A group of students had marched to Wits Junction after sexual assault allegations about a resident were posted on Twitter.
The Wits ANC Youth League (ANCYL) rushed in the defence of senior drama lecturer Tsepo wa Mamatu and accused the South African media and Wits University of harassing black academics in the country
“This sensationalism suggests to us that Tshepo [sic] wa Mamatu is innocent and that a conspiracy is driving these allegations,” the organisation said in a statement.
The statement accuses the Sunday Times of using “faceless and spineless sources” to compromise the integrity and to humiliate wa Mamatu.
Wa Mamatu has been accused in media reports of sexually assaulting and violating his students during rehearsals, auditions and off-campus for a period of six years.
The Wits Democratic Alliance Student Organisation (DASO) published a statement responding to the Wits ANCYL asking “is the race of a person important or the nature of the crime?”
DASO added that wa Mamatu was not only accused of making advances on students but also asked them to “undress, touch themselves, sliding his fingers into their pants, sexual relationships and alleged rape over a period of 6 years”. DASO said the issue should not be about race, but about rape and sexual harassment.
Tshediso Mangope, chairperson of Wits ANCYL, emphasised that their statement wasn’t a racial issue but that wa Mamatu is being crucified by public opinion. He questioned the mechanisms and processes used by Wits University and the students who reported the lecturer to the Sunday Times.
“Why report allegations to the media when no formal complaints were made to the university and the police?” asked Mangope.
“If these students were genuinely violated, they have the opportunity to report these with law enforcement institutions (not the media),” read the Wits ANCYL statement.
SRC representative Tokelo Nhlapo said the university had a history of responding differently to cases based on race.
“I think that Tsepo [wa Mamate] is treated this way because of the colour of his skin” said Nhlapo. “If the university seeked justice, they shouldn’t have made comments in the media.”
Sibulele Mgudlwa, SRC president, believes that the case wasn’t treated fairly. He said the university responded differently when the same allegations were made last year about a white lecturer.
He said the SRC was “not defending or declaring him [wa Mamatu] guilty. [The] priority is students.”
However, Mgudlwa said the mechanisms that deal with sexual harassment and sexual violence issues should be standard across board.
“The university has a tendency of selectively applying its policies,” he said. “Response should be uniform, swift, regardless of race and academic standing.”