/ 12 December 2018

Human Rights Commission to investigate Willemse walk-out

(Carl Fourie/Gallo Images)
(Carl Fourie/Gallo Images)

The South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) will be establishing an inquiry into the events that led former SuperSport commentator and Springbok wing Ashwin Willemse to walk out during a live broadcast in May this year.

The inquiry is expected to be run between February 25 and June.

On radio station Jacaranda FM on Tuesday evening, Willemse’s lawyer, Nqobizitha Mlilo commented on the SAHRC’s decision to establish an inquiry saying, “We hope all that all the relevant issues are canvassed and that the matter is brought to finality then. We remain as confident as we were before.”

Willemse had accused co-hosts Nick Mallett and Naas Botha of patronising him, and Willemse said he could not work with people who “undermined” him.

Mallett and Botha were cleared of racism following an independent review conducted by advocate Vincent Maleka with the assistance of Wits University’s Professor Adam Habib.

Maleka’s report found that the conduct of Nick Mallett and Naas Botha “does not manifest naked racism”, however, Maleka recommended that SuperSport “should take the initiative to refer Mr Willemse’s allegations of racism to the Human Rights Commission.”

When asked for comment, MultiChoice group executive of corporate affairs Joe Heshu said “SuperSport has cooperated fully with the South African Human Rights Commission since the broadcaster referred the Ashwin Willemse matter to the Commission.

“SuperSport will participate fully in the enquiry to be conducted by the Commission and maintains its firm view that racism did not play a role in this matter,” said Heshu. 

Read in full: SuperSport report on the Ashwin Willemse walkout

One of the concerns for Maleka was that Willemse never participated in the independent review.

However, the SAHRC inquiry will be open to “anyone who has an interest in the matter may join and present evidence there and we think that is an opportunity for the issues to receive full ventilation,” Mlilo told Jacaranda FM.

Following the independent review’s findings, several high-profile SuperSport commentators spoke out about their treatment in a letter in the Sunday Times.

Xola Ntshinga, Kaunda Ntunja, Gcobani Bobo and Owen Nkumane accused SuperSport of discrimination, alleged intimidation and victimisation. The four also said there was a “lack of pay parity with white colleagues”. At the time, SuperSport said it would investigate the matter.

Timeslive reported that the inquiry will look into the extent that Willemse was “exposed or subjected to unfair racial discrimination or harassment on or before May 19 2018”. It will also look at how SuperSport dealt with the allegations of unfair treatment and whether employees are offered “sufficient safeguards and measures to prevent the occurrence of race-based unfair discrimination”.

Willemse never returned to SuperSport after his contract expired in September; however, his former colleagues Mallett and Botha continue to work for SuperSport.