The most famous white woman in South Africa! Evita Bezuidenhout, still regarded as the most famous white woman in South Africa, was born Evangelie Poggenpoel of humble Boer origins in the dusty Orange Free State town of Bethlehem on 28th September 1935.
Illegitimate, imaginative, pretty and ambitious, she dreamt of Hollywood fame and fortune, tasting stardom in such 50s Afrikaner film classics as Boggel en die Akkedis (Hunchback and the Lizard), Meisie van my Drome (Girl of my Dreams) and Duiwelsvallei (Devil’s Valley). She married into the political Bezuidenhout Dynasty and became the demure wife of NP Member of Parliament Dr JJ De V Bezuidenhout and the proud mother of de Kock, Izan and Billie‑Jeanne.
Power became her addiction. She wielded it in the boardroom, the kitchen and round the dinner table, becoming confidante to the flawed gods on the Boer Olympus and so shaping the course of history with her close and often unbeliveable relationships with the grim‑faced leaders of the day: Dr HF Verwoerd, BJ Vorster, PW Botha and FW de Klerk. Hand in hand with the glamourous Evita of Pretoria was the Tallyrand of Africa, Pik Botha, her ageing Romeo and constant friend, while watching her from afar as she watched him was Nelson R Mandela, alive today thanks to her timely interventions (see Pieter-Dirk Uys’s biography of Mrs Bezuidenhout, A Part Hate A Part Love).
Mrs Bezuidenhout’s ten years as the South African ambassador to the independent black homeland Republic of Bapetikosweti left an indelible mark on the blueprint of change, and today her recipe for bobotie is internationally regarded as the basis for reconciliation. ‘Sit down, eat and talk’ has been her slogan and many troublespots in the world owe their future to her kitchen skills. As the former barefoot meisie from Bethlehem majestically sailed into the stormy seas of her marriage and maturity, dazzling friend and foe alike with her Calvinist authority and dreaded lack of irony, like any other educated, brainwashed white South African, she constantly passed by the terrible aftermath of the apartheid system she helped to spawn, and having seen, looked away at her smiling reflection in the family silver.
In 2001, the Woman’s International Centre in San Diego (California) presented Evita Bezuidenhout with the Living Legacy 2000 Award for “her contribution to the place of women in the last century” and the laughter and positive energy that her presence evokes. Past honourees include such other legends as Hillary Roddam Clinton, Bette Davis, Mother Theresa, Princess Diana and Margaret Thatcher.
Evita Bezuidenhout today divides her time between the Bezuidenhout family home in Laagerfontein, where her husband Oom Hasie lives, and the West Coast village of Darling, where her mother Ouma Ossewania Kakebenia Poggenpoel resides. Now in her 80s, this glamorous eternal flame of boere chutzpah holds court at the former Darling Station, now famous as Evita se Perron, where she entertains and dazzles awestruck visitors while also bravely following in the slipstream of Jacob Zuma’s presidential jet(s) to make sure that kos is on his tafel. As one of the few Afrikaner icons who did not lose their heads on the tumbrils of democracy, Gogo Evita is grandmother to her three ABarack Obama beige@ treasures: Winnie‑Jeanne, Nelson‑Ignatius and La Toya‑Ossewania. She has embraced the new democracy with an alarming passion, underlining her commitment to a nonracial future by her support that cuts across racial lines.
On 1 April 2012, Mrs Bezuidenhout joined the African National Congress in an attempt to help them on their long and rocky road to a corruption‑free future. Her own political team, also known as Evita´s People´s Party (www.epp.org.za), remains in waiting to deliver voter education for the next election. Evita’s optimism is simple: ‘You don’t need a crystal ball to see where we are going. The future of South Africa is certain; it is just the past that is unpredictable.’ Her weekly comment on the news of the day can now be seen on the Evita se Perron channel on You Tube (www.youtube.com/user/EvitaSePerron). Evita’s Free Speech is refreshed with a new episode every Sunday and has added Evita’s voice to the breaking news for over a year.
Pieter‑Dirk Uys on Evita:
Towards the end of the 1970s, I was writing a weekly column for the Sunday Express in Johannesburg. It was during the time of the Information Scandal, which led to the eventual fall of John Vorster and the rise of PW Botha. The land was abuzz with rumours of embezzlements, thefts, even murder C but because of the ever‑increasing paranoia about press control and censorship, it was not possible to write about these things.
So I created a character in my column out of whose mouth these rumours / facts dripped like warm honey. She was the wife of a Nationalist MP, someone on the fringes of power but elbow‑deep in the catering, so she knew all the ins and outs. For three years she appeared about once a month, informing the nation of the stench under the cloak of respectability and no one stopped her (me). Someone even gave her a name: “The Evita of Pretoria”.
When I created my one‑man show Adapt or Dye in April 1982, I gave this creature a physical reality C eyelashes, high heels and handbag C and she has never looked back! Right from the start “Tannie Evita” stepped out of the chorus line and took off into folklore, leaving behind the many other characters I did in my shows.
The public wanted more of her all the time, so I created more around her C her husband Hasie and her three children. I played them all on stage in Farce about Uys and on film in Skating on thin Uys.
The absurdity of the homeland system cried out for attention and so she became its most famous ambassador. Even during the two years when I stopped performing her C fearing that she would swamp me with her forcefulness C the public didn’t notice. Mrs Evita Bezuidenhout was alive and living among them, in spite of me!
I introduced her to audiences in Australia, the United Kingdom, Canada, Holland, Germany and Scandinavia. She became as confident on foreign soil as she was in her own backyard. People wrote to her, promising to support her in her legal efforts to control that “third‑rate satirist Pieter‑Dirk Uys” who was so cruelly making fun of her.
Politicians wrote too. Minister Pik Botha faxed her, Archbishop Desmond Tutu kissed her on the cheek and danced the toyi‑toyi with her in his garden. President Nelson Mandela often used her as his entertainment of choice at his legendary fundraising dinners. Designers designed for her. I dieted because of her.
Originally the idea for a biography of Evita centred around a few recipes and funny pictures, but once five years of research into the fascinating detail of South African politics had passed, I realised that Evita’s biography (A Part Hate A Part Love) was not just the story of a woman, or the story of a nation. It was, in many cases, the story of our lives. Her recipes have found their way into the kitchens of the nation with her two cookbooks: Evita’s Kossie Sikelela and Evita’s Bossie Sikelela. Thanks to Linda Vicquery, who collected and tested all the recipes, Tannie Evita is cooking for reconciliation. If it was left to me, an open tin of sardines and a few Provitas would have to do the trick!