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

INTRODUCTION

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

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MY PREVIOUS BLOG POSTS ON THE INCIDENT

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 FINDINGS OF THE MALEKA REPORT

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.

DID ASHWIN WILLEMSE INFRINGE THE DIGNITY OF NICK MALLET AND NAAS BOTHA?

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.

CONCLUSION

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.

 

 

 

 

 

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