Foreign Aids

October 23 - November 9, 2003
Thursday - Saturday 10:00pm
Sunday 5:30pm
The Club

created and performed by: Pieter-Dirk Uys

FOREIGN AIDS is a one-man performance by Pieter-Dirk Uys, the South African satirist and "actor-vist" whom TimeOut (London) deemed " the court jester of South Africa." The piece is a personal comment on the state of a special nation--South Africa. The birth of the new Rainbow Nation under Nelson Mandela gave great hopes, but now, in 2003, AIDS is the greatest threat to the continuation of life in South Africa. So it is the ultimate target for this satirist, who is passionate about the survival of his democratic society.

"Foreign Aids" reflects hope, and the truth about fear: laughing at fear makes fear less fearful. Uys brings his performance to New York to reflect the shared fear of the U.S. and South Africa--that of the unknown. Both countries have their own nightmares: viral terrorism and virtual terrorism, which Uys believes can be changed into solutions, one by one, person by person, audience by audience.

Pieter-Dirk Uys (pronounced "Ace") is sometimes represented as a more waggish Vaclav Havel. For years he tiptoed around censorship in his homeland, writing piercing comedies that are set against a background of racial tension, and was most acute in characterizing the effect of a warped society on its whites.

Born to a Jewish-Berlin mother and an Afrikaner Calvinist father, he jokes that he belongs to both chosen (white) peoples. It is reputed that Uys is related to a 17th Century black Cape courtesan, thus making him a true local native. He was born in Cape Town in 1945 and has outlived the official apartheid, which ended in 1994. Upon returning from the London Film School in 1973, Uys began putting on plays of political/social commentary and skating on politically thin ice. In 1975 he directed a trilogy that had one play that could be read but not seen, and another that could be seen and not read. Having had six of his more "serious" plays banned in the seventies, he adapted by establishing himself as a comic and letting humor effectively make all the same points. His most visible creation, Mrs. Evita Bezuidenhout, is known and accepted as the "most famous white woman in South Africa."

Beside his stage comedies, Uys turned in 1981 to Barry Humphries-style solo shows. Among the most popular (and naughty) of these was "P.W. Botha: In His Own Words" (1988), in which the only material was Botha's speeches and P.W. was skewered by his own ludicrous statements and Uys' gift for mimicry.

He has performed his one-man shows all over the world: South Africa, Australia, Canada, the USA, the UK, Holland, Denmark, Switzerland, Austria, Germany and Slovenia. Most of his South African revues are available on video and have been seen by the majority of the people of his land. They were also seen in prison by the present South African government!

His present repertoire of one-man shows includes "You ANC nothing yet!", a constantly updated look at the last seven years of democracy; " Truth Omissions," in which the apartheid past is made compatible with those who were responsible for it, many still living and working in South Africa; "Live from Boerassic Park," in which South African history repeats itself by turning tragedy into farce; "For Facts Sake," a play on the fictions of sex and the facts of HIV / AIDS; "Dekaffirnated" (or calling a spade a spade), about racism and political correctness; "Going Down Gorgeous," seven episodes between 1981 and 2004 in the life of his white liberal Ms Nowell Fine, a Jewish African Princess supreme; and "Concentration Camp," in which Evita's sister Bambi Kellermann presents her cabaret of Kurt Weill, camps vile and just pure camp.

Pieter-Dirk Uys now runs his own small cabaret theater on the former railway station in the village of Darling, 55 minutes from Cape Town up the West Coast. The venue is famous as "Evita se Perron", 'perron' being the Afrikaans word for "platform.

Uys' last appearance at LaMaMa was "God's Forgotten" in 1979. His more recent New York productions were "Panorama" and "Paradise's Closing Down," both presented by Africa Arts Theater Company and directed by George Ferencz, in 1994 and 1996 respectively. Uys' website can be found at

This fall, South African playwright/satirist/activist Peter-Dirk Uys has repeatedly called for the ouster of South African President President Thabo Mbeki, publicly criticizing the president's AIDS policies. Uys' appeals have now engendered a public rebuke by the President in the South African press.

Following is the lead item in the South African Mail & Guardian of October 10, 2003, describing the heated exchange between Mbeki and Uys.

South African Mail & Guardian, October 10, 2003
HEADLINE: Pieter-Dirk versus the comedians - by Matthew Krouse

The government's response to his criticism of President Thabo Mbeki's Aids pronouncements recalled PW Botha, satirist Pieter-Dirk Uys said this week.

Uys was hitting back at scathing statements by government representatives in reaction to an open letter he had written to Mbeki, calling for the president's replacement.

In his open letter of September 27, Uys referred to Mbeki's comments to The Washington Post of September 24, in which he said he personally knew no one who had died of Aids-related causes. Uys wrote: "He lies and so condemns his nation to death."

Uys also noted that "when (anti-apartheid activist) Steve Biko died (in the 1980s at the hands of security police) the then apartheid minister of justice Jimmy Kruger famously said: 'It leaves me cold'. South Africa leaves Thabo Mbeki cold." In the letter he called for South Africa to dump Mbeki, to "replace this failed leader with a comrade of compassion".

On October 2 Minister in the Presidency Essop Pahad replied to Uys, calling him a "house clown" whose satire "did have useful influence on enlightenment in the days when there was a total absence of democracy in South Africa."

Nowadays, Pahad wrote, Uys's statements on the government's HIV/Aids programme hinder and confuse the national will to do something about the pandemic. Pahad called Uys's Aids-education schools tours "a well-meant effort to spread awareness" that went wrong when Uys began to confuse satire and serious policy pronouncements.

On October 8, African National Congress spokesperson Smuts Ngonyama circulated a party response, saying it was "unfortunate that Pieter Dirk-Uys [sic] has chosen to insult the president". The press release went on to say: "Pieter Dirk-Uys [sic] must realise that real life is not satire and the country is not amused by his grandiose posturing and attention-seeking comments that do not add any value whatsoever to nation-building. His comments are rather self-serving and belie a malicious agenda that does not have the interests of the nation or the country."

"PW Botha couldn't have written it better," Uys told the Mail & Guardian from London, where he is taking some time out before flying to New York to perform his show Foreign Aids at the famous La Mama theatre. In response to Pahad and Ngonyama, he said, "What can I tell you, darling? You know when history repeats itself it takes tragedy and turns it into farce."

The performer, who lives in Darling in the Cape, said: "First of all I am very offended that they can't spell my name properly. I did spell the president's name properly. The rest of [the ANC response] just makes me celebrate democracy because this is what democracy means: we talk, we have the right to disagree.

"I have no apologies for what I've said. I'm a citizen of the country. I'm also, as a matter of fact, a member of the ANC and I celebrate the freedom of speech given to us by the Constitution.

"It's a very depressing sign that there is no thought up there. There's no sense of commitment to the real battle in South Africa - the struggle is against the virus. The struggle is not against a third-rate comedian living in the town of Darling."

On Thursday, the M&G received a missive from Evita Bezuidenhout, "former South African Ambassador to the Independent Homeland of Bapetikosweti", condemning Uys.

"Unfortunately President PW Botha wasn't brutal enough to end Uys's self-serving and malicious agenda with imprisonment and/or death, and the present government is trapped by a democratic Constitution enshrining tolerance and free speech.

"Pieter-Dirk Uys has insulted me for years through ... tastless impersonation. I sincerely hope that the ANC will do everything in its power to counter Uys's mischievous and blatant opportunism, by focusing on real life and not unwarranted and baseless satire," wrote Tannie (Auntie) Evita.

"I believe President Thabo Mbeki when he says he knows no one with HIV, or anyone who has died of Aids. Nor do I."

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