OPENED PANDORA’S BOKS: Ashwin Willemse’s TV stunt caused race storm
For 48 hours, Ashwin Willemse went from just a rugby hero to a national hero.

When the former Springbok walked out of the SuperSport studios on Saturday evening, almost every person of colour in the country stood up and applauded him.

When he said on air that he was not a “quota” and that he earned his respect as a player, mense shouted: “Preek, broer!”

And when he told fellow panellists Nick Mallett and Naas Botha that he didn’t want to work with former “apartheid” players who “patronise” and “undermine” him... wow!

And the way he walked out - with such calm and dignity and restraint, on live national TV - was so classy.

No “jou ma se...” which no doubt would have gone down well in TV rooms across the Cape Flats.

Every person with a brown skin, who has ever been treated like a second-class citizen or worker, wanted to shake Ashwin’s hand.

We wanted to say, “thank you for your courage”, and for standing up for victims of racism everywhere.

Yes, it became a race issue - an explosive one - turning white against black and coloured.

Without knowing what had actually sparked Ashwin’s walkout, people of colour blamed it on racism and accused Nick and Naas of being racist.

It had to be, right? With talk of quotas, apartheid and being undermined.

And Nick, we all know him to be onbeskof and condescending as he corrects Ashwin’s grammar on air (while overlooking Naas’ Queen’s English!).

Ashwin’s protest lit up social media, with most rallying behind him.

People sommer changed their profile pictures to Ashwin and updated their status to #IamAshwin.

Some white users, however, were vehemently against Ashwin. Naturally.

In white communities where rugby is a religion and Naas and Nick are high priests, what Ashwin did was blasphemy.

They accused him of simply being “unprofessional” and playing the “race card” for no reason. (Because they know all about being victims of racism, don’t they?)

Others got nastier, criticising Ashwin’s coloured accent and discrediting his rugby career and achievements.

They even called the 2003 Rugby Player of the Year - and holder of a master’s degree in business at Wits University - a tikkop and a gangster.

This stoked the heated debate even more, with bruin mense lecturing wit mense about the difference between blatant racism and subtle racism in the workplace.

Ashwin had opened Pandora’s Boks, and in so doing brought racism back onto the national agenda.

Except... was this incident about racism in the first place?

SuperSport and their staff know exactly what went down off air on Saturday, but they are not making any footage public.

Their statement on Monday evening made it clear that “there is no racism that we picked up from any of the discussions that we have had”.

Studio bosses also said the three rugby legends were courteous to each other and had agreed to continue working together.

Say what?

Even more bizarre was Ashwin’s dial-a-lawyer statement: “We had robust discussions in which I aired my views. I’m very appreciative of the process undertaken by SuperSport. The complexity of the issues are very profound.”

Which issues are very profound?

Which issues were profound enough for him to attack Nick and Naas and walk out of his job on live TV?

Which issues were profound enough for him to take a stand, and inspire millions of other “undermined” South Africans to take a stand?

Ashwin - and SuperSport - had better come clean about this incident.

If Ashwin has the balls to play the race card on national TV, and kick the public into a frenzy, he has to have the balls to explain himself.

And it had better be a “profound” reason.

If it isn’t the case, if it is that he was just throwing an ordinary workplace tantrum, then he is no hero.

And he deserves to be drop-kicked and dumped in the sin bin.

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