A controversial new play by former Wits University lecturer, Tsepo wa Mamatu, was withdrawn from Cape Town Fringe (CTF) festival last week despite claims from the actor/director that the play does not deal with the issue of sexual harassment.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.
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Nebe confirms that the play was withdrawn due to the tensions around wa Mamatu’s history of sexual harrasment and was motivated by the withdrawal of The Mothertongue Project from the festival who were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”.
- Wits Vuvuzela: Dismissed “sex-pests” speak: Dr Last Moyo and Tsepo wa Mamatu react to their sackings, August 2, 2013.
- Wits Vuvuzela: ‘Sex pest’ hearings concluding. July 26, 2013.
- Wits Vuvuzela: Exclusive: Tsepo wa Mamatu speaks. May 31, 2013
- FULL REPORT: Wits University’s sexual harassment report, September 2013