More women are coming forward with #MeToo claims of predatory sexual encounters with acclaimed film maker Khalo Matabane. Charl Blignaut and Rhodé Marshall talk with them.
Four women in film and television are coming out today with allegations of sexual abuse and abuse of power by men in the industry and in particular against celebrated film maker Khalo Matabane.
The explosive accounts of Palesa Letlaka, Rosie Motene, Ingeborg Lichtenberg and Nico Athene support allegations made for the past few weeks on social media about the director of the acclaimed Nelson Mandela: The Myth & Me and the yet-to-be released prison-gang feature The Number.
Among the allegations against Matabane on Twitter are two of rape. Twitter user @iamzathemum first claimed Matabane raped her when she worked at a Cape Town hotel during the Fifa 2010 World Cup. She repeated the allegations this week and also tweeted a message Matabane allegedly sent her saying he has instructed his lawyer to sue her for defamation.
Another allegation surfaced this week when Power FM host Aphele Somi shared on Twitter an account of another woman who claims Matabane raped her after inviting her to his hotel room to look at his work in 2013.
This week Matabane strongly denied any rape allegations, and he replied to the new claims by Letlaka, Lichtenberg, Athene and Motene.
“Without responding to each one, what I will say is that everyone who knows me will tell you I am a loud, flirtatious, pain in the butt and, in hindsight, I could understand some people thinking I’m a bit lewd, including men,” he said.
“But even with all this, I would never force myself on a woman; never have, never will.”
Read: Letlaka's open letter to Matabane here
A pioneering black woman film maker and academic, Letlaka is today releasing an open letter to Matabane whom she says she has known for about 20 years. She describes a meeting that took place five years ago: “Do I really need to remind you of the sexual groping and subsequent sexual harassment you subjected me to after you bumped into me sitting alone?
“As always we greeted warmly and you joined me to chat as we often did. We stayed until the restaurant closed and when we said our goodbyes you opened your arms wide for a goodbye hug. The Goodbye Hug of Shock and Hell.
“Where you engulfed me in a tight embrace and rammed your tongue into my mouth, forcefully kissed me and had your hands all over my backside. I was completely stunned, this came from nowhere. I was confused and I was disgusted, Khalo. I managed to push you away and had to pry your unwelcome hands off my body. I admonished you as an older sister and I distinctly remember saying, ‘Sukundi qhela Khalo, ndingu sisi wakho man’, I used that to diffuse the situation.
“But then after your groping came weeks of late night and sexually explicit texts from you, calls to say I should come for a ‘f***’ at your flat in Killarney. I told you over and over to stop disrespecting me, I kept reminding you that I’m your older sister and you need to knock it off. I asked you please to stop this but it clearly meant nothing to you. I eventually stopped taking your calls or responding to your texts.”
Read: Lichtenberg's full statement here
Documentary film maker Lichtenburg also gave her account to City Press, relating to a meeting 10 years ago at Ikhaya Lodge in Cape Town.
“As soon as we had greeted, given each other friendly hugs, he tried to kiss me, but with an open mouth, basically trying to stick his tongue in my mouth. I immediately pulled away.
“I couldn’t believe it. But I was determined to learn something from him so I just pretended it didn’t happen. I suggested we order something. We ordered tea I think and while we were chit-chatting, he came right out and said that he wants to have sex with me. That we should go to his room.
“I said no way, that’s not what I’m here for! I’m here to ask you for help.
“Then the next day he called to apologise for his behaviour. He blamed it on the medication he was on. So he knew it was wrong even though now he is saying he is being wrongly accused by women. Obviously his apology meant nothing.”
Read: Motene's full statement here
High-profile actress and business person Motene said Matabane “started his initial contact through my LinkedIn private message page”.
She describes meetings with him in which she was comfortable because she thought that he was gay.
But that changed one day in Durban in 2012.
“I went to his hotel room and watched inserts on his documentary. I felt a little uncomfortable as he sat on the bed and asked if I wanted to sit with him and, at that point, my intuition told me that I was in fact wrong regarding his sexuality,” she said.
“I also felt that I was no longer safe and immediately left.
“A day or two after that, a group of us were still in Durban and we ordered bunny chows, which I think Khalo paid for. After that he then said to me that my attitude towards him had changed and called me a cock teaser, as he believed I had led him on.”
Sexual harassment on set
When Rosie Motene returned to acting three years ago, she was cast in TV soapie Zabalaza, produced by top production house Urban Brew.
She was concerned the script was “rather sexual” and that “there were a number of sex scenes”, but claims the director assured her it would be rewritten.
Her then agent, she says, “reassured me that I did not have to perform any sexual acts or perform naked as I did not agree to that in the contract”.
But when the shoot date arrived, the script had not changed.
“Wardrobe arrived and the lingerie was too revealing and would have exposed my nipples. I refused to wear it,” she says. “I performed a few of the scenes, but began to feel very uncomfortable as the crew made sexual innuendos and comments that I felt to be rude and compromising.”
After that, she refused to wear lingerie or “perform in any bedroom scene” and asked for “proper wardrobe fittings”.
“A few weeks later, the same lingerie was sent to the set. We were shooting in Pretoria, far from the production house,” she said.
“On set, I also witnessed how younger actresses were being treated. As they were new, they did not want to speak up.
“One actress had to perform a sex scene on a balcony in a public location. The actress had agreed to do the scene. After the scene, there was no wardrobe to dress her. She then had to walk across set in her G-string.
“The director asked another actress to perform a scene in her bra. His excuse was ‘we need to get the ratings up’.”
Motene set up a meeting with her agent and Zabalaza’s producer, and she reminded him that her contract stated she didn’t have to perform sex scenes. Again she was assured she wouldn’t have to.
“Two days later I received a script where my character had to perform a sex scene. I called my agent and reminded her of the meeting. She called back and said she spoke to the producer and he said I should get used to it as my character was crazy and the scenes were called for. This infuriated me,” she said.
When the day came to shoot that scene, the director said she and her co-star needed to get into bed together and the crew “felt that I should just get naked under the covers”.
After that, she “went home and resigned”.
In the meantime, she discovered a lump in her left breast and scheduled her surgery in the production break.
A while later, she received a call from Mzansi Magic’s public relations staff asking if she had resigned. She later learnt the producer told the channel she left because of her illness.
“On hearing the truth, the channel automatically apologised,” she said.
A few months later, Mzansi Magic cancelled the contract.
“An actor and an actress informed me that when the production manager told them that the series would not continue, he said: ‘You can thank Rosie for losing your jobs.’”
Urban Brew Studios chief executive Verona Duwarkah said: “I am appalled, saddened and horrified by the experience that Ms Motene received at Urban Brew, as per her statement. My heart goes out to Rosie and all women who have had to endure such treatment.
“This is unacceptable and is not something that is tolerated by the company. I commit to investigate this matter and to have a personal conversation with Rosie and any other women who have experienced any form of abuse while working on a production at Urban Brew Studios.”
Duwarkah said that while she was not at Urban Brew at the time Zabalaza was in production, she would investigate the allegations and ensure it did not happen again.
“To Rosie and all the brave women who are coming forward with their stories, thank you on behalf of all of us who work in this industry. I will do my part, like you have, to make it safer for everyone.”
Nondumiso Mabece, head of publicity at M-Net, said: “Mzansi Magic stands against discrimination and harassment of any form on our sets. Our talent is the heartbeat of our business, and their fair and just treatment is of utmost importance.”
- Nicki Gules
Read: Athene's full statement here
The Cape Town artist Athene recounts a meeting with Matabane when she was working in the industry and trying to network for business opportunities. The meeting was in a restaurant, standard practice in the industry.
She had one meeting with him when he never got around to talking about work.
“He suggested we then follow up the conversation a week later at La Parada ... He bought me dinner while telling me about his vegetarian lifestyle and again never got around to the job or my project.
“When I got up to leave a few hours later as I leaned in to say goodbye he pulled me towards him on the street and kissed me open-mouthed on the lips. I pushed him away. The worst is the insidious confusion that left me feeling somehow complicit, but I was beginning to realise that many men in the industry perniciously blur boundaries to use professional need to their gain.”
Khalo Matabane’s response
Matabane declined to respond to specific allegations contained in the four women’s accounts, but said: “Am I guilty of being loud and obnoxious and having poor filters? Probably. As to your questions about my abuse of power, I have not made any sexual advances on anyone who works for me or on one of my sets,” he said.
“I have never employed any women either as cast or crew in exchange for sexual favours. I have never used violence against any woman or even men.”
Read: SA film and television industry responds to #MeToo claims
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