An “overdue” apology by dismissed senior lecturer Tsepo wa Mamatu has received a lukewarm response from staff and students at Wits.
The apology comes after months of denials following his dismissal for sexual harassment last year. Some staff members expressed mixed feelings in response to it.
“It’s an overdue apology for me, but again the truth of the matter is that he himself should have been allowed to take his time,” said wa Mamatu’s former friend and Wits dramatic arts graduate Zabalaza Mchunu.
Wa Mamatu released the apology following the removal of his play, By My Grave, from the Cape Town Fringe Festival. Festival participants had requested its removal which wa Mamatu said was his life story and incorporated issues of sexual harassment.
A Facebook apology
In the apology, published on his Facebook account, wa Mamatu expressed contrition on for his “lack of judgement” and admitted he had abused his power over students.
“I apologise to my community, my society and every woman for failing them,” wa Mamatu said in the message posted on Facebook.
“I will not be mute in my shame. I AM SORRY,” said wa Mamatu.
Mchunu suggested wa Mamatu’s apology was an act of self-defence, which came minutes before a panel discussion in Cape Town about the withdrawal of his play from the festival.
Mchunu said wa Mamatu was faced with appearing on a podium at the panel discussion: “So before he did, he had to be put in a space of defending himself … that’s why he went and did it.”
In an e-mail he sent to the panel conveners, wa Mamatu said he pulled out the debate because it was being repositioned into a “war cry” which had “mangled the opportunity to engage fairly, productively and constructively.”
“I refuse to participate in an environment that is not conducive to freedom of speech, that is intolerant of voices that are oppositional to others and that refuse to listen,” said wa Mamatu.
He added that he will continue the “processes of rehabilitation” and talk about the need for men to negotiate themselves against sexual relations.
“I will continue to share with others my own lessons, so that we as men, especially black men, learn to negotiate and respect women-hood in all its various and varying forms,” wa Mamatu said.
Mchunu, however, expressed skepticism about wa Mamatu’s absence at the panel discussion and compared it to the former lecturer’s absence at the initial hearings of the sexual harassment proceedings.
Head of division in dramatic arts, Dr Haseenah Ebrahim, said she welcomed the public apology by wa Mamatu, confirming that he had previously e-mailed an apology addressed specifically to the department.
“It’s not for me to forgive him, it’s only for his victims to forgive him. I’m not sure how plausible or believable he is,” said performance and visual arts student, Kelly Eksteen.
Eksteen, who is a former student of wa Mamatu’s, went on to describe the former lecturer as “a very sick man”.
Jacqueline Titus, a performing arts student, said that “speaking about Tsepo wa Mamatu is a very sensitive topic around here”, referring to the Wits School of Arts.
In response to the scepticism around his public apology, wa Mamatu told Wits Vuvuzela “an apology is not an end, it is the beginning”. He said there would be “other projects”, drawing on workshops he said he is actively involved in to draw attention to issues of sexual harassment and violence against women.
When asked about the rejection of his apology by his former colleagues, wa Mamatu said:“People like the idea of someone being down and out.” He said he hopes that the controversy would soon be over.
“I am worn out.”