“Sex pest” claims new play is not about sexual harassment

Tsepo wa Mamatu, a lecturer in Drama has also been fired from Wits for sexual harassment.  Photo: Provided

UNDER FIRE: Dismissed “sex pest” Tsepo wa Mamatu says his controversial new play is not about sexual harassment.
Photo: Provided

A controversial new play by former Wits University lecturer, Tsepo wa Mamatu,  was withdrawn from Cape Town Fringe (CTF) festival last week despite claims from the actor/director that the play does not deal with the issue of sexual harassment.

“People do not know what they are talking about. It would be incorrect to say it [the play] was about sexual harassment,” said wa  Mamatu.

Speaking to Wits Vuvuzela, wa Mamatu said the play is an autobiographical account of his journey that is based on his memoir called Even Still – Lessons Tsepo Learned.

He said the issue of sexual harassment does come up in the play because “it was one of the most disappointing chapters of my stay there (at Wits).”

Wa Mamatu, who previously taught in the Wits School of Arts (WSOA), was found guilty of sexual harassment at Wits through an internal disciplinary process last year and subsequently fired.

Following the removal of the play, By My Grave, from the (CTF) programme owing to protests by other participants, The African Arts Institute is hosting a panel discussion on the controversy tomorrow evening in Cape Town which includes wa Mamatu.

The debate itself has left the arts community divided.

Wits Drama for Life released a statement on its Facebook page opposing the public debate saying the organisation “does not support an initiative of this nature that implicitly validates the experience of the perpetrator and that reinforces the traumatic experience associated with sexual violence”.

According to the founder and director of Drama for Life Warren Nebe, allowing wa Mamatu to engage in a debate encourages a “normalisation” of his acts of sexual harrassment.

“He is being given a platform to validate his position in a way that we think he does not deserve”, said Nebe.

“For us this reopens wounds in many ways…trauma cannot speak back to denial”.

Brett Pyper, WSOA head, says he believes debates around the play will “advance the interest of the various parties who have a stake in the conversation”.

“As a school we believe profoundly in the capacity of art to advance dialogue, redress and restorative social relationships”, said Pyper.

Nebe confirms that the play was withdrawn due to the tensions around wa Mamatu’s history of sexual harrasment and was motivated by the withdrawal of The Mothertongue Project from the festival who were also performing a play on sexual violence called Walk: South Africa.

Artistic director of  The Mothertongue Project, Sara Matchett, says, “Even without knowing what Tsepo wa Mamatu’s work was about, we did not feel comfortable sharing a platform with someone who was found guilty of sexual harassment”.

Matchett says wa Mamatu is “unremorseful”, which is why she believes “there should not be any space on public platforms to be sharing this sentiment”.

“For us there is no debate”, said Matchett.

Nebe says the controversy over wa Mamatu’s new play “reopens wounds in many ways … trauma cannot speak back to denial”.




Not much interest in sex harassment workshops

Wits School of Arts (WSOA) began this year by clearing its closet of nasty skeletons.

The school organized new workshops on codes of conduct after the sexual harassment drama of 2013. But the schools efforts are baring little fruit.

After last year’s revelations of improper sexual conduct by senior lecturer Tsepo wa Mamatu, which lead to a commission of inquiry and ultimately the dismissal of wa Mamatu and other offenders, WSOA embarked on the process of drafting an “ethical practices in teaching and learning” handbook.

Catherine Duncan of WSOA told Wits Vuvuzela  that the school needed to revisit a number of principles, values and responsibilities “from scratch” if the school was to be a “constructive and open environment for teaching, learning, and making art”. However, notices inviting arts students to participate in the workshops on one of three days, by signing their names up on a register provided under a description of the handbook, stood mostly empty.

They could be seen in and around the vicinity of the pale brown WSOA building- on the doors of classrooms and performance venues, as well as on notice boards and inside elevators. [pullquote align=”right”] “Doors? No one looks at doors. Why did they put them there?”[/pullquote]

Two weeks on, after the proposed dates of the workshop, those participation registers remain in position with a hardly a name on them.

Chairperson of WSOA’s school council Obett Motaung, 3rd year BADA, confirmed the poor attendance of the workshops.

“There were about 30-odd students who attended (workshops). You see we are facing an issue of student apathy,” Motaung said. Duncan admitted many had not engaged in the project.  “That is also fine and their prerogative,” Duncan said.

Both Duncan and Motaung were eager to stress that the workshops were only one part of larger information gathering process that started in July last and would continue beyond this month’s workshops.

“We gathered all the relevant policy, codes of conduct, standing orders, findings of the investigation into sexual harassment at Wits last year, course guides and so on,” Duncan said.

She said key data from the research went into the student workshops for “development, consultation and feedback”.

CONFUSED: Hankysel Lee is one of the many students who did not know about the workshop.                 Photo: Mfuneko Toyana

CONFUSED: Hankysel Lee is one of the many students who did not know about the workshop.                                                                                                                                                                                 Photo: Mfuneko Toyana

It would also seem that there was poor publicity around the workshops. The majority of the WSOA students interviewed by Wits Vuvuzela were either unaware of the workshops or just did not care to be involved in the process.

Moshini Pillay, 2nd year Fine Arts, said putting the notices on doors was not a good idea and this was the main reason she had not attended.  “Doors? No one looks at doors. Why did they put them there?” Hankysel Lee, 3rd year agreed that the visibility of the posters was ineffective.

She said she “just didn’t see the notices,”  and that she might have attended if she had.

Shubham Mehta, 4th year film and TV, said he preferred not to participate in “extracurricular activity” outside of his studies and that he saw no benefit in participating in the workshops.

A draft of the handbook will be completed by end of term according to Duncan.

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