Former Wits University lecturer Tsepo Mamatu. Photo: Chris Collingridge

Cape Town - Playwrite Tsepo wa Mamatu must be suspended from participating in theatre work until the industry has adopted a code on how to deal with someone found guilty of sexual harassment, a group of theatre practitioners decided last night.

The group of about 50 people held a debate whether calls to withdraw the production By My Grave from the Cape Town Fringe festival are justified or amount to “persecution” of wa Mamatu.

Wa Mamatu had first agreed to take part in the debate but decided a few hours before it was scheduled to start he would not participate.

The debate was organised by Mike Van Graan, chief executive of the African Arts Institute, who chaired the discussion. “We must have a code - signed by all the major organisations within the sector - that recommend sanctions relative to the offences,” he said.

Van Graan said the code must stipulate how an artist could be rehabilitated, how the person could then be integrated into the arts community and on what grounds.

Last week wa Mamatu withdrew his play after a group of artists complained about his inclusion.

He was dismissed from the University of the Witwatersrand last year after he was found guilty - in an internal investigation - of sexual harassment. He was a drama lecturer at Wits.

Wa Mamatu has denied he was guilty of sexual harassment, but says he had relationships with students.

His play deals with a man accused of sexual harassment and Wa Mamatu plays the main character.

On Tuesday wa Mamatu sent a letter to Van Graan saying he “refused to participate in an environment that is not conducive to freedom of speech”.

Later he posted on Facebook: “I apologise for lacking the moral clout to know better and so do the right thing when it mattered the most.”

Panelist Ukhona Mlandu said she found wa Mamatu’s conduct “troubling”. “It is as if Tsepo was not taking responsibility for his actions - he is a victim of his lack of judgment,” she said.

Panelist Thami Aka Mbongo said the case involving wa Mamatu was one of many that had to be addressed in the industry.

Gender activist and writer Tracey Saunders said the industry must ask how “do we deal with predators in our midst”.She said wa Mamatu acted in a cowardly fashion by pulling out of the debate.

“I also found his apology on Facebook to be laughable,” she said.

Van Graan said he would take the resolution adopted by the debate last night to all the other major performing arts organisations in the country in order to draw up a code for the industry.

“We must have a code supported by all by December 31 that tells us how to deal with cases like this.

“Until then wa Mamatu must not be allowed to participate in the theatre,” he said.

[email protected]

Cape Times