On August 21, the ex-wife of South African novelist and director of Abantu Festival Thando Mgqolozana accused him of gender-based violence in a series of tweets.
In a video statement posted on various social media platforms, Mgqolozana denies the allegations, indicating his openness to seeking legal redress.
We’ve put together relevant facts about the allegations, including information about the original tweets and a full transcript of Mgqolozana’s statement from earlier today. [Scroll down to see.] But, first, a few thoughts on the ramifications of these allegations for the literary community.
The news of the allegations shook the literary community and will continue to resonate for a long while. As South African author Sisonke Msimang wrote on Twitter in response to the allegations: “The literary community will need to reckon with this; it will test the word ‘community.'”
Some of you may know Mgqolozana as the author of Unimportance and A Man Who is Not a Man. The Johannesburg Review of Books notes, in their statement, that “The work Mgqolozana has done over the years to decolonise the South African literary system and create a safe space for Black writers and readers made the accusations of gender-based violence against him all the more shocking.”
These allegations are serious and concern the African literary community, especially in a context where, as PEN South Africa notes in their statement in response to the allegations, “just under 50% of South African women report experiencing physical and/or emotional abuse in their lifetimes.”
As a platform that fosters a communal space for readers and writers, Brittle Paper is against gender-based violence and hopes that anyone who comes forward with an allegation is supported. We are aware that some members of the literary community have been in contact with Mgqolozana’s ex-wife and say she is holding up. We want to acknowledge that this sort of support from the community is necessary.
From this point on, you’ll find facts about the allegations organized as a timeline, in addition to relevant media and links. Bear in mind that the story is developing. We will update the page as new information arises.
Mgqolozana’s ex wife posted tweets in which she alleged that he abused her physically. The tweets were subsequently deleted, and even though we have seen them, we are choosing not to publish them here out of consideration for her. In one of the tweets that included a photograph of Mgqolozana, she wrote: “This is the face of a woman beater.” In another tweet, she suggests that the abuse had pushed her to self-harming.
The allegations immediately sparked outrage from members of the South African literary community. Writers such as Legogang Mashile, Sue Nyathi, Mohale Mashigo, Barbara Boswell, Maneo Mohale, Thabiso M. Mahlape, Sisonke Msimang, and others expressed disappointment. See a selection of tweets below.
I am shocked, hurt, angry, and sad, but my feelings do not compare to what Thabisa has been through. Without a doubt, #IBelieveHer.
— Lebogang Mashile (@lebomashile) August 22, 2021
This weekend it has come to light that a writer and founder of Abantu, Thando Mgqolozana has been accused of Intimate Partner Violence.
We stand with Thabisa. We believe her. We hope that she is safe and supported.
— The Cheeky Natives (@CheekyNatives) August 23, 2021
The news about Thando is heartbreaking for so many. I hope Thabisa gets the the support and love she will need. The only hope I take out of this situation is that it has been so encouraging to see so many rise up swiftly and say #Ibelieveher
— Shubnum Khan (@ShubnumKhan) August 22, 2021
— Mona Eltahawy (@monaeltahawy) August 22, 2021
Me, a survivor, waking up every day to find out there are many of us. Every single day in this dumpster fire of a country. Gotta laugh to keep from being an unhinged homicidal mess. pic.twitter.com/FXMFxgtffJ
— Mohale Mashigo (@BlckPorcelain) August 22, 2021
So sad to find out this news about Thando, and to hear of the pain his ex partner has gone through. I hope she is able to get the love and care she needs. The literary community will need to reckon with this; it will test the word ‘community.’
— Sisonke Msimang (@Sisonkemsimang) August 22, 2021
I’m still processing yaz. I’m trying to understand why men in South Africa are so brutal to women, even the one we thought was as progressive as Thando. What is the tipping point kanti? I’m shocked and I’m sad!
— NataliaMolebatsi (@this_natalia) August 22, 2021
That’s that for me. That his popularity in the literary world would shield him. I’ve cut the man loose and anyone who continues association with him. https://t.co/gqG2cmou2m
— Lidudumalingani (@Lidudumalingani) August 22, 2021
I am devastated and heartbroken to hear the allegations against Thando, who is a friend and part of my writing community . My loyalty and support will always lie with victims of GBV.
— Barbara Boswell (@BobbiBoswell) August 22, 2021
PEN South African makes a statement:
“While we do not know if a legal process is underway (and if so, what the outcomes will be), we do know it takes inordinate courage for any survivor of assault to come forward because the personal, emotional, and legal barriers to speaking out are significant. In a context in which just under 50% of South African women report experiencing physical and/or emotional abuse in their lifetimes, her claims are all too familiar. Our ethical duty to any and all survivors when they come forward is to say, ‘We Believe You’ and we offer those words here to the survivor of this assault, ‘We believe you. We stand by you.’
As an anti-censorship body that advocates for freedom of expression and is deeply invested in the literary health of our country, PEN is concerned with, and committed to, ensuring that violence does not hinder women’s participation in writing, reading, and debate. We issue this statement in that spirit, fully recognising that the allegations have already had a terrible radiating effect on our literary community and that many people who have supported Mgqolozana’s writings and the important, transformative work of the Abantu Book Festival feel betrayed and traumatised.”
Imbiza Journal postponed the launch of their latest issue, which is centered on women’s voices. In a statement shared on social media, the Editor-in-Chief Dr. Siphiwo Mahala explains: “We took this decision in light of the Gender Based Violence (GBV) accusations leveled against writer and literary activist Thando Mgqolozana, on social media.” He adds: “we cannot continue the launch of a publication that celebrates women as if everything is normal.” See the full statement below.
“It has taken me six days to respond to the tweets posted by Thabisa my ex wife because I had to ensure the safety of my daughter first and that of my ex wife before I did anything else. I will share the substance and details of the full story behind those tweets in due course, if it becomes necessary. I will agonize over the pain that this episode has caused our daughter, our respective families, friends, the Abantu community, and everyone else who has been affected by the story in whatever way. So please listen to my response carefully.
My name is Thando Mgqolozana. I am an author of several books. I’m the creator of Abuntu Book Festival, and recently The Ultimate Bookshow. It is with sadness and a heavy heart that I issue a statement today, on the back of serious allegations leveled against me by my ex wife mainly on social media. I would like to place it on record that my relationship with Thabisa became instantly toxic, particularly toxic from the 30th of October 2018. During this difficult time, we put in a great effort, including interventions by families, friends, and professionals. But we failed. We all failed. As a result, we separated and our relationship remains strained as we navigate the co-parenting of our beloved daughter. It is however important for me to place it on record that I have never abused Thabisa. And God helped me to never ever do that.
In my written work, as well the curatorial of the special space like Abantu book festival, I’m passionate about the basic proponent against gender based violence, which is that if a woman reports that she has been abused, believe her. Believe her. Living in this society where men rape and murder women every minute, it is important for us to rally support for those who report. And I will not waver from this important pillar of the fight against gender-based violence even as I look everyone in the eye and honestly tell them that I’m not one of the perpetrators. To this effect, I hope that someone can also help to Thabisa to formally lay charges against me so that a court of law can rule on this matter.
For my part, I have finally been granted an interim protection order to prevent any further abuse towards me, my friends and my colleagues. Thabisa deserves justice as I deserve closure on this matter. As a society, we are limited in so far as the tools available to us to come to a determination of factual guilt or innocence. We rely heavily upon our justice system as the final arbiter of such matters as much as we all know that it is an imperfect system. But I find myself in an impossible position of being demanded to prove what has not happened. And in the absence of any tool better than courts of law, wishing that this matter was being discussed within those parameters. I humbly request that our daughter not be dragged into this. She’s finally safe. And today, she’s sang for me.
I would like to make an impassioned plea that we please separate this story and Abantu Book Festival. The story is about Thando and Thabisa and not Abantu. It is unfair to break Ubuntu and call for its boycott. It is also unfair to drag authors associated with Ubuntu into the story. I have agreed with my colleagues that while this matter between Thabisa and myself is being attended to, the team will appoint someone who is going to oversee and facilitate the administration of The Ultimate Book Show and the next edition of Abantu Book Festival. I assure every author associated with Abantu and those who will still want to work with us that we remain a safe space. We remain committed to the ideals for which we were created in 2016.
I will not be issuing any more statements or taking media interviews until this matter is finalized. Maybe what you should also know is this: the most dominant feeling that I have inside of me for the first time in nearly three years is that of some relief. I’m a bit relieved that I don’t have to worry about this anymore. But I want to state again that please believe her, support her. She doesn’t have anyone else to do that for her. Thank you.”
Soon after, Panashe Chigumadzi who was part of the founding Abantu team writes:
I can’t begin to imagine what suffering Thabisa has endured. While this is painful for our community, this does not compare to her pain as a survivor. I hope her speaking out is the first step towards healing and receiving the support she needs.
— Panashe Chigumadzi (@PanasheChig) August 27, 2021
Siphiwo Mahala, Editor-in-Chief of Imbiza Journal and one of Mgqolozana’s close associates releases a personal essay, in which he shares his struggle to process the fact that such allegations have been made against someone he has always seen as a “brother.”
“I haven’t spoken to Thando Mgqolozana (my brother) in a very long time. I send a message to check how my sister is doing. She says she’s getting better. I tell her I’m gonna talk to my brother as she had asked. Next I call my brother, he doesn’t answer. I send a message, asking him to call me back.
After a while he returns my call. Why did it take so long for you to call, he asks? I had to be mentally prepared, this is what I tell him, among other things. He gives me the back story from his perspective. Are you going to issue a statement, I ask? He is non-committal.
I feel myself sinking deep into depression. I tell my wife how I’m feeling, and she tells me to take it easy. It’s too late to make an appointment with the doctor now, but we’ll consult in the morning. I check social media, friends, foes and former friends are asking questions, but my brother is missing in action. I haven’t posted on social media since Saturday.” Read full statement.
In a podcast episode titled “THANDO MGQOLOZANA: IT’S NOT ALL FICTION,” Eusebius McKaiser explores the ethics and politics of making the right response when a friend or close associate is accused of something egregious.
I share my current thoughts on various responses to accusations of abuse on the part of author Thando Mgqolozana (author of A Man Who Is Not A Man, Hear Me Alone, Unimportance). Some of the questions I explore include: Is it important to expres a public view when a friend is accused of abuse? Or is silence (sometimes) acceptable? Should you wait for the law to “take its course” or can we make judgments outside the legal processes? Can our criminal justice system be regarded as adequate for dealing with violence? Etc.
Listen to the full episode here.
The story is developing. We will bring you information as it becomes available.
The article has been updated with the following information:
- This statement was added to the introduction: “In a video statement posted on various social media platforms, Mgqolozana denies the allegations, indicating his openness to seeking legal redress.”
- A summary of Mgqolozana’s statement was added in the section containing the transcript of his statement.