The issue of what to do with talented and creative individuals who have committed or alleged to have committed grievous crimes against women was at the front burner of discourse at a forum organized by the South African Cultural Policy Network, Public Forum in Cape Town and Johannesburg last month.
On October 23, 2019, the Masambe Theatre, Baxter Theatre Complex in Cape Town played host to a session facilitated by Ncebakazi Mnukwana with panellists including Malika Ndlovu, Mandy Sanger, Babalwa Gusha, Amanda Gouws, Primrose Mwrebi.
It was the turn of Gramadoelas, Market Theatre in Johannesburg on Thursday 24th October where panellists included Mpho Molepo, Judy Seidman and Siseko Kumalo in a session that was facilitated by Tumi Modise.
The dilemma of what to do with the creative works of these men who have been charged with certain crimes has long been an issue amongst critics in the creative industry in South Africa and other parts of the continent.
Many questions have been asked by stakeholders on whether there should be a separation of the art from the artist? If not, does this mean that the works of Mthethwa can never be exhibited, at least until he has served his time? Or that Sarafina and other works by Ngema – and Ngema himself – should be banned from theatres, school and universities curricula? If the works are to be presented, should they be framed in a particular way (as the curator, Gabi Ngcobo, has done at the Javett Arts Centre), contextualising Mthethwa’s work against his crime and sentence? How are ‘monstrous men’ to be re-integrated within the industry, if at all? How should the sector treat Msomi after he has served his time? Does the nature of their respective crimes matter in how they are treated? These issues have been discussed within the industry for some time, with little being done formally: what can be done, who should do it, and how should it be monitored? All these were questions that the seminar attempted to find answer for.
It would be recalled that earlier this year, Mbongeni Ngema was served with a removal notice by Joburg Theatre the night before the opening of his show because of allegations of sexual harassment against him. Similarly, Zwelethu Mthethwa is currently serving 18 years in jail for murdering Nokupila Kumalo, and there is controversy about his work being exhibited at the Javett Arts Centre in Pretoria while Welcome Msomi, the creator of the world-famous uMabatha was recently found guilty of having stolen R8m from the Living Legends fund.