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.”
“People like the idea of someone being down and out.”
“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.”
PUBLIC APOLOGY: Dismissed Wits lecturer, Tsepo wa Mamatu, has taken to Facebook to apologise for his actions. Image: Facebook.
Former Wits University senior lecturer Tsepo wa Mamatu has publicly apologised for the first time since his dismissal last year for sexual harassment.
“I apologise to my community, my society and every woman for failing them,” wa Mamatu said in the message posted on his Facebook account.
“I will not be mute in my shame. I AM SORRY”, said wa Mamatu.
Wa Mamatu wrote that after his dismissal from the university he “went into a journey of exile, into a space where I asked of myself difficult and hard questions”.
Wa Mamatu apologised for his “lack of judgement” and admitted that he had abused his power over students.
“I apologise for abusing my power, vested on me by the university, to fail to be consistent with principles and values of best practice,” he said.
In addition to his former students, wa Mamatu also offered apologies to his friends and family as well as “my community, my society and every woman for failing them.”
Wa Mamatu signed off his Facebook apology with the words: “I am at your feet”.
Wa Mamatu’s apology comes after months of denying that he had sexually harassed students.
In a series of articles reported by Wits Vuvuzela last year, Wa Mamatu maintained that he had not sexually harassed anyone but rather had relationships with them.
Wa Mamatu was due to be a panelist at The African Arts Institute debate on Monday evening but appeared to have cancelled his appearance. The debate follows the removal of his play, By My Grave, from the Cape Town Fringe festival.
UNDER FIRE: Dismissed “sex pest” Tsepo wa Mamatu says his controversial new play is not about sexual harassment.
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”.
A “very senior” member of management has been accused of using his position to quash allegations against him, the sexual harassment report has revealed.
This is the fifth allegation of sexual harassment since the start of the inquiry. Three lecturers have been fired while the final investigation on Dr Lord Mawuko-Yevugah of the international relations department is still pending.[pullquote]“to encourage other staff and student representatives to coerce the student to retract the complaint and not to take the matter any further”[/pullquote]
The report, which was released last week, says the senior member of staff used his influence “to encourage other staff and student representatives to coerce the student to retract the complaint and not to take the matter any further”.
Prof Bonita Meyersfeld, director of the Centre for Applied Legal Studies (CALS), said she could not say who the accused was or how many people made the accusation due to a confidentiality agreement with all the people who spoke to the committee during the inquiry.
Meyersfeld said she was not certain whether this specific case was investigated.
“Well my honest answer is that I do not think so, but I do not know that for sure.”
At the press conference held last week, Meyersfeld said other perpetrators were discovered during the inquiry, but cases were dealt with on a confidential basis and unless students asked for their accusations to be pursued, they were not.[pullquote align=”right”]“We pursued various other avenues to get to the bottom of it [new cases]. But in those instances our findings yielded no further investigation.” [/pullquote]
Meyersfeld said, however, that she was not certain if there was an explicit instruction from the senior staff member’s accuser/s that this matter should not be investigated.
Vice Chancellor Prof Adam Habib told the press that all the matters that came to their attention during the inquiry were investigated although nothing materialised.
“We pursued various other avenues to get to the bottom of it [new cases]. But in those instances our findings yielded no further investigation,” Habib said.
One of the report’s recommendations was to have a new, independent sexual harassment office. Meyersfeld said this was important in cases like this where a member of staff from the vice chancellor’s office may be involved.
“We realise that the proposed office must be completely autonomous so that if someone from the vice chancellor’s office is affected, a person can go directly to levels as high as senate.”
The inquiry was officially started on February 1, after the Sunday Times published an article on the allegations against drama lecturer Tsepo wa Mamatu.
The report says, however, that the Legal Office began the process of establishing the inquiry after Wits Vuvuzela published an article in September last year about a professor who asked students for sex.
The aim of the inquiry was not to investigate specific cases of sexual harassment but to find out how prevalent the problem is on campus.
It was conducted by Meyersfeld along with other members of CALS and lawyers from law firm Norton Rose. Together, they compiled the report and made recommendations for the university to deal with cases of sexual harassment on campus more effectively.
by Shandukani Mulaudzi and Caro Malherbe
Prof Bonita Meyersfield outlines some of the key findings from the report. Photo: Pheladi Sethusa
Wits has pledged to undertake a multidimensional approach to issues of sexual harassment on campus by formulating a special task team initiated by the vice chancellor’s office. These measures and others were announced today at a press conference called to make the findings of an independent inquiry into issues of sexual harassment at Wits University.
Vice chancellor Prof Adam Habib said he takes full responsibility for the abuses that happened at Wits and that the report highlights the failure of the university’s system to address rumours and allegations decisively.
Habib added that the university welcomes the recommendations and will form a Senior Executive Team to start a plan of action on how the issue of sexual harassment will be dealt with, in line with the culture of the institution.
Special Task Team
The special task team will originate from the VC’s office and comprise various experts from within the university including gender specialists, the transformation office, sexual harassment advisors, legal expertise and student representatives.
Habib said student representatives will not be solely from the SRC but from various sectors of the student body.
[pullquote align=”right”]“The inquiry was one of the most difficult tasks for the whole team to undertake because we were dealing with our own university. But it was important and totally worth it.”[/pullquote]
Prof Adam Habib, Kirti Menon and Prof Andrew Crouch field questions from the media. Photo: Pheladi Sethusa
Difficulties of investigation
Prof Bonita Meyersfeld, the director of the Centre of Applied Legal Studies at Wits was part of the team who compiled the report together with lawyers from law firm Norton Rose. She said this was one of the most difficult inquiries to undertake.
“The inquiry was one of the most difficult tasks for the whole team to undertake because we were dealing with our own university. But it was important and totally worth it.”
Meyersfeld said students and members of staff were initially reluctant to speak to them but in the last two months of the inquiry they were more willing to come forward.
“The emotion involved in both students and staff alike is evident throughout the university and administration. Students felt they were not listened to and not taken seriously.”
[pullquote align=”right”]”There were other perpetrators discovered during the inquiry.”[/pullquote]
Meyersfeld said the students were also worried about following the legal process as they were worried about being re-traumatised by speaking to various entities about the same incident.
Members of staff, although they shared the same sentiments also worried about the threat posed to their careers if they came forward.
Two cases have already been dealt with and the accused persons have been dismissed. Habib said there are two other cases that are on-going.
“Two have been dismissed and another who began investigations will hopefully be released to me tomorrow. The fourth is yet to begin.”
The on-going investigation is that of Prof Rupert Taylor, while the one that has not yet begun is that of Dr Lord Mawuko. This was confirmed by a reliable source who did not want to be named.
SRC President, Sibulele Mgudlwa answers a question from the audience. Photo: Pheladi Sethusa
Meyersfeld said while there were other perpetrators discovered during the inquiry. However cases were dealt with on a confidential basis and unless students asked for their accusations to be pursued, they were not.
Habib added: “We pursued various other avenues to get to the bottom of it [new cases]. But in those instances our findings yielded no further investigation.”
Habib thanked the media for blowing the whistle on issues of sexual harassment as this forced the university to take immediate action.
An infographic tracking everything which has happened with regard to sexual harassment on campus till now. Graphic: Prelene Singh
THE UNIVERSITY is sitting tight on the official reports from sexual harassment hearings which resulted in the dismissal of two lecturers last week.
Tsepo wa Mamatu and Dr Last Moyo were fired last week by the university after they were found guilty of sexual harassment and misconduct during hearings conducted by Wits and law firm Bowman Gilfillan.
However, the details of the harassment and misconduct leading to the dismissals appear to be a tightly kept secret with only one staff member, Employee Relations head Elaine Milton, in possession of a report on the hearing’s findings.
[pullquote]“Under no circumstance can I release the details of the report, it is completely confidential and would be a breach of policy to release it,” [/pullquote]
Vice Chancellor Adam Habib told Wits Vuvuzela that he did not have a copy of the report and did not know its exact contents.
Xolisile Selatela, associate attorney from Bowman Gilfillan, participated in Moyo’s hearing but said “no, I don’t know,” when asked if she knew the details of why the former lecturer was dismissed. She then put down the phone abruptly.
Milton, the only person with the report, declined to speak about its details with Wits Vuvuzela. “Under no circumstance can I release the details of the report, it is completely confidential and would be a breach of policy to release it,” Milton said.
Moyo declined to comment on the report while wa Mamatu could not be reached for comment. The dismissals are a point of contention with the lecturers. In previous interviews, wa Mamatu said the university was only trying to claim “moral authority” by firing him while Moyo said the accusations against him were not serious and he was fired for “petty” reasons.
Wits spokesperson Shirona Patel told Wits Vuvuzela: “The university stands by their decision made by the independent chair of the disciplinary committee.” Patel added that both former staff members had a right to appeal their dismissals.
Meanwhile, a campus wide inquiry into sexual harassment policy is also being conducted by the Centre for Applied Legal Studies (CALS) and law firm Norton Rose Fulbright.
CALS director Bonita Meyersfeld said that it was important to identify flaws in the existing policy such as when it did not address inappropriate behaviour by students and staff.
[pullquote align=”right”]“The university stands by their decision made by the independent chair of the disciplinary committee.” [/pullquote]
The policy inquiry will release a report at the end of the month. In contrast to the report on the disciplinary hearings, Meyersfield said the policy report would be made public.
Meyersfeld said there was already debate over its findings. For example, people had strong opinions on whether or not student-lecturer relationships should be banned.
“There is no silver bullet solution and we have to work hard to apply our minds to the entire university to achieve this,” Meyersfield said.
A list of specific questions asked by staff and students about sexual harassment policy has been drawn up and will be included in the policy report.
By Prelene Singh and Emelia Motsai
DR LAST Moyo and Tsepo wa Mamatu, who have been dismissed for sexual harassment, have spoken out about their sackings.
According to a statement issued on Wednesday by Wits Vice Chancellor Prof Adam Habib, two staff members were dismissed. Habib’s statement did not name the two staff members.
Habib apologised to all students who had been victimised by these lecturers and added that the university would not tolerate any future incidents of sexual harassment.
However, Wits Vuvuzela independently confirmed that Moyo and wa Mamatu are the two dismissed staff members.
[pullquote]“I resigned and if the university says that I have been fired, this is the university trying to claim moral authority,”[/pullquote]
When Wits Vuvuzela first contacted them, both Moyo and wa Mamatu said they were unaware that they had been dismissed. Wa Mamatu said he had already resigned and the university was attempting to claim “moral authority” by firing him.
“I resigned and if the university says that I have been fired, this is the university trying to claim moral authority,” wa Mamatu said.
Wa Mamatu said he resigned in May and was working until the end of July as part of his resignation. Wits drama department head Kennedy Chinyowa said he knew nothing about wa Mamatu’s resignation.
Wa Mamatu’s attorney David Mogaswa told Wits Vuvuzela that on Thursday morning he received an email from the university about the dismissal which went straight to junk mail. He still cannot read the contents of the email.
On Thursday morning, Moyo confirmed to Wits Vuvuzela that he had received news that he was dismissed and was disappointed by the outcome.
Moyo said that he didn’t expect any fairness from the hearings, and “institutions are like machines and I think the major thing at the moment for Wits is its reputation and all of its institutional energy is focused on that.”
“The idea behind legal justice is that punishment must correlate with offence, but I am not sure this applies in my case,” said Moyo.
[pullquote align=”right”]“I received the harshest punishment that one won’t get even in hell I think.”[/pullquote]
“I received the harshest punishment that one won’t get even in hell I think.”
Moyo said that while he was unhappy with the outcome, he still loves Wits, the School of Language and Literature Studies and the Faculty of Humanities. He is happy that he was able to give his side of the story during the hearings.
“What matters to me is that I got a chance to tell the truth at the hearing. Once I did that, I found relief and could sleep peacefully knowing that between me and my creator everything is sorted,” Moyo said.
Moyo speculated about whether the students who testified against him would also have peace and said they had been “unjust”.
“These things have a way of coming back to you if you treat a fellow human being unjustly, even at old age,” Moyo said.
[pullquote]”My promotion to associate professor could have been through in April, but instead in March I was accused of harassing students. That’s life.”[/pullquote]
Moyo said that he had been expecting a promotion that had been derailed by the sexual harassment allegations made against him.
“My promotion to associate professor could have been through in April, but instead in March I was accused of harassing students. That’s life.” Moyo said he did not know most of the women who levelled accusations against him.
Wits Vuvuzela first reported the accusations against Moyo in March, resulting in the investigation. Moyo said most of the women in the article did not participate in the hearings.
He also said he had nothing against Wits Vuvuzela and its articles on sexual harassment on campus. “You did a great job in some stories, but certainly not in all cases.”
Wits Vuvuzela spoke to some of the women who made complaints against Moyo. Refilwe Kumalo, who testified against Moyo, let out a big sigh when she heard about the dismissal from Wits Vuvuzela.
[pullquote align=”right”]“I am happy we won, I was able to stand up and protect my rights.”[/pullquote]
“I am happy we won, I was able to stand up and protect my rights.”
She said facing Moyo in the hearing was “disgusting and horrible”. Another student who also testified against Moyo said justice had been served: “Hopefully lecturers will learn how to conduct themselves.”
Moyo and wa Mamatu were two of four staff members under investigation for sexual harassment. The outcomes of those hearings are to be announced in the coming weeks.
Wits Vuvuzela. BREAKING: Fired sex pests named. July 31, 2013.
Wits Vuvuzela. ‘Sex pest’ hearings concluding. July 26, 2013.
Wits Vuvuzela. Kruger talks sexual harassment. July 12, 2013.
Wits Vuvuzela. EXCLUSIVE: Tsepo wa Mamatu speaks. May 31, 2013.
Fired! Dr Last Moyo pictured at a Wits event last year. Photo: Dinesh Balliah.
by SHANDUKANI MULAUDZI and PRELENE SINGH
Two of the four Wits University lecturers accused of sexual harassment have been dismissed.
Although the statement did not name the lecturers, Wits Vuvuzela has learned that the dismissed lecturers are Tsepo wa Mamatu and Last Moyo.
According to a statement released today by Wits vice chancellor, Prof Adam Habib, “the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, has just dismissed two employees who have been found guilty of sexual harassment.”
Habib declined to name the individuals.
Habib said that the hearing was conducted and chaired by independent senior counsel who submitted the guilty verdict to Wits University.
Both of these lecturers were found to be in breach of the University’s Sexual Harassment Policy, Relationship Guidelines and the University’s Code of Conduct.
“The staff members have been found guilty of sexual harassment and misconduct, and one of them has also been found guilty of sexual/indecent assault,” said Habib.
Habib apologised to all students who had been victimised by theses lecturers and added that the university would not tolerate any future incidents of sexual harassment.
The cases of the remaining two suspended lecturers are ongoing and these outcomes will be announced over the next couple of weeks.
Tsepo wa Mamatu, a lecturer in Drama has also been fired from Wits for sexual harassment.
As previously reported by Wits Vuvuzela, the university was conducting two inquiries and it is said that the campus-wide inquiry “is expected to be completed in the next two weeks”.
This inquiry is being led by the Head of the Centre of Applied Legal Studies, Professor Bonita Meyersfeld and Joe Mothibi from Norton Rose Fulbright.
Read more in the Wits Vuvuzela print edition or online this Friday.
by Nokuthula Manyathi and Shandukani Mulaudzi
Tsepo wa Mamatu
Tsepo wa Mamatu, senior drama lecturer suspended recently after sexual harassment allegations against him, has broken his silence and insists that he is “not interested in coming back to Wits”.
In an exclusive interview with Wits Vuvuzela, he said: “Coming back to Wits would seem like the easy way out.”
In March this year, The Sunday Times reported that, over a period of six years, more than 10 of wa Mamatu’s students claimed he had sexually harassed them.
He was accused of violating students during rehearsals, auditions and off campus and even raping one of his students. Following these allegations, the university placed him on “special leave”.
Speaking publicly for the first time since the allegations surfaced, wa Mamatu said the last three months had been painful and that coming back to the university was no longer an option.
“I felt quite wounded and I almost became depressed but you can’t victimise yourself,” said wa Mamatu. For a good four weeks I was in a bad, bad, bad space,” he said. Wa Mamatu said the support he received from family, friends, colleagues and students helped him survive
Flood of support
“What made me strong was the thousands and thousands of messages I received in my Facebook account, sms’es and the calls I received from very, very influential people,” he said. Wa Mamatu said one of his friends had compared this struggle with the strife experienced by Jesus. “They said, ‘Tshepo: Jesus was 33 years old when he went through the same thing – when he was humiliated publicly, when he was betrayed’.
“But they cannot crucify you without building you up.”
No chance from The Sunday Times
Wa Mamatu expressed his dissatisfaction with the manner in which the Sunday Times had handled the story. According to wa Mamatu the reporter of story, Pearlie Joubert, contacted wa Mamatu on the day on which she was to submit his story which did not allow him time to respond fully to the allegations.
.“[pullquote]”Students would come needing a place to sleep. They would sleep in that office”[/pullquote] He explained that the telephonic interview had lasted less than two minutes and that he had tried to ask for an opportunity to meet with the reporter to give the context and his side of what happened.
“She said ‘no no, my deadline is 5 o’clock and I have to submit the story.’ Imagine?” said wa Mamatu.
Raising his voice, Wa Mamatu said that two weeks later the same reporter had “the nerve” to contact him to find out how he was doing after the publication of the story. “She called me she said: ‘So how are you feeling after that story was published?’ [laughs] And I gave her such a tongue lash. I don’t think anyone has ever spoken to that woman and she has never called me.”
Wa Mamatu also expressed concern in the fact that one of his accusers had initially told The Sunday Times that he had raped her but had since changed her charge against him to one of oral sex.
“Now she says it was oral sex. Now how do you go from rape to oral sex? Those are two distinctly different things,” wa Mamatu complained.
Admission: this was not the first time
Wa Mamatu confirmed that there was a case of sexual misconduct brought against him in 2007. The matter was taken to the Counselling and Careers Development Unit (CCDU) as the woman in question had accused him of “touching her pants in a very sexual way”.
[pullquote] Worked tirelessly to ensure the wellbeing of students [/pullquote] At that meeting both parties were given the opportunity to give their side of the story and the matter was settled. “It was a breakdown of communication and not some malicious intent to do her any harm or to cause her any discomfort whatsoever.
Wa Mamatu said although he had been given opportunities by other media publications to speak up, he had declined them, as he did not want to be seen as “this guy who is using his voice to overpower these women”.
An upbeat wa Mamatu said he held no grudges. He said he did not judge the way the university had handled the situation. “The university had to act, [especially] in a country where woman abuse is so rife … The university is in the middle and I’m not criticising the university, what they did was quite bold and daring.”
Since his suspension, wa Mamatu said he had an initial hearing with the university earlier this month but proceedings had been postponed to June pending further investigations. He said the Wits School of Arts (WSOA) had handled the situation as best as they could, considering the circumstances. He said that despite the allegations and his suspension from Wits he was still able to practice his craft.
Career still thriving
“At the moment I’m rehearsing a play at the state theatre, I have an opera at the Cape Town opera that’s opening in June. I’ve got a musical that’s coming up and I’ve just shot a documentary in the last three months with BBC and Aljazeera”.
Wa Mamatu said although his anger and resentment had subsided he was still very hurt by the allegations as they were untrue. He said he had worked tirelessly to ensure the wellbeing of students, which was his main priority both inside and outside the learning environment.
Spirit of Ubuntu?
Wa Mamatu explained that he is from a background where he was taught to share and as a result his office was a “student office”.
[pullquote align=”right”]I had given up my life for that place but in the end they dealt with me.[/pullquote]“Students would come needing a place to sleep. They would sleep in that office.Students would come and tell me that it’s January and ekhaya ngishoda nge [I am short of] R4000 to register or what what-what and I would hustle and make a plan for those students.” Wa Mamatu said his biggest fault was being too trusting and too generous.
“I had given up my life for that place but in the end they dealt with me.”
By Caro Malherbe and Ray Mahlaka.
SEXUAL harassment allegations against Wits university lecturers have dented the university’s reputation. At least three academic staff members have been suspended for alleged sexual harassment and have been put on special leave, pending an inquiry.
Wits spokesperson Shirona Patel said the coverage of the sexual harassment cases in the media has cost thousands of rands in reputation damage.[pullquote align=”right”]”Reputation is everything in academia as well as the world of corporate and consumer brands”[/pullquote]
“We have adopted an open and transparent approach pertaining to this matter, without compromising the legal processes underway…However, we can facilitate the communication as much as we like, but if we do not fix the real problems in our system, these issues will recur,” Patel said.
Communication strategist Sarah Britten said that in a country where people are aware of gender based violence, institutions such as Wits should be criticising society.
“Scandals like this [sexual harassment] could scare off potential students and staff and cost Wits money in lost fees and the inability to attract the best academics. “Reputation is everything in academia as well as the world of corporate and consumer brands and this has been damaging,” Britten told Wits Vuvuzela.
Britten said that the Sunday Times article on senior drama lecturer Tsepo wa Mamatu will linger in people’s memories. “In cases like this, it’s important to create the perception of transparency and swift action. I’m not sure they have actually done this,” she said.
Word of mouth can harm the reputation of the university more than the reported stories in the media, said Britten.
Public relations consultant Chris Vick said the university has been “relatively successful” in demonstrating that it will not tolerate sexual harassment. “But the key is to maintain momentum by formulating and announcing steps, such as policies and practices, to ensure this does not happen again and to communicate these to students, in particular, in a convincing way.”
Melissa Lowrens, 2nd year BA, said she felt the scandals that were exposed this year have caused “irreparable damage to Wits’ reputation.”
Lowrens said people often tell her: “Oh, that school that was in the paper for sexual harassment.” However, Imra Schaik, 2nd year BA General, said that he remains a proud Witsie even after the scandals. “My friends who are at UJ [University of Johannesburg] still think I’m a boss for getting into Wits.”
Wits Vuvuzela April 19, 2013: Sex accused kicked off campus
Wits Vuvuzela April 13, 2013: Wits staff in sex harassment inquiry
Wits Vuvuzela March 11, 2013: New lecturer in harassment allegations
Daily Maverick April 8, 2013: Scared out of their Wits: Sex predator scandal stalks university
Four cases of sexual harassment in Faculty of Humanities are among those that are the subject of an university-wide inquiry by the law firm of Bowman Gilfillan.
“There are a number of cases being investigated by Bowman, four cases in the Faculty of Humanities,” Prof Libby Meintjes, head of the School of Literature Language and Media.
The inquiry follows allegations of sexual harassment against Wits staff members including suspended senior drama lecturer Tsepo wa Mamatu, former head of the political studies department Prof Rupert Taylor and former head of the media studies department Dr Last Moyo.
Meintjes emphasised that Moyo was on “special leave” and not “suspension”. “Dr Moyo has been placed on special leave with no access to the campus pending the investigation,” she said. [pullquote align=”right”]“Students, feel free to speak out openly, without fear.”[/pullquote]
She said Moyo has not been suspended, as there have not been enough formal complaints made.
Director of employee relations Elaine Milton told Wits Vuvuzela it is better for a staff member who is the subject of an investigation to be off campus while such an investigation is taking place.
Milton said proceedings were at a “very delicate stage” and she could not disclose the names of staff members involved as this will prejudice the investigation.
She said that “special leave” is a leave of absence without the loss of benefits or remuneration in order for the university to be able to conduct an investigation in an “unfettered” and an unhindered” manner.
Milton added that Taylor, who stepped down as head of the political studies department last year following sexual harassment allegations, has not been formally placed on special leave.
Meintjes stressed that students should not fear to come forward with complaints about sexual harassment. “If they take [their complaints] to the correct sources, to the correct persons, there will be no backlash,” she said.“Students, feel free to speak out openly, without fear.”
Dr Mehita Iqani, acting head of the department of media studies, said: “There is a lack of trust in the institution. I don’t think anyone should HAVE TO work in an environment where there is a sense of fear…Students need to know that if they have a complaint against staff confidentiality will be absolutely protected.”
University Registrar Kirti Menon said the university is hoping to receive feedback from the Bowman Gilfillan attorneys by the end of next week.
Meintjes said: “We are hoping it will be concluded very soon.”
“I don’t think we’ve heard the end of this.”
While the investigation into the sexual harassment allegations is being conducted, a separate inquiry into the university’s procedures for the reporting of sexual harassment is also taking place.
The vice chancellor’s office has asked Norton Rose Attorneys and the Centre for Applied Legal Studies at the university to conduct the inquiry into the university’s policies and mechanisms dealing with sexual harassment. This inquiry is expected to be concluded by August.
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.