WSOA alumni call for responsibility in sexual harassment drama

A group of School of Dramatic Arts alumni has written an open letter to Wits University to voice their opinion about the recent sexual harassment allegations against a senior lecturer in the school.

This is after the Sunday Times labeled drama lecturer, Tsepo wa Mamatu a “sex pest” and reported that he was accused of sexually assaulting some of his students.

In the letter the group of alumni expressed their dismay over “an apparent climate … within the University that condones and what’s more appears actively to facilitate such sexual transgressions.”

According to the letter which was sent via Adrian Galley, their outrage over the matter is due to their own experience of an environment which was tolerant of sexual misconduct 30 years ago and seems to still exist.

The group said that the campus-wide inquiry into sexual harassment is “too little, too late and offers slight comfort to survivors,” and they suspect the inquiry is driven by “a need to shore-up the University’s legal defenses,” rather than a “sincere desire for truth and justice”.

The group calls for authorities to “question why they have abandoned their quest for social justice and remind them the moral high ground they may once have claimed has long been overrun by corrupt and hostile forces”.

The groups wants lecturers in the drama department to “reflect on and take responsibility for their own complicity in the current chain of events” and they “challenge the University administration” to take steps towards “social justice”.

The alumni said that it is unfortunate that some groups see the “call for swift justice” as a plan to incite a “witch hunt and the institution of a kangaroo-court”.

But they believe “environment of social justice serves equally the interests of genuine complainants and the falsely accused”.

The former Witsies called upon the university administration to act decisively. They said they “wish to once again be associated with an institution that is universally recognised as a leading and credible voice on issues of social justice, making a positive contribution to the national and international debate on matters of sexual abuse and gender-based violence.”

Read the full text of the open letter here.

Sex at “a certain age”

 

Catherine Burns, whose research interests include the history of sex, says people do not like to think of older people as sexual beings. She says older people are portrayed as being romantic or affectionate, never sexual. Photo: FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Rosalind Jacobs cartwheeled onto the stage in the opening scene of her autobiographical play That Certain Age.

 She said she used to cartwheel everywhere as a child. It made her feel alive, proud and beautiful. Jacobs, who is 59, said she now looks “like a cushion that’s lost its stuffing. Breasts dangle hopelessly as if they just got tired of hanging on, as if they too had lost their sense of purpose.”

 Jacobs’ play, which was staged at Wits on Monday August 20 as part of Drama for Life’s Sex Actually festival, highlighted the issues of ageing and sexuality.

After the performance, the all-female audience of five discussed body image and sex in what Jacobs called the “invisible age” , when a woman is not yet “a lovely old little lady” but is no longer considered a “hot babe”.

The discussion was moderated by Dr Catherine Burns of the Wits Institute for Social & Economic Research (WISER). Burns, who studies the history of sex, said people did not like to think of older people as sexual beings.

She described the strong reaction her acquaintances had to The Mother, one of the few films which showed older people having sex.  In Roger Michell’s 2003 film, Daniel Craig plays a 32-year-old man who falls in love and has a sexual relationship with his girlfriend’s 65-year-old mother, played by Anne Reid.

Burns said: “Many people have told me it’s the most revolting film they have ever seen … They had to turn it off or leave the cinema because it disgusted them.”

The idea may be unpalatable to some, but older people are sexually active and they risk getting sexually transmitted infections. Burns said older women were vulnerable to HIV infection because their vaginal tissue was thinner and more likely to tear.

Older women might also be invisible to HIV/AIDS awareness campaigners, who often targeted the youth. They might lack knowledge about condom use.

She said negotiating condom use might also be difficult, since menopausal women could no longer tell their partners they wanted to prevent pregnancy.   

Audience member and Wits graduate Margaret Fish said: “Many older people don’t feel that they have a choice if they want to keep that man. And how are they going to say: ‘I’m afraid you might give me a disease?’”