Policemen line the pitch during the South African Barbarians game against Devon in 1979

The SA Barbarian team in action

1979 – On the 1979 Barbarian tour to the UK Morgan Cushe became the 1st Black person to captain a representative South African team in the match against Cornwall which the Barbarians won 23-7.


Morgan Cushe

1979 – World Invitation XV toured South Africa under captaincy of All Black Frank Oliver. They played seven matches including matches against a Craven XV, Transvaal and Northern Transvaal. The XV included a few South Africans including Hennie Shields, Errol Tobias and Ray Mordt.

International XV

International XV – 1979

1979 – Norman Mbiko (A legend in our lifetime) plays his last international game when he captained the Eastern Province Invitation XV, against Newport in Wales.


Norman Mbiko

1980 – The Craven Week become racially mixed. The Craven Week is an annual rugby union tournament organised for schoolboys in South Africa. The tournament started in July 1964, and is named after the legendary Springbok rugby union player and coach Dr Danie Craven.

1980 – On Wednesday 4 June 1980 the South African Country Districts XV team lost 7-27 at Windhoek’s South-West Stadium to the Lions on their tour of South Africa. A crowd of 9,000 saw replacement Charles Williams score a try and fly-half Errol Tobias add a penalty to complete the Districts’ score. Jim Renwick, Gareth Williams, Clive Woodward and Colm Tucker scored a try each for the visitors, while Gareth Davies added 11 points through a conversion and three penalties.

1980 – History will record that a SARA XV, nominally a Leopards XV , recorded a second defeat at the hands of the British and Irish Lions of 1980 by a margin of 28 – 6. Veteran flanker Morgan Cushe, who had played in the corresponding 1974 fixture captained the side although with a smattering of white Northern Transvaal and Western Province players beefing up the pack in accordance with the Lion’s expressed wish to play multiracial sides, the team departed from what some at the time considered its African XV origins.

1980 – A South African XV looses to the British and Irish Lions 22-19 at Olën Park, Potchefstroom. The SA XV featured Hennie Shields, Frankie Davids, Hannes Meyer and Timothy Nkonki.

SA XV 1980 2

Some of the SA XV that played against the 1980 British and Irish Lions

1980 – Billy Beaumont’s British and Irish Lions touring side of 1980 defeated a Proteas XV 15–6 in front of a crowd of 15,000 at the Danie Craven Stadium on 27 May 1980. The nomenclature Proteas XV is of import here and the distinction is made since whilst the Proteas’ running backline included notable SARFF star players such as Ronnie Louw, John Noble, Hennie Shields, Charles Williams, Frankie Davids, Errol Tobias (who notched two penalties on the day) and Attie Lategan, the Proteas’ forward pack’s front five was composed entirely of white Western Province players.

1980 Lions Proteas

1981 British Lions vs Proteas

1980 – Errol Tobias was included at centre in the South African Barbarians team that lost 25- 14 to the British Lions at Kings Park on 2 July 1980. His teammates included Argentinian Hugo Porta and three players of colour, Francois Davids, Charles Williams and Solomon Mhlaba.


Francois Davids

1980 – Tobias elected as a member of the Springbok touring party to South America in October 1980 making him the first black Springbok. The Springbok touring party was denied visas to enter Argentina. As a result all tour matches were played in Paraguay, Uruguay and Chile and drew crowds as small as one hundred. Errol did not feature in any of the two tests on the tour.


Springbok Errol Tobias

There was some opposition to Tobias’ inclusion from both black and white communities. Some within his own community in Caledon felt he should not play as long as apartheid policies existed, while some white people wanted Tobias excluded.

Remembering that time, Tobias said: “We had no say in politics. We didn’t even have a vote, so all I knew at that stage was to play rugby. My goal was to show the country and the rest of the world that we had black players who were equally as good, if not better, than the whites, and that if you are good enough you should play.”

1980 –  As part of the tour to South America, South Africa beat a Chilean Invitation XV by 78-12 in a match that saw Errol Tobias kicking 10 conversions to become the first black man to kick a goal in a Springbok jersey of the SA Rugby Board.

This also came after he became the first black player to wear the Springbok jersey when he played against a Paraguayan Invitation XV, and the first to score a try in the jersey after scoring against British Schools Old Boys.

1980 – The Mbabalas (“bushbucks”) team consisted of African players sent on a tour of the United Kingdom and United States of America in 1980, by the SA Rugby Board.  By the nature of it, this tour was meant to promote the newly established multi-racial SARB which came into being in November 1977. 


Team jersey of the 1980  Mbabalas

1980 – In the beginning of the 1980’s, Danie Craven appointed Ian Kirkpatrick, and along with first Abie Williams and then Dougie Deyers, Piet Kellerman and others (including several Springboks), they took rugby to every corner of South Africa. Their mission was to change South Africa on the rugby field by promoting racially mixed rugby. The tool that they used was coaching clinics. These efforts continued for most of the 1980’s.

1981 – WP League joined the Western Province on a trail basis, and from 1984 onward on a permanent basis.

1981 – The Irish toured South Africa in 1981 and in their first fixture, saw them take on a strong SA Gazelles team, basically the Junior Springboks, with Wilfred Cupido of Western Province in the team who beat the Irish 18-15.


The SA Gazelle team against the Irish – 1981

1981 – In their second fixture, the Irish took on a fairly underwhelming opposition in the guise of the Gold Mining Invitation XV. Solomon Mhlaba, a tourist to the UK with the 1979 SA Barbarians started at full back for the GMI XV but he saw little of the ball to demonstrate his attacking prowess as Ireland ran in seven tries with John Murphy contributing a total of eighteen points via his boot from fullback.

1981 – Errol Tobias selected at centre for the Springboks to play against the touring Irish team making him the first black Springbok to play in a test match. In the first test at Newlands on 30 May, a crowd of 37,000 watched as Tobias broke, then gave an inside pass to Rob Louw, who scored.

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Errol Tobias before his 1st test against the Irish – 1981

1981 – Tobias was a member of the Springbok squad that toured New Zealand in 1981 under controversial circumstances, but did not feature in any of the three tests.


Errol Tobias playing in New Zealand – 1981

1982 – Avril Williams and Wilfred Cupido selected to play for Western Province, with many other players of colour following in their footsteps to play provincial rugby.


Wilfred Cupido (far left) playing for Western Province

1982 – A Five Nations XV tours South Africa to play at the official opening of the revamped Ellispark stadium. They played against a SA Presidents XV which by all intents were a full strength Springbok team. The players of colour in the SA XV team was Errol Tobias, Avril Williams, Wilfred Cupido and Jerome Paarwater.


SA Presidents XV

1983 – Anglo-American sponsored the Mbabalas, this time a multi-racial team consisting of 10 white and 13 Black players, to tour the United States of America for almost four weeks. They played seven matches including a repeat match against the Dallas Harlequins.

One of the most notable players who emerged from the tours by the Mbabalas (“bushbucks”) was Timothy Nkonki, who made his mark by first obtaining national representative colours as a SARA Leopard but also turned out for a World XV against France in Paris 1975 under the captaincy of Morné du Plessis, to mark the 75th anniversary of the French Rugby Federation.  Nkonki also played against the 1975 French, 1976 All Blacks, British Lions as well as representing the South African Barbarians on their tour to the United Kingdom in 1979 (for more on this see part 1 of this blog post – Non-Racial Rugby in South Africa: 1971 to 1990 – Part 1 (1971 to 1976) .

1984 – The 1984 Springbok team against England contained no less than two players of colour namely Errol Tobias and Avril Williams.

2nd Test: SA 35 England 9

Avril Williams playing against England

With Tobias pulling the strings at flyhalf, the Springboks beat the tourists 33-15 in Port Elizabeth.


Springboks versus England – Ellispark

This was followed up with a 35-9 win at Ellispark in Johannesburg.


Errol Tobias playing against England

In the second test Tobias scored a spectacular try in the Ellispark corner where I have been sitting as a twenty-one year old watching the test, with Avril Williams also having a hand in a flowing Springbok movement. As he raced to score the try the whole of the Ellispark East Stand rose with him. He divided to score and stood up facing his team-mates, arms aloft in a giant ‘V’ as if to symbolize that he had conquered – racial barriers on the one side, and accusations of tokenism on the other.

His performance in the 2nd test made headlines with many national newspapers proclaiming “Errol Tobias: Pure Gold”.


Errol Tobias: Pure Gold

1984 – The Country Districts XV side played against both the 1984 touring English and South American Jaguar sides. The team was drawn from players of all races competing in the Sport Pienaar Cup, losing both fixtures 33-12 and 30-18 respectively.

1984 – Errol Tobias elected to play in both tests against the visiting South Americans in October 1984. The Springboks won the first test 32-15 and the second 22-13.

E Tobias

Errol Tobias in action against the South Americans

1984 – Five years later on and the SA Barbarians undertook their second overseas tour, this time to West Germany. The touring party of twenty five was composed of twelve white and thirteen coloured and black players. Four fixtures were played (in Bonn, Wiedenbruck, Hannover and Heidelberg ) 314 points were scored and only 27 conceded. South African “sides” had toured Southern Germany in 1974 and 1977 but this was the first multiracial tour to the Federal Republic which received official support and was seen as a reciprocal visit to the unofficial West German tour to South Africa in 1983 (under the guise of a Bonner XV).

1984 – Towards the end of 1984 Errol Tobias played against England for an RFU Presidents XV together with Rob Louw, Danie Gerber and Rudi Visagie.


Errol Tobias playing for the RFU Presidents XV

1984 – Wilfred Cupido, a coloured player selected for the Boks internal tour in 1985, played against a Wales XV for a Presidents XV captained by Rob Louw.

1985 – WP League missed promotion to the Currie Cup competition by a whisker.

1985 – Mbabalas, a multi-racial team played the visiting USA Chicago Lions in Welkom.

1985 – Four black players invited to take part in the Springbok trials for the upcoming All Black tour. Tour however cancelled due to political pressure in New Zealand.

1985 – In 1985 the Springboks undertook and internal tour after a visit by the All Blacks was cancelled. Dolly Ntaka became the 1st ethnic black person to be selected for the Springboks. Unfortunately as it was an internal tour no official colours were awarded and Ntaka lost out to be recognized as the 1st ethnic black Springbok. Wilfred Cupido from Western Province was also in the team.


Dolly Ntaka in Springbok colours

1985 – In the final match of their internal tour the Springboks beat the SA Barbarians by 30-18.


Dolly Ntaka playing for the Springboks against the SA Barbarians

A number of players of colour played for the SA Barbarians including Michael Mboto.

Michael Mboto

Michael Mboto

1987 – During the rebel South Sea Barbarians’ 13 match tour (a team made up of representatives from Fiji, Samoa, Tonga and one Canadian in 1987, organised in lieu of the cancelled visit by Australia, the SA Barbarians played two unofficial test matches. The 1987 SA Barbarians lineup had a far more distinct Springbok XV feel to it despite some senior players questioning the quality of the opposition. The South Sea tourists were defeated 56-30 at Ellis Park but pushed their hosts considerably closer at Kings Park one week later in a narrower 38-32 loss.

1987 – The South Sea Barbarians’ played against the Proteas and drew 25 – 25 as well as the Leopards who they beat 46 – 11

1998 – Greater rugby unification gained further momentum on 7 May 1988 when representatives of SARB and SARU met at the Cape Sun in Cape Town to discuss the way forward for rugby in South Africa.

1988 – In 1988 a multiracial side (the SA Barbarians in all but name – they toured as the Nampak Pioneers) eventually undertook a six match visit to Chile and Paraguay after a series of postponements and rescheduling. Home sides were intended to be bolstered by considerable Argentinian and Uruguayan representation – which did not come to pass and consequently a series of one sided encounters took place with over 100 points being scored against the respective national sides.


In two blog posts I provided an overview of international matches involving the Proteas being the representative side of the coloured South African Rugby Football Federation (SARFF), and the Leopards being the representative side of the black South African Rugby Association (SARA) for the period 1971 to 1976, and highlighted some of the milestones achieved under the umbrella of SARB towards non-racial rugby in the late 1970’s and the 1980’s.

The purpose was to demonstrate that even before and especially after the unification of 1977, rugby made great progress in moving to non-racialism in the sport and that it is therefore not correct to state that Naas Botha and Nick Mallet played segregated rugby in the 1980’s under Apartheid.