Javett Art Centre promotes work of womxn murderer Zwelethu Mthethwa

Press Statement

1 October 2019

The Sex Worker Education and Advocacy Taskforce (SWEAT) strongly condemns the decision of Javett Art Centre at the University of Pretoria to include the work of convicted murderer Zwelethu Mthethwa as part of their inaugural opening exhibition showcasing in light of Mthethwa’s ongoing 18-year imprisonment for the murder of sex worker Nokuphila Khumalo.

The exhibition titled: All in Days Eye: The Politics of Innocence is curated by high profiled curator Gabi Ngcobo, Donna Kukama, Simnikiwe Buhlungu and Tshegofatso Mababo, who in their response to our voicing our dismay on their choice to include a convicted murderers work said “our intention with showing Mthethwa’s work is with the sole purpose of presenting it as “evidence” that highlights how misogyny has played out in his work over time.”

However, in their attempt to grandstand this, they decided to centre and elevate the work of a convicted murderer rather than respect the memory of Nokuphila Khumalo, a 23-year-old womxn whose beaten body was found in Ravenscraig Road in Woodstock, Cape Town on 13 April 2013. Mthethwa was arrested and convicted of Nokuphila’s murder after irrefutable evidence that included CCTV camera footage that captured the vicious beating that identified him as the perpetrator. Furthermore, the caption the curators decided to use which read: “…throughout the court case he (Mthethwa) maintained his innocence’ is deeply offensive and a violent erasure of his deeds and speaks to a lack of very basic humanity and decency.

“The irony of promoting the work of a man convicted of murdering a woman as part of an exhibition against the backdrop of the Gender-Based Violence and Femicide epidemic in South Africa is a complete disregard of the agony and trauma this and all other acts of violence against womxn cause”, said Lesego Tlhwale, Advocacy Manager at SWEAT. “This is in actual fact, a slap in the face of womxn who have been killed by men like Zwelethu Mthethwa, who in turns continue to be celebrated by the supremacist capitalist patriarchal world.”  

Sex workers are already disproportionally disadvantaged; research has shown that female sex workers are 18 times more likely to be murdered than other womxn. This is because men like Mthethwa see womxn like Nokuphila as disposable. Javett Art Centre echoes this by, rather than focussing on victims of brutality such as Nokuphila, they choose to focus on the “celebrity”.

In 2016, SWEAT and the community that Nokuphila belonged to unbelievably found themselves in a similar situation having to defend why it is inappropriate for the Iziko National Gallery of South Africa to exhibit Mthethwa’s work as part of their “Our Lady” exhibition that sought to “interrupt the puritanical and patriarchal visual economy that surrounds imagery of the figurative female form” as part of their collection. We stood firm at this planned celebration of a man accused of murder in a public space and this current incident by Javett Art Centre is no different.

Given how recently Nokuphila was murdered, followed by the trauma of the court case, we find it painful and unacceptable that Nokuphila’s family and community have been excluded from conversations around what it might mean to platform the work of Mthethwa. 

We call on Gabi Ngcobo (lead curator), Christopher Till (Director Javett-UP), and Professor Tawana Kupe (University of Pretoria Vice Chancellor), to take down Mthethwa’s work out of respect to the family of Nokuphila, out of respect to the violence meted out by men to vulnerable and marginalised communities; and to the countless victims of Gender-Based Violence and Femicide in South Africa.

A petition has been started via South African campaigns NGO Amandla.Mobi to further put pressure on the Javett Art Centre to take down the work of Zwelethu Mthethwa. Sign to show support here:  https://awethu.amandla.mobi/petitions/remove-artwork-of-convicted-womxn-murderer-zwelethu-mthethwa-from-exhibition

For comments contact:

Lesego Tlhwale

Advocacy Manager – SWEAT

Tel: 021 448 7875


Nosipho Vidima

Human Rights Officer – SWEAT

076 782 0812