Wits Media Studies students are the latest to come forward to accuse a lecturer of improper conduct.
The university is facing a storm after the suspension last week of drama lecturer Tsepo wa Mamatu and Sunday Times’ report of sexual harassment allegations from a number of Wits students.
The controversy has resulted in debate among students, closed meetings between students and faculty of the drama department and promises by incoming vice-chancellor Adam Habib that the present system of reporting sexual harassment should change.
Now six students are claiming that they have also been at the mercy of improper conduct by a male lecturer in Media Studies.
Dr Last Moyo, a senior lecturer in Media Studies, is said to have made inappropriate suggestive comments to several of his students. Moyo has denied these accusations in an interview with the Wits Vuvuzela.
Former student Lombe Kabinga alleges uncomfortable physical contact during a consultation. She says she went to Moyo’s office to submit a summary in 2011, and he told her to put it in a box on his desk, which he was standing in front of.
“He stood close to a box that didn’t even have assignments in it. It just had like a random pile of books.” When bending over to place her summary in the box, Kabinga claims the lecturer casually touched her behind. The student claims to have quickly left the office and did not return for any further consultations. Soon after her ordeal Kabinga heard talk of other students who had experienced similar misconduct. “I found out such things happen in his office,” she said.
Moyo said the claims came as a shock as he had never heard of any allegations that pointed to him and improper conduct with students. “These allegations that are being made here are really unrealistic as far as my own personality and my own attitude with my students is concerned.”
He said that he supported efforts to curb sexual harassment on campus and felt that the allegation involving him touching a student was fabricated: “I’m an academic, I know what constitutes sexual harassment and I wouldn’t,” he said. “I’ve never in this office tried to touch any student or touched any student.” He said the allegations may have surfaced as a result of a miscommunication with students, and that it was easy to misinterpret friendly comments. Moyo said he was willing to apologise directly to students if any comments he made may have caused humiliation.
Kabinga is one of several students that said they had experienced inappropriate comments and uncomfortable behaviour from Moyo.
Facebook and email contact
Refilwe Kumalo, a third-year Media Studies student, says that she was going through personal issues in 2011 and often needed lecturer assistance. “I was going through some stuff so I often had to consult because sometimes I’d miss classes and submissions.” Kumalo claims that her lecturer started becoming personal and sexual, sending Facebook and BBM invites and even emails telling her that she was beautiful and that he wanted to know her better. “One time he tried to hug me during a consultation,” she said.
She says that Moyo invited her to his house on one occasion saying that his wife would be away. That’s when she decided it had to end. “I went to the SRC with it, but I’d deleted all messages so I had no proof,” she said. Kumalo claims that his behaviour impacted her class participation and attendance: “I mean, it’s difficult to go to a lecture when this man is staring at you.”
The consultation room
A former Witsie now studying at the University of KwaZulu-Natal was a first year student when she had a similar experience. She alleges that on several occasions the lecturer would invite students to his office for consultations, a practice that is normal of any university institution. But she and several other classmates began to find his behaviour inappropriate. She claims that after lectures “you would go to him to ask something so small and he’d say: ‘I’ll help you only if you come to my office.’ He was very sexual in that approach.”
His remarks left her feeling uncomfortable in lectures. Fearing that the behaviour would become explicit, the student took extreme measures to avoid all contact by dropping the module. “I went to his office and told him I couldn’t carry on anymore.” She claims that he discouraged her from dropping the module over something so small and said the matter could easily be solved.
A third year BA student, who chose to keep her identity hidden, says that in a consultation about her academics Moyo expressed interest in her Zimbabwean nationality, something the two of them had in common. “I thought it was just a matter of interest because we were from the same place. He’d talk and engage about it.” But the student soon started feeling uncomfortable. She claims the lecturer would often ask to see her in his office about academic issues, but these consultations quickly turned personal. “He would ask personal things like what I enjoyed doing on weekends and say we should meet up and get to know each other more.” The student quickly realised that the situation was inappropriate. “You can tell when a man is more interested in you than in the assignment,” she said. Like other students, she began to steer clear of the lecturer and avoided going in for any further consultations.
Comments on students’ appearance
A Wits Media Studies graduate says she was in her third year and struggling to understand course content and often consulted with Moyo. The student claims that during a consultation, he asked her why she dressed so modestly and told her how beautiful she looked. “This might be a simple gesture of appreciating ones looks, but now actually I think of it, it might’ve been a way for him to lure me in and make me ‘comfortable’”. The student claims the lecturer would stare at her during lectures instead of focusing on the whole class and she felt uncomfortable about seeing him for further consultations.
Students claim Moyo was not extremely persistent with his efforts and would stop his advances once they avoided him and avoided going in for consultations in his office.
*Media Studies is a separate department from Journalism and Media Studies
I was a third year student in Dr Last Moyo’s class when I walked up to him after a lecture to thank him for an informative session. He asked for my surname. That afternoon I received a Facebook message from him telling me that he liked my “maturity” and that I was “laid-back. He asked if we could be friends, a move that I felt was uncalled for.
I told him that I felt it was inappropriate behaviour and asked that we not make any further contact. He respected my wishes and I did not receive any more messages from him. But the next few lectures were uncomfortable and I worried that my decision would affect my academics. Not too long after this incident, I went to the department with a friend to fetch our essay scripts. We were due to write an exam soon and I was going to use my script to prepare. But after checking the pile of scripts multiple times with my friend and the administrator at the department, I realised that among the large pile of returned scripts, mine had gone missing. Knowing of the experiences of some of my classmates, and the Facebook messages I had received, I was reluctant to go into his office to look for my essay. I never did go into the consultation room to look for the essay; neither did I place a report of improper conduct with the department.
Like most girls I brushed it off. It was the end of term of my last year in Media Studies and I just thought it was something I would never have to deal with again.