South African Director Khalo Matabane Accused of Rape and Sexual Misconduct

Film and TV director Khalo Matabane has been accused of rape and sexual misconduct in the first high-profile case to emerge in South African media in the wake of the global #MeToo movement.

At least half a dozen women have come forward to accuse Matabane, the acclaimed director of “Nelson Mandela: The Myth and Me,” of sexual harassment and predatory behavior. Two women have accused him of rape.

Matabane has denied the allegations and begun legal proceedings against at least one of his accusers. In a statement provided to Variety, Matabane’s legal team said that the director “will not subject himself to a trial by media (including social media) by answering these allegations.”

“The persons accusing our client are at liberty to institute legal proceedings where our client can have a fair trial, and where his right to be presumed innocent will be upheld,” wrote attorney Samuel Mufamadi. “To date no proceedings in any criminal or civil court have been instituted.”

The statement said Matabane’s reputation had been “severely damaged,” but added that “there are still many people (men and women) in the film industry who respect our client for his integrity and talent.”

South Africa suffers from one of the world’s highest rates of violence against women. A study conducted last year by industry body Sisters Working in Film and Television (SWIFT) found that two-thirds of women working in the South African film and TV industries say they have experienced some form of sexual harassment in the workplace.

Twitter user @iamzathemum first accused Matabane of rape in October 2017, alleging that the director assaulted her while she worked at a Cape Town hotel during the World Cup in 2010. The allegation resurfaced last month after two actresses accused him of sexual misconduct on the set of “When We Were Black,” a drama for pubcaster SABC1. That triggered a wave of further allegations against Matabane on social media.

On April 29, four women came forward to describe a pattern of sexually explicit emails and text messages, unwanted advances, and physical assault. Filmmaker Palesa Letlaka penned an open letter to her longtime friend Matabane, describing how she “swept under the carpet” a predatory sexual encounter between them years ago. “I deeply regret this now because I see clearly how I helped normalize your repulsive behavior towards women,” she wrote.

In a Facebook post, SWIFT said it was aware of the allegations against Matabane and “stand[s] with all womxn [sic], in Film and TV, who come forward.” The Independent Black Filmmakers Collective (IBFC) on Wednesday issued a statement calling the failure of men in the business to speak out “outrageously unbelievable and honestly unacceptable.”

“I too am guilty of abuse for not speaking out, I too am guilty of abuse for not taking a stand,” wrote filmmaker and IBFC co-founder Mandla Dube. “I should have acted sooner.”

In her open letter, Letlaka criticized the “complicit silence” of South African men in film and TV while saluting those who broke ranks with “the boys’ club that perpetuates, every day and on every set, a toxic patriarchal culture where women are unsafe and unheard.”

“If we are to keep building South Africa anew there can be no silences,” she wrote.

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