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Adam Habib: Ashwin Willemse debate distorted by political agendas

SuperSport’s review of the Ashwin Willemse saga shouldn’t be considered as binding, Adam Habib has urged.

On Tuesday, the broadcaster released an independent report by advocate Vincent Maleka into the on-air incident which saw Willemse walk off set after suggesting co-hosts Nick Mallett and Naas botha had patronised him. Maleka found that their conduct “does not manifest naked racism and was not motivated by racist considerations”. Habib was listed as a key consultant in the process.

In conversation with the Mail & Guardian, the Wits vice-chancellor reiterated that he was merely consulted and did not produce the report himself.

“I wasn’t privy to all of the interviews and data,” he said. “I was shown some of it. I was not an author, I was an intellectual consultant on how racism manifests itself, what forms it takes, what forms it doesn’t. What in different contexts you should watch out for. How people have unintended consequences. How historical outcomes manifest themselves ect ect.

“I see Twitter as usual has gone kind of crazy about how I said this and how I’ve said that. I find this utterly peculiar. It’s one of these thing about the Twitter mobs, they’re completely thoughtless, they don’t check what the issues are. I don’t give definitive answers: ‘yes, guilty, no this is the guy that you should slaughter.’ I’m not in a role of making those sort of pronouncements.”

Habib, currently travelling, said while he had not had the chance to read the full report yet, he saw its last two recommendations on social media which he thought were sensible given that Willemse did not participate in SuperSport’s investigation. Namely, Maleka said that his conclusions are not binding and should be “resolved by an appropriate forum of competent jurisdiction”. He recommended that SuperSport take the initiative and refer the matter to the Human Rights commission.

Read in full: SuperSport report on the Ashwin Willemse walkout

“Understand the perspective of the report. It was commissioned by SuperSport for their managerial purposes,” he maintains. “They need to understand whether somebody ran foul of their rules and that’s what they’re here to determine. They’re not making longterm judgments on binding outcomes for individuals. The Human Rights Commission has the capacity to bring everybody around the table, investigate the issue thoroughly and articulate binding outcomes that are not about workplace rules. It’s about whether people behaved in contravention to the Constitution.”

For Habib, the public reaction, particularly on social media, following the release of the report is symptomatic of a common tendency to react before considering all the evidence currently available.

“There’s a lot of people talking at cross purposes here,” he says. “The problem with this debate like everything else is that people come to it with preconceptions. All sides. People don’t really want to deliberate on the issue, don’t really want to think. And partly it’s because of the politicians, these political activists, they have political agendas to want to articulate this or not.

“There’s no serious deliberation on what happened, who did what, in what context… They want to lynch. All sides want to lynch or prevent being lynched because they come with political agendas. That’s the problem with most of our conversations about race in our society.”

Willemse’s lawyer, Nqobizitha Mlilo, confirmed on Jacaranda FM on Wednesday morning that he is preparing documents to approach the Equality Court.

READ MORE: Only ‘Mandela moment’ will stop Willemse going to equality court

“We believe the whole incident is rooted in racism,” Mlilo said. “We are at an advanced stage with preparing those documents, and we will be approaching the Equality Court.” 

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Luke Feltham

Luke Feltham runs the Mail & Guardian's sports desk. He was previously the online day editor.

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