2015 In The News Archives
From Jy-is-’n-drol to Je-suis-Charlie
— Pieter-Dirk Uys, Litnet, 11 January 2015
In Cape Town , when I started using my theatrical alphabet from 1974, which eventually became the bulletproof Teflon suit of satire, one only died on stage when no one applauded. The worst massacre was when the three local critics hated your work. You always lived to tell the tale. Recently in the Paris of 2015, there was no confusion about the results of free speech. The blood on the blank page of tomorrow’s expression will stay fresh for long. Oh, for the days when censorship was just funny!
I started out wanting to write plays like Noel Coward and Tennessee Williams, dramas that reflected the world around me. I joined the Space Theatre in 1973 and there we did my first bilingual play Selle ou storie. It was then that I met the great love of my life, a diversion that made me famous: the Publications Control Board. In quick response to an anonymous complaint, they put a 2-21 age restriction on Selle ou Storie at the Space, thinking it would die a natural death. But then we toured the play to Stellenbosch! As the censors couldn’t go back on their decision, they banned the script. So we ran the show on an English translation of the Afrikaans which was legal because Same Old Story was not Selle ou storie.
Then in 1975 I wrote Karnaval, a play set in Long Street among the colourful black, white and beige characters that made Long Street so special. Within a week, Karnaval was also banned as a production. So now I had a play you could see but not read, and a play you could read and not see. It was a marriage made in heaven. The Censor Board became my public relations department. Imagine how I must have corrupted their typist. My delight and gratitude to the Mevrou van Staden who typed out the long list of obscene and unacceptable words and phrases, only to add to the bottom of the last page in her own writing: Meneer Uys, u spel die woord ‘fok’ met ’n f en nie met ’n v nie.
Die van Aardes van Grootoor started its Johannesburg life in 1979 and within three weeks it too was banned. The typist was at it again, swearing and vloeking. But by this time I had learned my lesson. There were no real swearwords in the play; just suggestive ordinary Afrikaans words like naaimasjien and boerewors. I also made up words that sounded really gross but meant nothing: like trawantgetras and genotskrots. But this time round, we could afford an appeal hearing. This meant the same people who banned the work would sit in appeal against their own judgement.
The Nat government was spending millions building a new Publications Control Board headquarters in Pretoria and so we couldn’t use the main courtroom which was not yet finished. So we sat in the passage outside. All state buildings and arts councils had passages so wide you could park six Mercedes Benzes and BMW’s comfortably side by side. Until recently, I never understood why -– it was future planning. Nowadays, civil servants can park their Mercs in the passage outside their offices for safety. There we sat in the passage; the proceedings solemnly opened met ’n gebed. Suddenly with a great banging of buckets, the coloured cleaning lady arrived.
“Nay man, yous people must bugger off here. I mus’ clean!” So we upped and awayed while she swept and muttered and waddled off and we sat again and were very serious.
“Hierdie stuk is onwelvoeglik. Hierdie vieslike woord: genotskrots?” They paged into their groot HAT woordeboek to G: genots – genotskrots? But of course they couldn’t find it. “Meneer Uys, hierdie vieslike woord ‘genotskrots’. Wat beteken dit nou eintlik in u konteks?”
Konteks my voet: the buggers had no clue what the word meant.
“Die woord bestaan nie, Dokter. Ek het dit geskep.” Ja-nee, I made it up and only I know what it means within my context -– and I’m not telling. They conferred; they mumbled; they smacked their lips and then they decided. “U kan die woord terugkry, maar sorg dat dit nie weer gebeur nie!”
The Publications Act stated that the censors still only needed one anonymous complaint in order to act, and to come and stop the fun. Since Die van Aardes van Grootoor, I had been sending them complaints about my new work: three or four letters from different locations saying sies sies sies. The Board would react to these complaints and come and judge and make utter fools of themselves. With the revue Info Scandals in 1979, the night the Appeal Committee was in to judge if their banning of the revue was to stay or to go, I added this sketch about censorship:
1. Whereas because of the obscene nature of their shapes, the following objects are deemed undesirable: candles, cucumbers, paw-paws, bananas, boerewors and plural orbs, formerly known as nigger balls.
2. Whereas the following places have been declared indecent and/or obscene, the following places in South Africa will hereby cease to exist: Holfontein, Kakamas, Nigel and Donkergat.
3. Whereas tomorrow has been declared undesirable because of the obscene phrase: the crack of dawn.
4. Whereas the following are also banned: photographs of any prison in South Africa; media coverage of any unrest in South Africa; quotations from the utterances of any banned person and organisation; the wearing, flaunting, displaying and /or circulating of the banned ANC flag, colours and/or any other communist slogans.
5. Whereas because of the obscene insinuations as perpetuated by the koek and moer in Koekemoer; the shits in Lipschitz; the tiet in Titties, the telephone directory has been declared undesirable.
6. Whereas all Afrikaans universities are to be closed forthwith because of the fak in fakulteit.
7. Whereas all nudity, other than that of large black women in the homelands which is regarded as officially natural –- all other nudity is deemed offensive and undesirable. If we meant to walk around with no clothes on, we would have also been born black.
We won our appeal, but the committee banned this sketch because of the obscene word ’nigel’!
In the good old days of NP government censorship, when intelligent people had their creative energies wasted fighting for the right to say poep and kak, and while that was diverting a nation, our army marched into Angola, our education lobotomised a generation, and PW Botha took our so-called parliamentary democracy and stuck it up his p**ph*l!
So where are we today? Je suis Charlie. The relatively unchartered territory of satire has always been a minefield. More often than not, democratic freedoms of speech and expression have offered a safe passage, but those who tiptoe through this unknown known, armed only with humour as their weapon of mass distraction, must understand how badly it could end. Today, urban terror as a career-move for fanatics, shows how Andy Warhol’s fifteen minutes of bling-fame congeals into hours of bloody infamy.
Our world has morphed into a stunned neighbourhood as social media reflects the opinions, prejudice and common sense of people not yet used to the fact that bombs and news can break in the palm of our hands.
Censorship now happens in many subtle ways. The bigger concern is self-censorship where the fear of violent retaliation, no matter how small, mutes the voice and cripples the word.
Nothing is beyond satire. There are a million ways to find the target without igniting the mines under our feet. Writers must write. Cartoonists must cartoon. Readers must read. And everyone must stand up and be counted. Then there will be more exclamation marks of question than question marks of fear.
Dus, fok sensuur, met ’n f en nie ’n v nie!
THE 2014 LUTHULI HOUSEKEEPING REPORT
As Presented at The Cape Town Press Club by Evita Bezuidenhout on 10 February 2015
Clearing the Air of Ghosts
Since the 103rd birthday celebration of the ANC on 10th January, it seems to be fashionable to exorcise the stadium, the hall, the room of the racist, sexist, counter-revolutionary ghosts of the past. So let me start here by saying to the ghost of Jan van Riebeeck. If you want to keep your place on the Foreshore, or be moved to the parking area of the Steve Hofmeyr Mall in Durbanville –East, be kind to us all today and go. We know what you did. What we are doing here is none of your business.
In the same breath let me ask the following spirits of segregation also to leave: the ghosts of Lord Charles Somerset, Cecil John Rhodes, Jan Smuts, President Paul Kruger, DF Malan, JG Strydom, HF Verwoerd, BJ Vorster and PW Botha. FW de Klerk is not here, because he and his wife Elita are driving up and down his Boulevard on the Foreshore. Nelson Mandela sent apologies; the financial reports at the ANC office in Heaven need his full attention. Too much has been spent on the fire pool for Mother Theresa so she can practise walking on water.
Start With Something Funny
My grandchildren said: Gogo, start with something funny. It’s so easy to laugh at our news today. The ANC paying for Jackie Selebi’s funeral. Maggies, where were they when he needed them? And of course, the vision of the EFF in two days time, going to the opening of Parliament naked. At least there will be one political party there totally transparent. My son de Kock wonders how the Speaker of Parliament will discipline those unfamiliar Honourable Members who, no doubt, will rise to the occasion.
The Luthuli Housekeeping Report
Let me come to the Luthuli Housekeeping report. Since 1996, these reports have been under embargo in the Secretary-General’s Office. It is even whispered that they had indeed been declared a National Key Point. But the ANC prides itself on its transparency. Even though the party is now 103 years old, a bit blind, nearly deaf, half paralysed and with a chronic loss of memory, the ANC is now so transparent that no one knows what is going on.
This is a very suspicious occasion and I thank Comrade Gwede Mantashe for allowing me to take on this grave and heavy responsibility of telling you the truth, the whole truth and nothing. As you all know, members of the ANC are not encouraged to communicate with the newspapers, the social media, television, radio or the voters. But, I am here today not as a member of the ruling party, but in my personal capacity as grandmother and citizen.
Why am I a Member of the ANC
‘Ja, Tannie Evita is nou ‘n lid van die ANC.’ People cannot believe it! How come you of all people are a member of the ANC? they ask. It’s like seeing Angela Merkel as a Greek bank manager! It’s very simple. Choice. For those of you who didn’t read yesterday’s New Age with that charming interview with me and my three black grandchildren … nou sit julle hier witgeskrik? My daughter Billie-Jeanne married the son of the President of my former black homeland of Bapetikosweti: she married Leroy Makoeloeli and now I have three born-free grandchildren – not white, not black, but Barack Obama Beige. They have no interest whatsoever in the Struggle of the past, because they know their struggle in the future will be more challenging.
Yes, the struggle of tomorrow. There is no historical blueprint to lead us where we are going. The world is in freefall. Fasten your seatbelts because there is no seat. And yet my grandchildren believe the good story that democracy will make their dreams come true.
“Gogo? What will you do to protect democracy, so that when we need to vote freely and fairly one day, it will be there in full working condition?
It was obvious: go to where the power resides. Join the ANC. Very easy in spite of my misgivings as a mature white female Afrikaner. So simple: hand over the cash and you’re in!
My Life in Power
My life has always been in Parliament. My husband Dr JJ de V Bezuidenhout –- known to many as Oom Hasie –- was the National Party MP for Laagerfontein. He also eventually had two portfolios in the cabinet of Dr Hendrik Verwoerd’s Government: Minister of Black Housing and Minister of Water Affairs. Hasie combined his two portfolios by building a black township in a dam.
Then power was firmly entrenched in the white Parliament. That ended on 2nd February 1990 when an unlikely cadre of the National Party opened a forbidden door and allowed the sunshine of democracy to flood into our lives. 25 years ago. Today Parliament has become either a parking garage for the DA, or an unruly playground for the EFF kindergarten. Power has moved north to Luthuli House. So that’s where I am.
Being in Luthuli House
Eskom has opened the floodgates of accusation. Some of them are valid, but it is very unfair to say the ANC has built no power stations since taking office 20 years ago. They have. It is called Luthuli House. I’ve spent over a year there, quietly doing what the Party demands of a white cadre: check toilet paper in all the washrooms, avoid any contact with the media and go into the kitchen to cook a nice daily three course meal for the comrades. Boer maak ‘n plan.
Many things have surprised me … no, many things have not surprised me. ANC still stands for A Nice Cheque. The front pages of daily newspapers still carry the latest highly placed corrupt comrades making off with millions, lying about needed qualifications of excellence, branding criticism as racist and Afrophobic –- and getting away with it all. Sometimes the African National Congress really reminds me of the Afrikaanse Nasionale Kongres. So does history repeat itself and take tragedy and turn it into farce? No, history need not repeat itself; it just has to rhyme –- from apartheid to tripartite, from amandla to Nkandla.
Which brings me to what is foremost in the minds of many and follows the hashtags of even more. Nkandla and Pay-back-the-money. We can solve that in an hour. Let all the comrades, whom since 2009 President Jacob Zuma has made millionaires, each donate just R100,000. That R246 million rand debt plus interest will be cleared in a day. Or just SMS the Guptas.
Yes, R246 million rand –- or as the financial agency, Schindler’s and List, would refer to it as 19,000 Euros –- it is a hefty sum of money to spend on the renovations of a holiday home, but believe me compared to the money we in the previously-advantaged regime spent on ourselves, it is a drop in the bucket-system of comparison. Today we call it corruption; then we called it policy.
Is it the Zulu Versailles? The rebooting of Shaka’s Ungungungluvu? No, it is a cluster of smallish rondawels that look like a retirement village outside Hermanus. Spending any money on security there is pointless because there is nothing to steal. But each rondawel hides a lift shaft that goes down 6 floors. For reasons as yet not clear, each of our first ladies – A, B, C and D – has her own underground separate floor with the President’s Master bedroom in the centre, like a Robben Island in a shark-infested Table Bay. Tunnels lead into that National Key Point from the floors of each wife.
Looking at the homestead from the outside makes it even more difficult to pinpoint where all the money has gone. Yes, there is a fire pool, but then you see those everywhere when you fly over Gauteng. Again they could be potholes. Yes, there are two cattle kraals. Why two? Cattle are the barter capital for any Zulu chief worth his rare and protected skins. President Zuma boasts the biggest herd of Nguni, in addition to the cluster of very thin milk cows that were recently rescued from Thandi Modise’s farm. The one kraal to the north is for the morning sun; the other in the south for the afternoon glow. There is a tunnel that joins the two and so the cattle don’t befoul the North Korean paving in the Amphitheatre. Or frighten the legion of women who queue up at the visitor’s centre and control room to audition for the part of Wife Number E, F and G.
I’m sorry to confirm that due to sloppy design and careless construction, the cattle tunnels got mixed up with the concubine tunnels, and as a result a cow and a sheep has ended up in the Master Bedroom. I am not in a position to add speculation as to what happened then. Did the President eat them or marry them! My granddaughter added that and said that it might be funny.
I would like to use this opportunity to state most categorically that I have had no part in any of the developments around Nkandla and/or the spending of 246 million rand of taxpayer’s money on a private resident of a servant of the people. I have only had nice curtains made for Ma Khumalo’s tuck shop. It faces the morning sun and by noon all her chocolates are down to a soggy melt. The curtains protect them. Now it is being whispered that I spent the R246 million rand on the curtains. They want me to pay back the money! The Luthuli House legal team have told me to say: no comment.
Pay Back Time
Pay back the money! It’s not just the money spent on a cluster of rondawels in the bundus of KZN. It’s not just the huge bonuses that have been lavished on mediocre minds for not asking pointed questions. It’s not just the haemorrhaging of public funds through the sieves of incompetence. Pay back the money also means it is time for South Africans to pay back what South Africa has invested in them, in us. The education we enjoyed as privileged citizens. The experiences of life we can share after many decades of relatively happy existence. The focus that we can give to the problems that face us. Problems not always unfamiliar. Problems not always insolvable.
Nelson Mandela gave us all a chance to make our dreams come true. Who ever thought we whites would get away with apartheid? Nothing happened to us. No Nuremburg Trials. None of us was hung like Saddam Hussein for crimes against humanity. And even now with the parole of Eugene de Kock, we do not release him in Soweto on a Saturday afternoon! In fact, on 11 February 1990, a faceless man so feared by many as the Osama Bin Laden of that time, came out of the darkness and gave us all light. And since then Eskom has collapsed. Too much competition.
We are going into the 21st year of a democracy that no one ever thought would happen. It did happen. It is happening and it will carry on happening, because it is a healthy democracy with speed wobbles that are part of the rollercoaster of human rights. Every one’s fingerprints are on the silver chalice of freedom. Every citizen has a right to an opinion. Now that the majority of the citizens are getting younger every day, they no longer have the sentiment of compassion, or the good manners of their parents and grandparents. No longer does any South African who is not white have to be grateful to any South African who is. Thank you, Baas, even though you are no longer Baas, I am still Klaas. But I am Doctor Doctor Doctor Professor Klaas. I don’t have a degree, but I am the CEO of the company because I am a nie-blanke! When will we whites stop being white? When will we just allow ourselves to be South Africans who are not people of colour?
If xenophobia is spelt with an X, should Zumaphobia be spelt with a Z? On 2nd February 1990 the President of South Africa made a speech in Parliament that changed the lives of millions of South Africans. Today FW de Klerk still invites complex reactions to his past actions and yet there is one irrefutable fact: he opened that door. Only he had the key and he used that key and today is humbly grateful for a Boulevard. If he hadn’t used that key, today he’d be an Airport!
In 48 hours the President of South Africa will make a State of the Nation address to a nation in a state. Will he be allowed to speak, or will the freedom of speech for others stop his address? What will his speech tell us? Business as usual? Focus on corruption as the prime evil and then blame apartheid? Can we still after twenty years of democracy scapegoat a bad system that officially ended in 1994? We can still accuse it of a lot of things, and yet to keep blaming it for incompetence, carelessness and ineptitude would be, like in the 1960s, blaming Adolf Hitler for the miniskirt! Hypocrisy! And yet, often hypocrisy today is still the Vaseline of political intercourse.
Corruption is the cancer of our society. Is it terminal? Can we still try and cure it through the chemotherapy of transparency and independent justice? And when we agree to confront it with treatment, are we prepared to lose our hair. Pay back in order to get back?
It is fashionable to accuse a leader who does not show leadership. I will say nothing. I may not. I should not, even though I could. I went to see the Secretary-General of the ANC last week for advice. Gwede Mantashe is always in his office. In fact, Gwede never leaves Luthuli House because he knows they’ll never let him back in again. I said: Gwede? What do I say about the President?
He said: Say no comment. I said: But I must say something. Silence is becoming an admission of, if not guilt, then guilt by association. So Gwede said: Expose the lies and the gossips that are damaging the dignity of the Presidency. And so I said, yes, I will do that.
I like President Zuma. He always treats me with great respect. Well, I’ve never been alone in the lift with him, so I don’t know what happens there, but he still allows me to call him by his Zulu clan name: Innocent. Members of the media can refer to the unexpurgated 2014 Luthuli Housekeeping Report and turn to page 978, Paragraph 4.2.6 (h) for the full text of what I will now briefly touch on.
- They say Jacob Zuma said to have a shower after unprotected sex. That is not true. He did not say it. He did it.
- Those in opposition have SMS’d that he is a thief, but he did not steal anything. It was given to him.
- Some pundits say he is corrupt. But as corruption is a Western thing, how can he be that?
- Former youth leaders have said he is a liar, but that is only from those racists who don’t believe the truth.
- Women say that he is sexist, but men know that he is because he has sex more often than they do. Much much more.
- They whisper he is homophobic and yet he allows Robert Mugabe to kiss him on the lips and some say he kisses back.
- They accuse Jacob Zuma of being a polygamist. Those who do are just jealous that he marries all his girlfriends, while they have to lie to their wives about theirs.
- Of course the media keeps repeating that the President said the ANC will rule till Jesus Christ comes back. The media gets it wrong each time. The ANC will rule forever, because Jesus Christ will not come back. We in the ANC will not give him a visa.
The Deafening Silence
There is no use in doing what the EFF Teletubbies are doing: accusing the ANC that created them. Once they swore to kill for Zuma; now they swear to kill Zuma! Any rebellious teenager without a new big car does the same to his father. No one can be the pot and call the kettle black, because most pots are now silver, while the kettles are pink and green and blue. I hope they now realize that democracy is not supposed to kill, only to irritate.
How many people in Luthuli House, cadres in the ANC, will still keep their silence? Even though they hate what is happening to a once-great liberation movement in the clutches of third-rate comrades with fourth-rate ideas. And as a result we think they are all on the gravy train together. Gravy dripping from their mouths, staining their latest Gupta fashions. Not so simple, comrades. Like in the old days of National Party rule, where all the Broeders would crowd round a Vorster and a Botha and nod and nod and nod with their fingers crossed, today many comrades in the NEC who will never say it loudly – remember how they all stood round Thabo Mbeki and never corrected his misspoken suggestion about Aids? – many comrades have said to me: MaEvita! Go and tell the world. Maybe someone upstairs will hear. We want the money to go where it was intended.
Pay back the money, so that education will have more. Then Government can say to each parent: if your child passes Grade 12, we will refund you all the money you spent on his/her education, so that your child can use that money to study further. When he/she qualifies there, the Government can refund all the study costs so that this educated child can start a business and a career. Why? Because the money has been returned! (If your child passes Grade 12 with not a 30% but a 60% pass, Government can give him/her a car! They call it bribery. Yes. It works!
Pay back the money and let us give substantial salary increases to the police, all the teachers and every nurse. Without them as the foundation to our democracy, we cannot survive. And we can do it, because the money has been paid back!
Pay back the money so we can put orphanages and crèches into old age homes: where old people can become the grandparents to the lonely children who have never had a family. And it can happen because the money is now there!
Pay back the money so that VAT can be taken off books! How can we share the stories of our survival and reconciliation if we keep taxing the imagination of the children? Double the VAT on lottery tickets! No one will even notice.
Keep e-tolls, but only for 4X4s. Yes, and put a fat tax on all Humvees. The creators of potholes and road works are not always a lazy municipality. It is the procession of huge SUV’s – more 4X4’s than even the Taliban flaunt – driven by small anorexic white mothers chatting on their Blackberries.
Let every nouveau-noir millionaire adopt a school or a hospital and be responsible for the upkeep thereof. For them there will be a tax rebate and those who do not embrace this suggestion will go up a tax bracket.
The vote is sacred; the vote is secret. And yet I am still haunted by a young voter who stood up and spat out: We voted for freedom; all we got was democracy. There will be money to overhaul the alphabets of democracy. Add to the election ballot under all the party candidates: I do not agree with any of the above choices. That should be counted as a vote, not rejected as a spoilt paper. And who knows, remembering how many died for the right to practise their political choices, it should be illegal to abstain from voting. Do it three times, you lose your right to vote forever!
Pay back the money so that the public can protect the Public Protector, because without the Public Protector the public will have no protection against those who refuse to pay back the money!
Pay back the money so that prejudice never again becomes policy and hatred never again is tolerated.
The Good Story
But besides all the news that now breaks in the palm of our hands, these shocking realities so familiar to us all, I meet so many good people in Luthuli House, good cadres in the ANC doing their jobs with commitment and excellence. You do not find them on the front pages because they don’t steal; they’re too busy working for their salaries! I now realize – which too many of us have not – that there are more good people than bad ones in various pyramids of power: in the cabinet, the government, the opposition, the municipalities, NGOs and provincial regimes. Good citizens working against all the odds – and some of them are very odd! – to keep our country relatively balanced. Otherwise we would today have been another Syria, another Libya, another Ukraine, another Zimbabwe. And we are not. We are a healthy democracy that shows all the expected flaws of confusion
So let us loudly say: good people in politics? You know who you are. We will find out where you are. We will support you and encourage you. You will inspire us to work harder and make the future a good story for all South Africans. Carry on in spite of the noise at the top. Your strong foundations of commitment and care will help the weak structures of government survive until the people rethink their choices. Yes, in a healthy democracy, the people must lead and the government will follow.
During the last month, #CommitYourselfie has been the hashtag to my onslaught against corruption and pessimism and thousands of South Africans have taken part, sending their selfies and what they want for the future South Africa. We have an anthem. We have a voice. Let the leaders of our land in the National Assembly on 12th February just pause for a moment amid the catcalls and shouts, amid the insults and accusations –- let them stop and just listen. There is a noise outside in the street. In the roads. In the parks and on the beaches. In the schools and the churches. In the malls and on the mountains. In the cities. In the townships. In the hamlets and in the huts. The people of South Africa are saying, very nicely, enough is enough. Please. People? Don’t wait for the guillotine.
The Wind Up
And finally, a footnote to the Gurus of Finance, BEE Bosses of Business, Captains of Corporations and Commanders of Companies. While government is the orange on the aerial of power, you are the vehicles of progress. My son de Kock has suggested that maybe here today, I am the fur on your steering wheel. A slippery steering wheel can lead to quick and fatal disasters. A bit of fur might keep us on the straight and narrow. I am now well beyond the official retirement age. And why am I not retired? Because I don’t want to be retired. While I can contribute something no matter how small, no matter how politically irrelevant, I will! And I will kill with kindness for my right to do so.
I am sick of the negative. I am tired of the know-alls and well-meaners who never stop whining and moaning. I am sick of intelligent people looking the other way and allowing decay to become the perfume of the day. I am sick of those lazy losers who use racism as a means to an end. I am sick of being a nervous tourist in my own country. I am not white, female, Afrikaans, icon or aikona, octogenarian, designer-democrat, right-wing, conservative, or marginalized. I am a South African. Ladies and gentlemen, dames en here, meine Damen und Herren, Mesdames et Monsieur: je suis Evita.
Women in entertainment: Pieter-Dirk Uys as Evita Bezuidenhout
This month’s feature on South African women in entertainment explores Evita Bezuidenhout’s role in South Africa’s comedy landscape
— John J. Cole-Morgan, The South African, 18 March 2015
This article starts off a new monthly segment about the woman in South Africa in the entertainment industry. Given South African culture, no series of woman in entertainment can begin without a story of Evita, famously dubbed as “the most famous white woman in Africa”.
Evita Bezuidenhout has been a part of South Africa’s culture for almost 35 years. Starting as a small character in a three week show in the early 1980s, Evita was born, and has become a household name in the years that followed. Uys famously said he is delighted he will never meet Evita face-to-face as the thought terrifies him.
Evita took off like a rocket. She is a character that owes a lot of her success to the basic principle Uys has used when playing Evita, “Women must recognise the woman and men must forget the man”. Inspired by the grace and extraordinary talent and beauty of his mother, his deep admiration for woman like Sophia Loren, Miemie Coetzee, Uys has used their essence to help create the enigma that is Evita.
Uys’s incredible ability to read a person, started in the days when Uys would observe people in Cape Town’s coffee shops during his university days. Uys would watch the people going by and was fascinated by the different things he saw. The tiny differences in their behaviour that went by has helped inspire his characters and is still something he does to this day.
Uys is the ultimate down-to-earth industry personality. Starting off in the years of apartheid, when homophobia was rife, having an entourage was not an option. If you needed to go anywhere, having many hangers-on could get you into big trouble. It was difficult to have too many fans around if you got into a situation with the police during the years of apartheid, and that ethos has influenced how independent he still is today.
This started a way of performing that has kept Uys grounded and without airs and graces. Uys, performs his shows alone, sets up alone, writes alone, drives himself to the theatre and publicity events, creating what is, in some ways, a secluded working life. There is only one person, who does it all and that is Uys. Having studied stage management, Uys is completely able to create all of his sets, arrange the lighting, all with minimal input from others. With just the audience to keep Uys company, and an audience that means no two shows of his more than 7,000 performances have been the same. Uys says that his audience laugh in different places and react differently in each show, and the characters he plays keep him on his toes and the monotony at bay.
His methods have helped Uys become a national treasure.
The photograph of Uys on the beach in Blouberg taken a little over 25 years ago, the day Nelson Mandela was released from prison, was the turning point in South Africa. It is easy to forget that while Uys has been making us laugh all the way through the last 40 years of politics, he has been at the forefront of what could be classed as cutting edge education. Uys was there and gave us both devastating truth and humour. Uys educated us with his work and made us laugh while doing so.
Uys has created over 80 different characters. His extraordinary talent made each character come to life. With the subtle changes to his face or inflection of his voice, Uys can turn P. W. Botha into Angela Merkel or Mrs Pietersen in a second and with each subtle change you know precisely who they are. His talent is truly exceptional and Uys is without question one of the greatest entertainers to come out of South Africa.
In 1974, Uys wrote his Afrikaans play ‘Selle Oe Storie’, which got him into such trouble with the National Party. It is easy to see Uys as simply the other part of Evita, but Uys has been writing and performing for over 40 years, almost a full decade before Evita came into existence. When asking Uys what his favourite piece of writing was he replies, “Gosh, that is like saying to a grandmother who is your favourite grandchild”.
Highlights of his career for him are ‘Selle Oe Storie’ and ‘Die van Aardes van Grootoor’, which is being rewritten as a musical for the end of 2015. “Success is lovely. Success is something you hang on the wall and you very seldom look back on it. Failure is something you always go back to. First of all the word is wrong, failure is so negative but when something doesn’t work it doesn’t mean it is a failure, it just means it hasn’t worked the first time round.” The plays Uys loves with sadness are the ones that didn’t work.
Uys has made all of his plays available on his website www.pdu.co.za. Uys loves the fact that he can share everything with the world, firmly wanting his works to be enjoyed instead of gathering dust on a shelf or sitting in a drawer.
At an age where most are slowing down, 70-year old Uys has no intention to do so: “It is very dangerous this thing where people think at a certain age you can slow down. No darling, that’s when you die. You don’t slow down, you change gear, you reinvent yourself. You actually maybe dye your hair, put in botox or cut off your penis, or whatever you want to do, but don’t just sit back and think you are going to be rewarded… I will keep going until, well if I fly away, I hope I do it on stage. If I die on stage I will be magnificent and people will remember me for the rest of their lives.”
Uys’s philosophy is simple. Uys believes that everyone has talent, teaching is terribly important and leading by example shows the way to those people who don’t know how to use their instincts. What you do with your talent is important, be as original as possible, be inspired and be something different. Balance the pros and cons of what other people have given you and what you think you have, to what you know should be there. Go out there and seduce us with your guile and take over the world.
“Make it work, it might take twenty years… Don’t just talk about it do it. Don’t wait for somebody to help you because they won’t. Be careful of advice, always listen to it and work through it and enjoy it. If you don’t enjoy what you are doing it will kill you.”
Skattie, have you heard
– Yadhana Jadoo, The Citizen, 2 May 2015
Pieter Dirk Uys is responsible for the development of South Africa’s most loved and recognised character, tannie Evita Bezuidenhout.
She developed after a friend introduced him to the one of editors of the Sunday Express in the late 70s.
“And he said, would you like a column of a 100 words, at R1 a word. I don’t think that’s changed, I think they still pay R1 a word,” he laughs.
“Suddenly I had 100 words in which to do funny things about our lives. And it was obvious that it had to be political. Once a month I would create a woman in this column who at a party in Pretoria would say ‘skattie have your heard’? She would come up with all the scandal. About a year into this thing the editor said to me… who is this woman? I said she is just a character – she is the real Evita of Pretoria.”
And suddenly there she was. Late former President Nelson Mandela would eventually call Uys asking him to “do Evita”.
“Oh, Pieter, where’s Evita? She must make Oprah laugh,” he says giggling after an impressive imitation of Madiba’s distinctive voice.
“And yes we did! She was like ‘ohhh my God’.”
Away from that character however, is a deeply-set opinionated, humorous and gentle person, whose messages for a better South Africa are driven by the various characters he embodies.
Uys is 70 years old, which is difficult to imagine with the amount energy he exudes.
“Really, I have been unemployed since 1975,” Uys says without the stage makeup or bling – when we meet at a charming coffee shop in Melville, Johannesburg.
After not being able to find a job he had to begin his one man shows.
“I have to become my job. If I do nothing, nothing happens… if I do something, everything happens.
“So I thought let me do a one man show and make fun of PW Botha and white liberals. People wanted something to make them feel reassured.”
Uys describes himself as a “Cape Town kid who eventually rebelled in the 60s”.
“There was always this fear of authority. I grew up with that fear and I think one of the liberations was to start making fun of authority and laughing at the fear of it.”
It was the theatre that created the most understandable mirror of what a decent alphabet of life meant, he says.
At drama school in the 60s, Uys remembers the ‘token’ “black man” that was in his class.
“I never thought of him like that, he was just such a fabulous friend – who plays my brother in this play and we are touching each other and arguing with each other. But when we left that room we couldn’t go anywhere. We couldn’t have tea together or a drink together or sleep together, we couldn’t do anything like that.
“Suddenly he was not of my tribe, class or my humanity.”
Race is something that doesn’t go away, says Uys.
“It is embittering people, making them feel like losers, and violence is brewing and the xenophobia is becoming an option for that.”
And that is why we must “turn the negative into the fashionable”.
“My biggest worry is every discussion about this country is when black people and white people discuss, and the black person says to the white person ‘you’re racist…
Because yeah, we were brought up as racists.
“Like an alcoholic that drinks, we must start everyday saying I will not be an alcoholic, I will not. But it never moves from there, and that’s when it becomes stagnant and that’s why racism wins.”
Uys says he agrees with the removal of colonial statues.
“But it mustn’t be destroyed. The moment you destroy it there is a new statue that will take its place. And that’s whey Evita says I have a place in Darling, it’s called Boerassic Park, and it’s a little museum.
“We have got apartheid signs in there, and we have got a gravy train with Thabo Mbeki on the engine.”
Uys adds that he understands the anger and frustration embedded in the country at the moment.
“But some of these leaders are using this to gather power – the Malema way, which is the Hilter way.”
Julius Malema “frightens” Uys.
“All he has to do is promise the poor what they want, as long as they vote.”
He speaks of the EFF not having any stationary at their offices in Parliament, and when he heard this, Uys boxed as many red staplers, pens, pencils etcetera that he could.
But there was not even a thank you from the party after sending the box to their office, “with love from Evita”.
Since 1994, the satirical performer says he has enjoyed the acceptance and a government with a sense of humour.
“Sense of humour is an interesting thing. Every single politician has a sense of humour, including Stalin.”
Humour however, can be weapon of “mass distraction or destruction”.
The onslaught of life
– Evita Bezuidenhout, Daily News, 7 August 2015
It is hard work being called the most famous white woman in South Africa. And yet, I can remember being brought up to be grateful for the education I was given, the chances I was allowed to dream about and make sure that everything was focused on the great prize: my future husband. I did all that and I’m still here.
As I sail into my 80th year, still with a 12-year-old heart beating with excitement, I realise that no education could have prepared me for this moment. No hobby or interest could have armed me against this total onslaught of life, and no husband would protect me from a world outside and the turmoil within.
So I am irritated by a Women’s Day and a Women’s Month. We don’t have the luxury of enjoying those 31 days in August, or that dreaded 9th of the month because we are busy working for a future.
Yes, we try to show how happy we are, because hopefully some of the world out there will then take notice of our smiles. Yes, we keep trying to remind a watching public that there are issues that we also need the world to act on.
Government notices us during August and if we believed their promises could come true, our world would be a happier place. By now we know that most of it is just an attractive shop window filled with products that are sold on our tears and pain. Money is collected to prevent more unhappiness – somewhere.
We are grateful, natuurlik! We look forward to the resulting changes in our lives. We also have urgent ideas to contribute. We just hope someone will listen to us once this month of August is over.
Our inspirations are those “Extraordinary Women” who are regarded as leaders and mentors living on the clouds of magic.
Fame often leads the way, from Angelina Jolie to Angela Merkel. .
I grieve for the desperate Somali refugees trying not to drown at sea. The slaughter of that old lion makes me cry: Je suis Cecil! A brave public protector confronting the charge of the Nkandla brigade fills me with pride.
I look at a magazine and the glowing beauty of Caitlyn Jenner stares back at me. And yet there is something about her that bothers me, but I can’t put my finger on it.
There are more women in our nation than men and in spite of a constitution that protects us, some of us are more frightened than ever before.
The trouble is we can’t compete with the symbol of what we are meant to be.
Extraordinary is a word often used to describe a successful woman. And yet every day I meet women who change the world around them without fame or fortune.
No one photoshops them. No house of fashion gives them gowns. They are seldom reflected on our small screens in soaps or dramas. There is seldom a red carpet for these women to walk along, seldom a spotlight for selfies and snaps, seldom a special day for them to kick off their shoes and just relax because someone else will do the chores.
They are the mothers who work all day to put their children through an education while fetching water from a tap on the hill. The gogos who protect their small offspring against the poverty and violence that threaten lives and limbs.
And the daughter who tries to finish school while being mummy and ouma to others who have no one. The working women who scarcely take home enough cash to treat their family to a fresh meal. The retired teacher who spends her days sharing her experience of information with whoever needs to make sense of an alphabet.
And the so-called disabled women who use their disabilities to prove that the truly disabled ones are us who have forgotten how to use our abilities to enrich lives and encourage hope.
These citizens don’t have time to celebrate Women’s Day. They are just the millions of ordinary women doing extraordinary things, for whom every day is the first day of the rest of their lives.
No one ever died laughing
— Pieter-Dirk Uys, City Press, 15 September 2015
A favourite title for a Pieter-Dirk Uys talk is “No one’s died laughing”. And, so far, after 7 322 one-man performances throughout the world, no one in my audience has died! And no public figure has had the decency to take the hint.
Is this possibly a bad reflection? Maybe it’s because I see laughter as the result of two things: the joke and the truth. Sure, laughing at a good rude joke is rewarding, but the only reason to remember it is to tell it to someone else. But the truth can often be funny without being comedy.
Humour is seldom as funny as the truth, not often resulting in the belly laugh, the great roar of ha-ha-ha that greets the stand-up comedian. Picture this: you go into a room. Someone is standing behind the door. They go: “Boo!” You get a huge fright, but then see it is your best friend playing silly buggers. You laugh! Not because it is that funny, but because you are relieved to find out it is not a threat. It’s a joke.
Laughing at fear can also make that fear less fearful. It will always remain lethal, even life-threatening, but at least you’ve focused on it. Keeping your eye on that fear proves that it will never become taller than you. It’s when you look away out of fear that it can become so overbearing that you will never allow yourself to confront it. That’s when fear wins.
What’s this got to do with a show with 20 different characters in all three genders spanning more than 40 years of entertainment? We all come from a South African past that was littered with hatred and horror, and yet humanity prevailed. We all live in a South African present that is a minefield of corruption, confusion and chaos -– and yet compassion and optimism survive. And ahead of us lies a future struggle that could make the past look tame by comparison. So to laugh is the therapy we can all use to prevent ourselves from going numb and dumb.
Turning 70 this year for me is a crossroads between the choice of being inspired by the high road or depressed by the low path. As a terminal optimist, I believe that to remember where I come from can help me celebrate where I am going. To look back with amusement, to glance into today’s mirror with acceptance and to peer ahead with less caution than before can only happen when you allow the heartbeat of a 12-year-old’s excitement to lead you on. It is a levelling moment to, for the first time, identify your sell-by date. With good health, maybe 20 years lie ahead? Hopefully a full 10?
Once, my year was 365 days. Now my year only has two days: today and tomorrow. All my focus and energy is on the Now, knowing that within 24 hours, the Then will happen, enriched or poisoned by what happens at this present moment.
Seasons of An Audience with Pieter-Dirk Eish! lie ahead in Johannesburg and Cape Town, a fun-filled experience that gives the audience 20 boxes to choose from.
Democracy –- with my tongue in their cheek! A different show every performance. This time, not just a parade of the old or the new, the sometimes borrowed and occasionally blue icons and aikonas, but also a celebration of 45 years of entertaining real people live on stage.
Now, too often people murmur: “Darling, how do you remember everything in your shows at 70?”
Well I do, touch wood. I’ve heard Dr Alzheimer knocks on aging doors. I just hope he forgets where mine is!
So the audition is over, the disease to please is cured. No need to prove anything, just improve. No one else might notice, but constantly striving to make things better could happily add fire and light to the supposed twilight years. So no retirement, no stopping just because someone asks: “Why do you still keep going?”
It’s simple, darling. Because I’m still here.
Bear the brunt of genius
Top Form: Entertainer Receives Another Standing Ovation
— Leon van Nierop, The Citizen, 23 September 2015
There is simply no one better than Pieter-Dirk Uys for the times we find ourselves in.
In this time of load shedding, a weak rand, political corruption, incompetence and the devastating Springbok loss, we desperately need humour –- more specifically, Pieter-Dirk Uys’s special brand. He is the only comedian who can still make us laugh at the problems that beset our country, although it may feel as if you are swallowing barbed wire.
I have seen several versions of this show before, and the opening night I attended, Pieter-Dirk was in top form. To be honest: I have never attended a show of his where there wasn’t a standing ovation and this one was no different. I was also privileged enough to have attended his earliest ground-breaking shows in the Space Theatre in Cape Town in the early ’70s, so I have indeed witnessed the evolution of his genius as a comedian.
Like his previous shows under the same name, there are about 15 boxes on stage with numbers on them. Pieter walks onto the stage, nonchalant, charming, smiling and energetic in spite of his 70 years and asks the audience to choose a box. But beware if the house lights go on. He will spot you if you try to hide! On the particular evening I attended, he suddenly asked: “Who here is proud and out and gay?” Interestingly enough several hands froze in mid-air with only one brave gentleman in the front row putting up his entire hand to choose a box.
The success of Uys’s performance lies in his wit and ability to improvise and keep the show in line with what is happening. Heaven help the Springboks in his forthcoming shows! One by one Pieter pulls out costumes and changes into well-known characters in front of our eyes. But it is tannie Evita that is his and the audience’s favourite. She comes off spectacularly, to say the least.
So if you are in the doldrums for whatever reason, this brilliant show will console, entertain and invigorate you.
A Q&A with Pieter- Dirk Eish!
After sold-out seasons in Cape Town and Johannesburg earlier this year PIETER-DIRK UYS returns to Theatre on the Bay. He starts in trousers and ends up in a dress. His sketches see him morphing from character to character featuring “something old, something new, something borrowed and something blue!”
— Karen Rutter, Cape Times, 6 November 2015
What makes An Audience with Pieter-Dirk Eish! different from other PDU shows?
There are 20 numbered boxes on stage and we can only manage to cover seven in each show. The audience chooses the numbers. Which means every show is different and I never know what’s coming next. That’s like doing a tango in front of a firing squad!
How does it feel to be 70 and still do seven 90-minute shows every week?
Having done over seven thousand performances alone on stage all over the world, I still regard each performance as the first one and the last one. So it stays fresh and topical. Sometimes though I do feel like a 45 year old racing car driver in a 70 year old racing car!
And also an eighth show on Sundays?
Yes, every Sunday I am at Evita se Perron in Darling with Tannie Evita praat Kaktus –- which celebrates its 20th year in 2016.
You’ve been performing your one-man format since 1982. Some people say you keep doing the same show.
My theatre audience appreciates the sitcom-feel of my shows in which I use a chorusline of familiar popular characters to reflect the reality of the political and social ups and downs that create a new satirical turmoil each time. Evita Bezuidenhout, Nowell Fine, Desmond Tutu, Wininie Mandela, Madiba, Mrs Petersen, Bambi Kellermann, PW Botha, Pik Botha do re-emerge and adapt to add a new dimension to the long walk to freedom that we all share. But yes, there will be some people who will think nothing changes. For them I weave in a Zuma, a firepool, a Mugabe and whoever’s on page one of the day’s newspaper.
Do you think you are still funny?
I don’t think I have ever been funny ha-ha. I still envy comedians who can fill a show with gags and punchlines and jokes. I sometimes think the truth can be funnier. There is a difference for me between comedy and humour. Comedy is the joke that you only remember in order to tell it to someone else. Humour is sometimes not at all “funny” and often very personal. Possibly the ability to laugh at one’s fear and make that fear less fearful? Apartheid was never funny, but the hypocrisy and arrogance in a line like “there are two things I can’t stand about South Africa; apartheid and the blacks” very pertinent to the times, but still uncomfortably familiar and very horribly funny.
How does it feel to be white and critisising black political incompetence with humour?
The red line of racism is very close to the tip of my shoe. I will not cross it. I have fought it all my life. So, yes, I do not feel comfortable doing black politicians by depending on funny accents or bad grammar. White incompetence is easier because I belong to that family of “us”. Some of my “eternal” characters go beyond colour: Desmond Tutu, Nelson Mandela, Winnie Mandela, Mrs Petersen and yes, happily now, Jacob Zuma trying to articulate his telephone numbers!
How do you define satire in South Africa today?
It used to be defined as “tragedy plus time equals satire”. Not anymore. What happens today must be skewered within minutes. Thanks to social media and the instant press of that magic send-button which allows everyone to be a satirist, a journalist, a critic, a president and a god.
Your advice to Trevor Noah?
As I would say to anyone else in the public eye: don’t press send when pissed – or pissed-off!
Will Evita Bezuidenhout fall?
As long as she doesn’t demand a raise in fees, she will remain the most famous white woman in South Africa. I am very relieved I never have to meet her face to face.
You seem to enjoy performing female characters more than the others.
As an actor I do prefer my female characters, because they have so much more to offer in gesture, seduction, appearance and courage. Margaret Thatcher said: if you want something said ask a man; if you want something done ask a woman.
Will you retire?
Why? As long as there is an audience, I cannot wait to be there to entertain them. But reinventing ones product is also an important step in the right direction. I have a new show for 2016 that is different to anything I have ever done before. That’s what being 70 means: the audition is over; the disease-to-please is cured. No need to prove, just to improve.
You are also rehearsing a new musical while performing Eish! every evening?
In 1978 my play Die van Aardes van Grootoor broke the sound barrier of applause. It is has since become a legendary delight for audiences, English and Afrikaans. Now we have the musical! Godfrey Johnson has composed a feast of songs and drama and I will direct the production with a company of young daring talent to open at Theatre on the Bay on December 18 with previews from December 11.