Timeline: Events leading up to HRC intervention in Ashwin Willemse saga

12 December 2018 - 10:20 By Ntokozo Miya
A screen grab of Ashwin Willemse walking off set during a live broadcast of the Super Rugby match.
A screen grab of Ashwin Willemse walking off set during a live broadcast of the Super Rugby match.
Image: YouTube/SARugbymag.co.za

Just two weeks before the end of the year, the SA Human Rights Commission has taken on the task of investigating allegations of racism at SuperSport.

Specifically, the commission will look at the reasons for Ashwin Willemse's departure from the sports broadcaster. 

Below is the timeline of events that led to the commission's intervention.

Willemse walks off set

In May, in a moment that left viewers shocked and somewhat confused, Willemse walked off set during a live broadcast of the rugby wrap with Nick Mallet and Naas Botha. 

Willemse played for the national team in the early 2000s. He earned himself Player of the Year and Player's Player of the Year in 2003.

Botha was a household name in the game between 1980 and 1992, when he donned the Springbok jersey on 28 occasions.

Mallet is also a rugby authority, having coached the national team for 4 years until 2000.

The three former players were employed as analysts at SuperSport.

When Willemse staged his walkout, he said that "he can't work with people who undermine other people. I am not going to sit here and be patronised by these two individuals who played their rugby during the apartheid, segregated era."

SuperSport denies racism allegations

SuperSport CEO Gideon Khobane defended the company after the incident.

He said that the walkout was not fuelled by racist undertones, but the company would "investigate deeper on what happened because nobody just leaves a live production."

"We are positive that this was not a racially motivated issue because all parties were very courteous during our discussions," said Khobane.

Mallett and Botha cleared of wrongdoing

A month later, SuperSport concluded its investigation. Racism claims against Mallett and Botha were dismissed. 

Khobane went on to say that nothing was found to show that the two had exhibited any unintended or subtle racism.

The pair continued working as presenters for SuperSport's rugby show.

Mallett vs Willemse feud

The investigation into the Willemse saga also revealed that in 2016, Mallett sent an email to the show's executive producer, asking that Willemse be moved to another show.

"I think he talks garbage, we irritate the hell out of each other and the working environment is just unpleasant and tense."

Willemse contract terminated

In September, the sport broadcaster announced that its contract with Willemse had been terminated and that he would not be returning to the show.

When called by TimesLIVE for comment, Willemse was stunned, giving the impression that he had not been part of the discussions leading up to the conclusion of the contract.

"You are calling me in regards with something that I haven't heard and I don't know what you're talking about."

Back then, SuperSport was already in communication with the SA Human Rights Commission and had shared its findings with the commission.

Human Rights Commission steps in

The latest development in the eight-month saga is the recent announcement by the commission.

It has committed to conducting a formal and public inquiry into the allegations of racism at SuperSport. 

The inquiry is scheduled to begin in February 2019 and is expected to be finalised by the end of June.