Tsepo Wa Mamatu Photo: Chris Collingridge

Cape Town - A play dealing with sexual harassment was withdrawn from the Cape Town Fringe festival on Monday after a group of artists complained about the inclusion of playwright Tsepo wa Mamatu who has previously been accused of sexual harassment.

But wa Mamatu hit out at those who selected his play for showcasing, saying they were aware of his history and what the play was about.

The inaugural festival is part of the National Arts Festival held in Grahamstown each year.

Wa Mamatu was dismissed from the University of the Witwatersrand last year after he was found guilty – in an internal investigation - of sexual harassment. No criminal charges were brought against him.

The play called By my Grave deals with a man accused of sexual harassment and wa Mamatu plays the main character.

Sara Matchett, artistic director of the Mothertongue Project, wrote to the festival organisers on Saturday expressing their concern at the inclusion of wa Mamatu’s play.

“We … felt it showed a total disregard on the part of the selectors for the devastating effect gender and sexual violence has had in our country,” she said. “It is an ethical issue.”

Matchett is directing a series of performed installations that deals with gender violence, rape and the murder of Anene Booysen.

She and the cast withdrew their play on Sunday in protest at wa Mamatu’s inclusion and still had to decide if they would participate.

Matchett said 70 arts practitioners, academics and public figures had supported their objection.

Caroline Colburn, director at the

Theatre Arts Admin Collective, signed in her personal capacity the letter sent to the festival organisers.

“It is absolutely bizarre in the extreme and disrespectful to select the piece in the wake of what happened last year,” she said. “How do you even consider it in present South Africa?”

Wa Mamatu said he felt the organisers had forced him to withdraw his play. “I was called on Sunday and told there were concerns about my inclusion. At 11pm I got an e-mail from Tony Lankeste (chief executive of the National Arts Festival) to tell me they wanted me to withdraw.

“It was an irrational thing to do because the selectors knew about my history and what the play was about.”

Wa Mamatu confirmed he was dismissed from Wits after he was found guilty of sexual harassment.

“The mistakes I made was that I was too close to students and I did have relationships,” he said. “I let myself down.”

He denied that he had sexually harassed anyone.

William Bird from Media Monitoring Africa said while it was understandable for people to be angry, it was important to see if there was a way for the play to be used to stimulate debate.

“The right to freedom of expression is also the right to offend and make people feel uncomfortable.”

Cape Times