Pain expressed through art

IN CHARACTER: Zola Nombona acts out the tale of a girl who was allegedly sexually assaulted last year by former Wits lecturer Tshepo Wa Mamatu. He was fired after he was found guilty of sexual harassment. Photo: Rofhiwa Madzena

IN CHARACTER: Zola Nombona acts out the tale of a girl who was allegedly sexually assaulted last year by former Wits lecturer Tshepo Wa Mamatu. He was fired after he was found guilty of sexual harassment.
Photo: Rofhiwa Madzena

*featured in the Wits Vuvuzela

A GIRL’S story of rape by a dismissed Wits lecturer is about to be told in the form of a play.

Senior Drama lecturer Tshepo Wa Mamatu was dismissed in March last year, after the university found him guilty of more than one charge of sexual harassment.

The woman had made an allegation of sexual assault against Wa Mamatu though she was one of the students who did not come forward during the sexual harassment hearings that occurred after complaints that were laid by students.

The woman’s story will be told in a play called The Last Confession produced and directed by her friend and colleague Wits graduate Zabalaza Mchunu.

The play idea came into being after the woman told her friend Mchunu about her experience.

Mchunu said the woman approached him about her experience.

“[She said] ‘I’m ready to talk about what happened to me, I’m ready to speak but I don’t just want to speak it to you, I want to reach a broad amount of people who can use my story to inspire other people who have gone through the same things I went through’,” Mchunu recounted.

Mchunu feels The Last Confession is one of his best works because it encourages dialogue on sensitive issues such as rape.

He explained why he chose to turn a personal narrative on rape into a play.

“A play is a space where she can either choose to be personal with the story or give it to a character and let that character tell the story, so for her it becomes easier to relive the experience because it’s through a character and not herself,” said Mchunu.

As a one woman show, the  entire performance only has the central character in it.

The woman initially wanted to play the central role but she was unable to because of the passing of her mother recently. Mchunu felt that it was “very profound and really brave of her to say ‘I also want to be the actress,’” Mchunu said having one character in a play was challenging to put together.

“You are one person on a stage and you have to fill up time and space so that people don’t get tired or lose the story because they’re tired of seeing one face.”

Another challenge was that the girl could not remember most of the events that led to her being assaulted. They had to create a script based on her partial memory. Zola Nombona, a Wits graduate who stars in the one-woman play said: “It’s not about judging the character. I had to put aside the big elephant in the space and be true to the character.”

Nombona acknowledged it was a difficult role but she said, “It hurts because it’s not easy to know that a fellow colleague went through something like that.  I let it empower me as an artist.”

She added that she got a great sense of bravery from the experience because she is a survivor coming out. “It was an emotionally taxing experience for her so I do cry sometimes when I’m rehearsing because it’s painful.”

Wa Mamatu was not told about the play, Mchunu said. “He [Wa Mamatu] doesn’t know that the play is about him and also he was never going to talk to me about it … He’s still denying that he ever did it.” The play is free. The first show was at the Hillbrow theatre and the next show will be at the Constitutional Hill on Sunday August 24, 2014 at 11 am.

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