By Tim Trengove Jones
Being as butch as I am, I obviously follow South African Rugby.
This, I know, is a very compromising admission, but after all these years perhaps our readership will tolerate this idiosyncratic passion?
Recently, as some of you will know, Supersport experienced the embarrassment of having former Bok player and now commentator, Ashwin Willemse, stalk off the set alleging that Nick Mallet and Naas Botha, his two co-commentators, were condescending towards him. His ire seemed directly mainly at Mallet who, I must admit, I find very full of himself.
Predictably, a storm erupted. The two “white” men were accused of racism. A hearing was conducted by Supersport who, just recently, announced that Botha and Mallet had been exonerated of any taint of racism.
Willemse, however, refused to participate in the enquiry and his side of the story remains untold. However, we do know that, on a previous occasion, and in writing, Mallet had requested Willemse be replaced, claiming that he (Willemse) spoke “rubbish.”
Wherever we go in this country, shades of racism, or racism in the full glare of daylight, presents itself. This incident is a particularly interesting one to me. Rugby is easily and rightly seen as a bastion of White South African nationalism. Along with that, inevitably it seems to me, it is seen as a bastion of machismo, of heteronormativity, of hyper-masculinity. In these guises it might well be the antagonist of gayness.
Perhaps you recall the innuendos and rumours that swirled around former Bok winger, James Small. That his sexuality should have been an issue makes the point, doesn’t it? It is rather like the fussation that erupted when Bavuma scored his first century for the Proteas at the Wanderers: Much delight, and much commentary about a Black player scoring a century for the Proteas. That people made these kinds of noises is not, for me, a mark of progress, a celebration of diversity, not an indication of how far we have come, but how far we still have to go.
The same can be said of the Willemse issue. I don’t know the precise circumstances. Perhaps we never will know. But there, in a Supersport studio, as the Boks become more representative than ever of the diversity of this country, allegations of racism emerge.
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