by Nokuthula Manyathi and Shandukani Mulaudzi
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.
“Students would come needing a place to sleep. They would sleep in that office.” 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”.
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”.
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.”
- Wits Vuvuzela, March 2013: Sexual harassment
- Wits Vuvuzela, March 2013: More Lecturers found
- Wits Vuvuzela, March 2013: Sexpests in Wits Drama
- Sunday Times, March 2013: Sexpest