Playwright Mbongeni Ngema. File picture: Nhlanhla Phillips/African News Agency (ANA).
Dr Mbongeni Ngema has refuted allegations of sexual harassment and intimidation and squashed claims of his removal as co-director from his own production Sarafina! The Broadway Hit Musical citing character assassination by the media. 

The production, which premiered on Friday, depicts protests by the 1976 students against the then apartheid government imposing Afrikaans as the official medium of instruction. 

Ngema said the allegations by a young cast member were “false, hurtful and deliberately malicious” adding that he was still part of the production and had not been served by the Joburg theatre with a notice to step down. 

“They [allegations] have hurt my wife and children and have potential to take away from the hard work done by the cast of Sarafina who have worked tirelessly to put on a world class production,” said Ngema. “I am of the opinion that there is a concerted effort to not only to publicly humiliate me, but also to assassinate my character through a series of concocted allegations and disinformation in the media.”

Ngema’s management team said he first learned of the allegations of sexual harassment on Thursday when contacted by a reporter from the Daily Maverick. The reports that followed have left him “deeply concerned by what is being perpetuated in the media.”

The Joburg Theatre confirmed knowledge of the allegations and said an internal investigation was underway.

“We take the safety and well-being of young actors and minors as of paramount importance. The theatre has in place a professional counsellor who is available during the production season at Joburg Theatre for the Sarafina cast members.”

Due to the seriousness of the matter, theatre management said they were seeking legal counsel and would communicate further thereafter. 

The 64 year old Ngema said he is expecting these allegations to be thoroughly investigated.

“I will be cooperating with the Joburg Theatre in investigating this allegation to clear my name,” he said. “As serious as these allegations are, it should not take away any attention to the musical, Sarafina.”

Sunday Tribune