The independent investigation into the SuperSport walkout incident came to a close last week, stating that there was no racism in the incident. These findings are, however, controversial due to the fact that Ashwin Willemse refused to take part in the investigation. Phumzile Adam, a non-racial sport activist and former player who is now a rugby coach and administrator as part of the South-Eastern Rugby Union (Sedru), gives his views on the incident and subsequent findings.
Willemse, a former Springbok and Lions wing and current SuperSport analyst, walked out of the SuperSport studio during a live discussion with Nick Mallett and Naas Botha, both former Springboks, after the Lions victory over the Brumbies. Willemse sited racial reasons for his walkout, and an independent investigation was initiated by SuperSport to investigate the incident.
Watch video here: Video sourced from SA Rugby Magazine’s Youtube Channel.
The independent investigation, led by senior advocate Vincent Maleka, was initially due to end on 11 June, but was extended by a week to allow Willemse to testify. After Willemse failed to testify for the second time, the findings were released by SuperSport, stating that the incident rose from a misunderstanding, and that greater care and procedure will be provided for SuperSport employees to resolve such grievances off air.
Willemse’s lawyer, Nqobizitha Mlilo, said, “Ashwin did not participate in the process because it was a fruitless exercise. We believe the whole incident is rooted in racism. We are at an advanced stage with preparing those documents, and we will be approaching the Equality Court.”
Adam believes that Mallett and Botha did act in a patronising manner. “Ashwin said ‘I don’t want to work wıth people who are patronising and [call]me a quota player’. They did not deny it, meaning he was correct,” said Adam.
Adam added that he believes that SuperSport can be a beacon for transformation in light of this incident. “SuperSport should apologise to the viewers and begin workshops with their presenters about racism and transformation. They need to stop the denial in order to protect their business,” said Adam.
After Willemse’s intentions to take SuperSport to Equality Court were made public, Cosatu released a statement calling for the boycott of SuperSport and DSTV. Adam believes that, although this is a serious incident, it is dangerous to start calling for this type of action.
“We know these incidents will happen because our democracy is still developing,” said Adam, adding that he believes Cosatu is merely vying for political attention. “Cosatu is just interested in point scoring. Boycotting is the last option,” said Adam.
It was also reported by the Sunday Times that four of Willemse’s colleagues, Owen Nkumanwe, Xola Ntshinga, Kaunda Ntunja and Gcobani Bobo, had written a letter to the company airing racial grievances. However, it has since been suggested that this letter was blown out of proportion.
In a statement, SuperSport CEO Gideon Khobane confirmed the matter was resolved. “We received the attorney’s letter some time ago but agreed with the presenters to investigate the matter and resolve the issues between ourselves,’ said Khobane.
“All of the issues raised by the presenters have been resolved and we look forward to continuing to work together to create a great working environment for the SuperSport team. All of those commentators and presenters confirm that racism has not played any role in regard to the concerns raised and resolved.”
Speaking on behalf of his colleagues, Nkumane said, “we are happy with the way the whole process has been conducted by SuperSport. We have achieved our goals as a collective of a conducive working environment at SuperSport.”