Senior Wits lecturer accused of being sexual predator
A senior drama lecturer at the University of the Witwatersrand has been accused of being a sexual predator who has preyed on vulnerable young women over a period of six years.
Ten former students have alleged that Tsepo wa Mamatu, 33, deputy head of dramatic arts, sexually assaulted and violated them during rehearsals, auditions and off campus.
On Friday the university placed Wa Mamatu on "special leave" in the wake of what it said was "new information" about alleged sexual harassment.
The Sunday Times tracked down a number of former students over the course of several weeks. Although reluctant to talk at first, some of them came forward to tell their stories - and four made sworn statements detailing the alleged abuse.
One of the women alleged in a statement to Wits that Wa Mamatu raped her in a hotel room in Cape Town in 2011. She reported the matter to the university, but it was not pursued because of a "lack of evidence".
The woman said that in October 2011 she had drinks with Wa Mamatu, after which they ended up in his room. "I woke up no longer a virgin and I'm uncertain what happened," the woman said in an SMS to a friend recently.
She told the Sunday Times: "I'm still too traumatised. I'm not ready to talk about this incident."
- A 21-year-old second-year student who said she was in a rehearsal room with Wa Mamatu and three other students in 2010 when he told them to lie down and switched off the lights. He told them a story with strong sexual overtones and asked the students to touch themselves. He knelt down next to the student, unbuttoned her pants and touched her intimately several times.
The student said she did not report him. She said she was scared of him. She changed her course to avoid being in his class.
- In 2006, an 18-year-old first-year student from the Eastern Cape received a call from Wa Mamatu, saying he would soon have an audition for a short film. He pressured her into going to supper, drank a bottle of wine, then drove her to his home. Once inside, he took off his shirt, gave her the script and asked her whether she would masturbate in front of him. She refused. She did not report the incident.
- A fourth-year student said Wa Mamatu pushed his hands into her tracksuit pants, brushing his fingers over her hips and private parts. This happened in front of other students during rehearsal in 2006.
She laid a sexual harassment complaint against Wa Mamatu with the Counselling and Careers Development Unit at Wits. She chose mediation "rather than wanting Wa Mamatu to lose his job".
She asked that her complaint be put on Wa Mamatu's record. She withdrew from Wa Mamatu's play, 100% Zulu Boy. The student who replaced her said she also was sexually harassed by Wa Mamatu.
- In 2005, a second-year student performed a piece that required her to undress and kiss another actor. Wa Mamatu, her acting teacher, called her aside after the performance and told her he felt cheated because she was wearing tights under the clothes. "You should do this piece naked underneath. I want to feel myself naked between your legs," he told her.
She said Wa Mamatu would push his penis against her bottom during drama practice.
She said another lecturer would make female students sit in a circle in the birth-giving position with their vaginas facing him, then tell them to pant as though they were giving birth or having sex. Another lecturer the Sunday Times spoke to said this sounded like a standard breathing exercise, but that it was not supposed to be sexual or make students feel uncomfortable.
A male student told the Sunday Times he felt he had been used as a "pimp" by Wa Mamatu, who would ask him to get phone numbers of female students.
During a telephonic interview, an upset Wa Mamatu denied all the allegations.
"I have never had a relationship of a sexual nature with any of my students. I have never been reported to the university on any charges of a sexual nature and I have never had sex with one of my students and definitely not raped anybody," he said.
Wits spokesman Shirona Patel confirmed that the 2011 rape allegation was reported to the university. Patel said the matter was not taken forward "due to lack of evidence".
She said the university had entered into discussions with Wa Mamatu and issued an order that addressed concerns about his behaviour.
Patel declined to elaborate on the "order" because it was a private order issued in the form of a letter by the former deputy vice-chancellor, Yunus Ballim, who is now in Peru.
Last year the Wits student newspaper, Vuvuzela, ran an article about an unnamed lecturer in the politics department who sent sexually suggestive SMSes to students.
The article prompted a drama performance about rape and sexual abuse on campus. After the performance, students stuck notes on Wa Mamatu's office door saying "We know what you are doing" and "We will expose you".
This led to Wits asking students who had experienced sexual abuse to come forward. By 2pm on Friday, the institution had received three formal complaints against Wa Mamatu.
Wa Mamatu, who won the Emerging Theatre Director's bursary in 2011, travelled overseas last year with Wits drama students with a production of Relativity, a highly sexual, violent and controversial play by Paul Grootboom and Presley Chweneyagae.
Wa Mamatu denied that he had "ever asked a student to masturbate or touch themselves unless it was for a production".
"I have never touched a student's vagina during rehearsals or invited any students to my house except when it's for a party and there are a lot of students.
"I don't know why people are saying these things about me. What happens in a rehearsal space is private and confidential. I can't break that confidentiality," he said.
Wa Mamatu added that students were asked to strip and simulate masturbation in preparation for Relativity.
"I think the students that you spoke to are bitter about that play because I made the first cast re-audition for their roles because they were underperforming," he said.