|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 www.evita.co.za.
|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
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."