Sports minister Nathi Mthethwa: Eben Etzebeth 'innocent until proven guilty'

11 October 2019 - 12:32
By Mahlatse Mphahlele
Eben Etzebeth is facing hatespeech charges at the Equality Court.
Image: Anthony Au-Yeung/Getty Images Eben Etzebeth is facing hatespeech charges at the Equality Court.

Minister of sport Nathi Mthethwa has broken his silence on the Eben Etzebeth saga by saying that the Springbok lock remains innocent until proven otherwise by a court of law.

Etzebeth‚ together with a group of friends‚ are under investigation by the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) and the police for allegedly assaulting and racially abusing people on a night out in Langebaan in the Western Cape.

Mthethwa said the government does not tolerate any form of racism in society but Etzebeth remains innocent until he is proven guilty‚ and that the government has confidence in the justice system.

“Our jurisprudence states that any person is innocent until proven otherwise by a court of law.

"It cuts across everybody in society and we have full confidence in our criminal justice system that justice is going to be done in this matter‚” Mthethwa said on Friday morning when announcing the nominees for the South African Sports Awards.

Mthethwa added that if Etzebeth‚ who is likely to be in the starting line-up for the Springboks in the quarterfinal stage of the World Cup‚ will have to face the music if found guilty of any wrongdoing.

“Let me say it categorically that we are not going to tolerate any racism whenever it manifests itself. If this process finds him to have violated human rights‚ he will have to face the music.

“We have given the space to the rugby leadership to speak to the coach [Rassie Erasmus] and he [Erasmus] did say that if it is found that any of his players are on the wrong side of race relations in this country‚ steps will have to be taken. It cuts across and that is the position of government.”

Asked why the government allowed Etzebeth to travel with the team to the World Cup despite the cloud that has been hanging over him‚ Mthethwa said they don’t interfere with the selection of national teams.

“We don’t enter those spaces of selection and we were informed that there is a criminal case that was opened‚” he said.

“We will be watching and the team must be supported 100 percent because they are not representing an individual but the whole country. They are hoisting the flag of SA high‚ so all South Africans must be behind the team to win.”

Springbok matches at the tournament are not televised on the South African Broadcasting Cooperation (SABC) and Mthethwa said the lack of coverage on the public broadcaster is a concern for everyone.

“That will be a concern for everybody but as you know‚ it is public interest colliding with private interest. Whilst it is of national interest to watch all the games‚ there is private interest involved‚” he said.