Willemse’s public venting prompts others to share their experiences on Twitter

21 May 2018 - 13:41 By Petru Saal
Ashwin Willemse.
Ashwin Willemse.
Image: Carl Fourie/Gallo Images

Ashwin Willemse’s public venting about feeling that he was being patronised by other rugby commentators has unleashed a wave of tweets by people who are aggrieved by insults and racism in the workplace.

South Africans are relaying examples of how they have been undermined in a toxic work environment – often suffering in silence – in corporate South Africa.

The outpouring is similar to the “me too” phenomenon which saw people using social media to illustrate the extent of sexual harassment and assault at work.

Sihle Bolani started a twitter thread that got people opening up‚ relaying her experience working at one of the major banks.

“The #AshwinWillemse story is triggering. The courage it takes to stand up and speak out‚” she tweeted.

“I was in tears every single day. I developed chest pains which eventually landed me in hospital in April 2015.”

Many commentators said she was courageous to speak out and shared similar experiences.

Sihle Maake tweeted: “I went through this corporate racism back in 2011. When you speak to HR‚ they tell you your boss is like that‚ you shouldn’t overreact. You go to the black exec‚ he turns the other way. They make you feel incompetent‚ useless and deliberately make the place unbearable!”

Etty Dudu tweeted: “Thank you for sharing your story. I had to endure the same treatment in a Big 4 accounting firm.”

The debate took on a political dimension when DA MP Phumzile van Damme broke away from her wedding anniversary celebrations to tear into a former colleague in the party on Twitter.

She was responding to a tweet by Gareth van Onselen who remarked that DA leader Mmusi Maimane was clearly “the one person who knows exactly what happened” when the former Springbok walked out of a live SuperSport rugby broadcast‚ saying he was tired of being “patronised” by Nick Mallett and Naas Botha.

Maimane had tweeted‚ in response to the incident: “What @Ashwinwillemse experienced yesterday is still sadly an experience for too many South Africans. We must build an equal society‚ where we confine to history a system of racial superiority and inferiority. We must continue to pursue a Diverse SA however difficult it is.”

Van Damme‚ a rising star in the party who recently stepped down as its national spokesperson‚ took exception to the view expressed by Van Onselen.

“You & your predictable constant self-righteousness. You must live a hard life of unfulfilled expectations. Since (when) do we wait for ‘processes’ before we condemn abominable events we read about like corruption‚” she tweeted.

“The same is not applied to incidents of racism. There's a weird sense of camaraderie & protection that develops that says 'wait until processes have taken place man'‚ 'maybe he was just joking'…”

And then she added: “Free advice: ask any black person (not those who pretend not to see race) who works what it is like. You have to work twice as hard to be taken seriously. Lol. I remember you once wrote I was doing well in the DA because I was being given a leg up‚ when it was ME and MY hard work.”

The comments did not go unnoticed by ANC elections head Fikile Mbalula who entered the fray‚ tweeting the party had a "hot potato" topic on its hands. “They have broken free there in the blue couch and there might be limited space at Harvard.”