Cape Town - Former Springbok wing Tonderai Chavhanga believes the Ashwin Willemse/Nick Mallett studio pairing was a conflict waiting to happen.
“Ashwin and Nick are both alpha males and it’s not always easy getting those personality types to work together in the same space,” Chavhanga told Sport24 in an exclusive interview.
“From my understanding, there have been issues between the two analysts for quite some time and I suppose SuperSport probably thought it’s something that would eventually fizzle out and go away.”
Instead, the seemingly dormant volcano erupted in full view of the public last weekend during a live Super Rugby broadcast at the pay-TV channel.
Before Willemse exited the stage, he stated that he was “not going to be patronised by two individuals who played in apartheid - a segregated era.”
“This issue has engulfed the whole country and everybody has been waiting to find out what exactly happened but the way it’s been handled has left so much up in the air,” Chavhanga continues.
“I’m disappointed. Issuing a press release, in which each party has been quoted, and having the CEOs (of MultiChoice and SuperSport) address the media informally isn’t enough for me. The parties involved definitely have a responsibility to ensure that they tell their stories, so the matter can be resolved.”
Chavhanga, who holds the record for scoring six tries on debut against Uruguay, feels that people cannot begrudge Willemse for the way he felt and it’s not for anyone to say how he should have reacted in the situation.
“Ashwin didn’t scream, didn’t throw things around and also didn’t storm off the set... in life, we should never have to settle for unfavourable working conditions. If we are uncomfortable or unhappy with something, we must follow our convictions.”
Chavhanga played under Mallett during his time with the Stormers and Western Province when the former Springbok coach served as WP’s director of rugby from 2005 to 2007.
He describes Mallett as a “very dominant personality” but he doesn’t believe that either he or fellow SuperSport panellist, Naas Botha, is a racist as some have suggested on social media platforms.
The former flyer was Willemse’s squad-mate at national level, but the pair didn't ever play in the same match-day team.
“When I was in the Springbok squad, Ashwin was also part of it. As far as I know, he has always been the ultimate professional. I have got incredible respect for him because of where he comes from and what he has achieved. (Willemse escaped the clutches of drugs and gangsterism to become a World Cup-winner).
"Ashwin is an upstanding role model. People must not jump to conclusions before knowing why he reacted the way he did. Based on what I have heard, Ashwin felt that he was being undermined and patronised. However, we mustn’t allow this incident to divide us along racial lines and it’s important for politicians, and the likes of AfriForum, not to use this particular issue to further racial divisions. We need to bring back racial unification that took place during the 1995 World Cup.”
Chavhanga says that if the trio reunite on air in Randburg (potentially as early as Saturday) it would probably prove to be the highest-rated show flighted on South African television. He stresses that he would love it if they can resolve their issues and get back to giving objective analysis of rugby games.
“Nick has an incredible rugby brain; he loves the sport and has so much to offer. Ashwin has done a very good job as an analyst ever since he joined SuperSport. I like listening to him talk and, funnily enough, I usually enjoy the balance between Ashwin and Nick whenever they are offering analysis.”
However, Chavhanga warns against sweeping the issue under the rug and being more conscious of the triple bottom line than grappling with race dynamics in South Africa.
Willemse highlighted some complex issues within a South African rugby context - most notably the unwanted ‘quota player’ tag.
“Many black players can relate to what Ashwin said about being called a quota,” the four-Test Springbok added. “As a black player, there is always a question mark hanging around your selection. Are you really there because you are the best or are you there merely to make up the numbers?”
In 2003, Willemse underlined his pedigree when he won big at the South African Rugby Awards, claiming the SA Player of the Year, Players' Player of the Year and Young Player of the Year awards.
“When it comes to transformation, since 1994 there have only been around 60 black players that have represented the Springboks,” Chavhanga said.
“It’s a small number and it doesn’t reflect the society in which we live. The true essence of transformation is about giving equal opportunities to black players that would previously not have been afforded so.
"The crux of the matter is that there is heightened pressure on black players to perform and prove, beyond any reasonable doubt, that they are the best. However, just because you are black doesn’t mean you should get a free ride. There is always a fine line between balancing transformation and ensuring that you don’t alienate anybody.”