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THE ECHO OF A NOISE

WEERKLINK VAN ‘N WANKLANK

The satirist’s childhood of secrets

THE ECHO OF A NOISE: A MEMOIR OF THEN AND NOW PIETER-DIRK UYS TAFELBERG

– Moira Lovell, The Witness, 31 December 2018

 

IN this, his third memoir, South African icon Pieter-Dirk Uys reflects on his family and upbringing and on the trajectory of his career.

 

In so doing, he makes the observation that offspring, absorbed as they are in the business of growing up and defining self, are often ignorant of the narratives that have shaped their parents and unaware of the difficulties those parents might be experiencing.

 

His recollections of family life reveal a Pinelands home, in Cape Town, replete with pianos and the sounds of his parents playing their respective instruments. He recalls his own unbroken soprano voice, recorded by his father, and his sister’s pianistic brilliance, already evident by the age of 12.

 

Nevertheless, all was not harmonious. With his demanding, conservative father, Pietertjie had a troubled relationship, exacerbated by his choice of profession and his sexual identity. His mother, who was — unbeknown to her children — on medication for bipolarism, committed suicide by throwing herself off Chapman’s Peak in 1969, when Uys was in his early 20s.

 

He realised that he knew little about her. Only subsequently did he discover that she was Jewish and that she had left her birthplace, Berlin, in 1937, on the recommendation of her fiancé, who felt he could no longer protect her. A gifted musician, she arrived in Cape Town with her Blüthner grand piano and her Underwood typewriter. In her first performance in Cape Town she played in a two-piano concerto with the orchestra. The other pianist was Johannes (Hannes) Uys. The two were destined to marry.

 

Pieter-Dirk Uys also mentions his two grandmothers and pays tribute to the characterful Malay servant, Sannie Abader, whom he affectionately refers to as “my Cape Flats mother”. Beyond family, he recalls his early obsession with Sophia Loren, his youthful chutzpah in communicating with her and their subsequent lifelong friendship.

 

As a boy, Uys thought he would like to become a steam-train driver or an NG Kerk dominee — the latter based on his observations that these men drove new cars every year and would necessarily go straight to heaven.

 

Instead, having caught the “theatre virus” after being taken on a class outing to a production of King Lear, he registered at UCT for a BA specialising in drama, and subsequently studied at the London Film School. He was motivated to return to South Africa following the establishment of the Space Theatre in Cape Town, a bold colourblind initiative. It was in 1981, while watching Prime Minister P.W. Botha announcing the general election, on television, that Uys found himself mimicking the trademark gestures of the politician. The satirist was born; his scriptwriters, the National Party. And when it seemed, in 1994, that his career as a political satirist had come to an end — albeit a celebratory one — he quickly realised that there was further material in the unfolding dramas of post-apartheid South Africa. By courtesy of politicians, Uys has, in his own words, “never stopped working”. Accompanied by numerous photographs, his memoir, colloquially written and characteristically humorous, provides insights into the life of the legend.

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What Pieter Dirk Uys has to say about Pik, his father and fear

The Echo of a Noise – A memoir of then and now, by Pieter-Dirk Uys (Tafelberg)

– Vivien Horler, The Books Page, 21 October 2018

 

Divergent voices have greeted the death of apartheid era foreign minister Pik Botha.

 

Some have described him as the best of a bad bunch, other have expressed their views considerably more forcefully. And just hours after Botha’s death Adriaan Vlok, former apartheid era law and order minister, described him on Cape Talk as “a visionary”. (Well he would, wouldn’t he?)

 

Pieter Dirk Uys, the satirist and alter ego of Evita Bezuidenhout, has just published a new book of memoirs, and he could have had Botha in mind when he wrote about the end of the apartheid.

 

As World War II wound up, he writes, Adolf  Hitler committed suicide along with several of his general staff.

 

“When apartheid officially ended in 1994, not a single member of the apartheid government killed themselves. They rushed off to the local Oriental Plaza to get their latest Nelson Mandela ethnic shirts…

 

“They even joined the African National Congress, the liberation movement they had us believe for 46 years was our version of al-Qaeda. They were now proud members of the ANC, proving once again that hypocrisy is the Vaseline of political intercourse.”

 

(For Uys on Pik specifically, see below.)

 

This is Uys’s third book of memoirs; the first, Elections and Erections focused n Aids, and Between the Devil and the Deep looked at Uys’ theatre career.

 

This one shines a light on his childhood, his difficult relationship with his stern Calvinist father, his troubled German-born mother, musically gifted sister Tessa, and Sannie Abader, who was the Uys family’s live-in domestic worker during most of Pietertjie’s childhood in Pinelands, and who, he says, had a profound influence on his development as a child and as a South African.

 

When people think of Pieter Dirk Uys, Evita Bezuidenhout springs to mind. As a satirist, Uys is of course acutely politically aware, yet in these troubled times he tries to avoid being “the white mouth criticising black action”.

 

If Uys himself were to complain about things, many people would be irritated. But when Evita does it, it somehow “floats on top of the turmoil. After all, who can take offence at someone who doesn’t exist?”

 

Uys says Evita used to make Nelson Mandela laugh. One night Uys, once again in his Evita persona, muttered that every time he saw Mandela, he was being Evita.

 

Mandela chuckled: “Don’t worry, Pieter, I know you’re inside.”

 

But this is not a book about Evita, although she does get a short chapter. No, writes Uys, “this will be PDU, unpowdered. No props, no false eyelashes, no high heels, no security blanket. Whatever echo I expose here will be heard for the first time.”

 

Uys’s father, Hannes Uys, who died in 1990, was a stern Calvinist who loved music and ran a Kindersang Kring. The kring made two long-playing records, the first featuring an angelic blond Pietertjie as boy soprano on the sleeve.

 

Hannes Uys did not worry about nepotism: looking at the programme for a Kindersang Kring concert in Bellville in 1961, Pieter and pianist sister Tessa are named in virtually every second item.

 

Uys’s parents loved each other, but there were tensions. Hannes was a perfectionist, his wife Helga suffered from depression that eventually killed her.

 

In his 70s, Uys says he has only now become aware of how deeply afraid he was as a child. “It took me another 50 years to find the courage to use the f-word to fight fear — and that word is fun!”

 

He realised that to cope with fear he had to laugh at it. To look fear in the eye puts you in charge, he writes. “Give your fear a name; show it who’s boss. It will never be taller than you. Lethal, oh yes, it can kill you, but at least you can see it coming. Then step out of the way.” Laughing at fear, he says, has become the subtext to his life.

 

Uys has been on stage more than 7 000 times. We figure we know him backwards. And yet this sad, tender and often hilarious memoir reveals a lot about the man and how he became who he is – a national treasure.

 

A national treasure who is not above speaking sharply about members of our government — then and now.

 

•  This week I asked Pieter-Dirk Uys for some of his memories of the former foreign minister. Here’s what he had to say:

 

Pik Botha was the eternal foreign minister, one of the Bothacracy. The National Party shared so many with me: PW Botha, Fanie Botha, Stoffel Botha, Bothalezi … and Roelof F Botha. (Never found out what the F stood for.) Pik Botha was my inspiration: the orange on my aerial, the fur on my steering wheel, the St Christopher on the dashboard of my sports car of satire.

 

In my first one-man show Adapt or Dye, I did him on stage as the Hamlet of Westdene, (He was already the all-round actor). To be or not be in Namibia, that is the question. Then when Evita Bezuidenhout became the South African ambassador in the independent black homeland Republic of Bapetiksoweti in 1981, Pik Botha became her boss. So we spread the rumour that Pik Botha was having an affair with Evita Bezuidenhout. Trouble was: he started believing it! He would fax pages to her after midnight with hints on how to be a diplomat: “You will have to get on with people you can’t stand”‘

 

I started impersonating him on stage in virually every show, especially into the new democracy when he became the Minister of Minerals and Energy Affairs. (Always the question: how does he mix his minerals with his energy affairs?) Eventually he and she met: in the MNET series Funigalore in 1995, where Evita interviewed all the new leaders, the “terrorists and communists” of the yesteryear, now Mandela, Slovo, Ginwala, Naidoo — and Pik Botha. (The episode is on You Tube!) Minister Botha and Mrs Bezuidenhout clicked as there were two actors manipulating them, Pik and me. The times the ex-politician and the ex-ambassador would appear on television together reminded one of an ageing Richard Burton with his overweight bejewelled Elizabeth Taylor.

 

Alas, the last of my old herd of boere-dinosaur is now gone. My most recent Pik Botha, a star turn in my shows, would start with him donning his ANC scarf, peering into the audience, and in the gruff-growl mutter: I’m not here. I have nothing to confess. But because you are here, I have to be here. Ironically now the sketch makes even more sense, because I’m definitely not here …

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Pieter-Dirk Uys captures life story in book

– Karen Watkkins, Constantiaberg Bulletin, 20 December 2018

 

Satirist and social activist Pieter-Dirk Uys usually has audiences crying tears of joy but last week he had guests shedding tears of sorrow.

 

With no heels, gown or makeup -– his alter ego Evita Bezuidenhout was in the boot of his car -– dressed in black as he launched his memoir, The Echo of a Noise, at the Thursday Club, held at Kelvin Grove.

 

Often hailed as a national treasure, Pieter-Dirk, 73, mesmerised guests as he talked of the billboards and signposts in his life, growing up in the madness of white South Africa and living with a musical family.

 

His parents would travel around with him dressed in kortbroek (shorts), performing at weddings and on the radio for pocket money.

 

His father was concerned that if he wore long pants his voice would break.

 

His relationship with his father, Hannes Uys, was fraught with tension. The family’s domestic worker, Sannie Abader, worked in their home in Pinelands and had a sense of humour but would not abide rudeness or racism (although she never called it that). “She wouldn’t take kak from a boer,” says Pieter-Dirk. She disappeared one day but returned later in his life.

 

Later, Pieter-Dirk was kicked out of home, he didn’t say why, and moved into Long Street. However, it was his mum’s death in 1969 which became, “A billboard among the signposts of my life.” His vulnerability was palpable as he described how this event changed his life.

 

He says the book is also a celebration of the denials that people have, such as family secrets.

 

Pieter-Dirk’s mum, Helga Bassel, left Berlin in 1936 with her piano. Her children Pieter-Dirk and internationally renowned pianist Tessa Uys had no idea their mother was Jewish until her death.

 

She left Germany when she was told she could not play her piano there because she was a Jew.

 

Pieter-Dirk says he regrets not asking his parents about their lives when they were still alive. “I knew more about Sophia Loren. I never knew that my father hated his job as a senior admin clerk with the Cape administration,” he says.

 

The family were not well off and his dad had to borrow money; his brother was a millionaire and “owned a hill in Durbanville”.

 

Another of Pieter-Dirk’s little signposts was asking his father to get him onto the censor board, watching films, uncut. “Most of the time he loved it, but he was wary of being a censor. He watched a Fellini film and was angry that it had been cut to bits. He told me maak hulle belaglik (make them look ridiculous), don’t be afraid of the censors.”

 

He performs his 16th season at Evita se Perron in his hometown Darling with Evita’s Xmas Tree and When in Doubt say Darling. Oh yes, he says he came to live in this Swartland town by accident after losing his way to McGregor.

 

The book is filled with rich vivid memories and photographs from the family album, including Pieter-Dirk with lots of hair, and his 40 years in theatre, the invention of Evita Bezuidenhout, and the joys and sorrows of his amazing life.

 

As for the elections next year, he says: “There’s not a single party worth voting for, they’ll all let you down. But vote ANC otherwise, put on your red beret and say you were here first because you’ll get the Economic Freedom Fighters’ (EFF) and land up with land expropriation without compensation.”

 

Earlier, he had regaled guests at his table with a story about the EFFs first day in Parliament. He says they were complaining that they were not given pencils, staplers, etc. Pieter-Dirk went home to a stationery store in Darling and collected everything red, from rubbish bins, pens, packets of paper, and delivered them to Parliament, “not in heels, the cobblestones are not female friendly”, he quipped. It was a test of the party’s humour. He was disappointed and says there was no response, unlike when he sent koeksisters to Nelson Mandela.

 

Pieter-Dirk has authored two other memoirs, Elections and Erections (2002), and Between The Devil and the Deep (2005).

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BOOK REVIEW: Pieter-Dirk removes the mask for tender and funny memoir

– Devlin Brown, Business Day, 18 December 2018

 

The performer stares into the dressing room mirror after the show, the applause now a memory as the chatter of theatre patrons makes its way out of the lobby. He removes his stage makeup with a sponge, methodically revealing strips of skin beneath the mask of his character.

 

It is a deeply personal moment, the man behind the mask revealing himself to himself, and then to the world. A book can have the same effect.

 

In Pieter-Dirk Uys: The Echo of a Noise: A Memoir of Then and Now, Uys draws us into his unmasking, revealing the man behind the persona, and the person behind the man, the little boy who just wanted to wear long pants.

 

Uys pulls off a story-telling coup. He delicately takes us on a first-person journey that starts in his early childhood with a nonjudgmental innocence that suspends belief. We read his words as if they are really those of a small boy experiencing the world for the first time, despite the well-crafted storytelling of an acclaimed writer and performer.

 

The reader is allowed to come of age alongside Pietertjie Uys, and the memoir is written the way memories happen — not always chronologically but like short movies imprinted in our minds, some scenes more visceral and colourful than others.

 

The story unravels the complexity of a young white boy growing up in apartheid SA, with his DNA rooted in Europe but most of his inspiration found around him and among the diverse people of his home on the southern tip of Africa. The book contains humour, horror, love, tragedy and hope.

 

He builds the characters in his life through the wide eyes of a little boy. One can almost hear the soundtrack of his childhood — played by his musical family. Music is a recurring theme. His mother defiantly played Mendelssohn and others, her yellow star refusing to fade away under the aggression of the swastika. His mother’s story and his search for the woman he didn’t really know is haunting and poignant.

 

He unpacks his difficult relationship with his father,  whom he charmingly describes at one point as living on “Planet Calvinista”. “One morning on the way to the Parow church, waiting at the railway crossing for the steam train, I asked Pa: ‘Pa? What is a homosexual? He turned to me, tight-lipped with laser-blue eyes, and lashed out about how disgusting it was, how against the Word of God it was, the worst possible sin!”

 

The housekeeper is a colourful, strong woman from the Cape Flats called Sannie. She was the “stage manager” of his life and a central character in the memoir. A notable anecdote was when she dressed up in her Sunday best to vote on April 27, 1994, while Uys showed up in shorts and slops.

 

The power of Uys’s belief and perseverance is blatant; a childhood obsession with a superstar eventually leads  to a lifelong friendship with her. He fell in love with Sophia Loren as a little boy, her portrait eventually replacing that of Hendrik Verwoerd (because all good God-fearing white South Africans had the latter’s picture).

 

“Oom Hendrik fell off the wall,” Uys writes, “I think he realised that Sophia Loren had better legs than he did.”

 

His father was disgusted at her “thick lips”. “Jou Sophia Loren is a meid.”

 

“Each time I smiled back at those red … those full lips, I knew I had committed a terrible sin … I’d fallen in love with a non-white.”

 

His love of Loren led him to her front door as a teenager. She wasn’t home, so he left a letter. Before long they were pen pals. They met a few years later and started a special friendship that endures to this day.

 

When considering how Loren went from fantasy to friend, the success of making a dream become reality, one sees Uys’s time at the Space in Cape Town and the Market Theatre in Johannesburg in context. Constantly harassed by the censor board and performing illegal shows, his ability to persevere is no surprise. Many an actor gave it all up. Not Uys.

 

There is very little Afrikaans in the book, just a few lines that are italicised because English just wouldn’t do the meaning justice. Writing about the censor board, he says: “Ek wou op hulle voorstoep kak en dan klop vir papier!

 

Evita Bezuidenhout makes very few appearances in this memoir. This is not about her. It is about the performer who created her. It is about myriad experiences and influences that eventually shaped her.

 

Towards the end of the book, Uys unpacks his disgust at the old regime and how it escaped accountability, then talks about the careless crop of the present: they knew what needed to be done but couldn’t be bothered, he laments.

 

You’ll find many one-line gems throughout the book, such as “hypocrisy is the Vaseline of political intercourse” and don’t be surprised to hear yourself laugh out loud before wiping away tears without warning.

 

The memoir is delicate and funny, and packed with photographs. Its strength is its  honesty and introspection. Even Evita Bezuidenhout would love it.

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Weerklink van ’n wanklank: ’n onderhoud met Pieter-Dirk Uys

– Marli van Eeden, Litnet, 11 December 2018

 

Titels is vir hom ontsaglik belangrik; dit is waarom hy op Weerklink van ’n wanklank besluit het. Die Engelse The echo of a noise se Afrikaanse vertaling, “die eggo van ’n geraas”, sou nie werk nie — daar is te veel g’s en r’e. Dit is nie mooi klanke nie, verduidelik hy. “Weerklink van ’n wanklank” klink mooi. Dis soos ’n klok wat lui.

 

Weerklink van ’n wanklank is die bekende satirikus Pieter-Dirk Uys se derde memoir, gebaseer op sy verhoogstuk met dieselfde naam. Dié is aanvanklik in Engels geskep: The echo of a noise. Sy vorige memoirs, A part hate, a part love: A biography en Elections and erections: A memoir of fear and fun, het onderskeidelik in 1994 en 2003 verskyn.

 

Dit is ’n laat somersmiddag in die Eikestad en ’n uur voor hy op die Drosdy-teater se verhoog moet wees vir die Stellenbosch-bekendstelling van die boek, wanneer hy die gehoor gaan bekoor met staaltjies oor sy lewe.

 

Die Kersversierings is al op. Die houtvloere van die teater kraak onder die voete wat daaroor beweeg. Dié voete skarrel om seker te maak alles is gereed vir wanneer die gaste nou-nou begin opdaag in die teater. ’n Gesellige atmosfeer heers.

 

Agter die verhoog in die kleedkamer gesels Uys ’n hond uit ’n bos.

 

“Pieter,” help hy gou-gou enige persoon reg wat hom as “Meneer” of “u” aanspreek.

 

“Ek het eers besluit op Weerklank van ’n wanklank. Toe skielik kom weerklink by my op en ek dink toe, maar wragtig dis mos ook ’n woord! Whoeps slaan ek die HAT oop om dit te soek, en siedaar.”

 

Weerklink van ’n wanklank.

 

Hy herhaal dit.

 

“Dit klink mooi!” roep hy uit.

 

Oor die aanvanklike verhoogstuk vertel hy: “Ek het nooit gedink ek sou so iets doen nie, want dit breek al die reëls. Die toneelstuk is gestroop. Dis net ek. Geen kostuums of indrukwekkende stelle nie. Net stories.”

 

Die verhoogstuk en boek is ’n blik op sy lewe en gaan oor die klein padwysers wat sy lewe verander het. “Gewone stories” wat soveel mense se ondervindings weerspieël en waarmee hulle kan vereenselwig. Die mooi van die lewe, die seer, en die talle lewenslesse wat ’n mens langs die pad optel.

 

“Mense vra altyd vir my of ek senuagtig is as ek op die verhoog is, en dan sê ek nee ek is nie, ek is opgewonde. ‘Opgewonde’ beteken ek kan dit doen. ‘Senuagtig’ beteken ek kan dit nie doen nie.”

 

Dit bring hom by ’n herinnering uit sy kinderjare, toe sy ma vir hom en Tessa, sy suster, gesê het: “If you win you get an ice cream and if you don’t win you get two ice creams.”

 

Mislukking is die rotsstukkies wat lei tot die monument van sukses. Pieter glo hy is hier waar hy vandag is danksy al die mislukkings.

 

“Ek leer nog elke dag iets; ek leer die heeltyd. Ek probeer minder te praat en meer te luister,” vertel hy.

 

Terug by sy kinderjare vertel hy hoe sy ma uit Duitsland gevlug het. Sy was ’n Jood en het na Suid-Afrika gevlug.

 

“Ons het glad nie geweet sy het gevlug nie en ons het ook glad nie geweet sy is ’n Jood nie. Hoe werk dit? Sê vir my? Hoe is dit moontlik dat mens nie geweet het nie?” vra hy.

 

“Ek het soveel lewenslesse by my ouers geleer.”

 

“My pa het gewerk in ’n aaklike werk. Musiek was sy liefde. My ma het klavierlesse gegee. Ons was nie ryk nie, maar ons was nie arm nie. Ons as kinders het nooit besef dat hulle ons probeer beskerm teen dinge wat ons nie verstaan nie. Hoe sou ek as ’n agtjarige kind sin maak van die feit dat my ma gevlug het en haar familie in ’n gasstoof vermoor is?”

 

Hy bly ’n oomblik stil.

 

“In daai dae was dit maar so dat ons as kinders nie vrae gevra nie.”

 

Hy wens egter nou dat hy sy ouers meer uitgevra het oor hulle lewens, want ’n mens vergeet soms jou ouers het ’n lewe voor jóú koms gehad.

 

In Weerklink van ’n wanklank raak hy ook aan sy ma se selfdood, en die impak wat dit op sy gesin se lewe gehad het. Ook vertel hy humoristiese stories, soos dié oor sy liefde vir die aktrise en sangeres Sophia Loren, met wie hy later penvriende geraak het. Humor is immers vir hom baie belangrik.

 

Lag vir jou vrees en maak dit minder belaglik — dít is sy leuse, vertel hy.

 

Hy vertel hoe sy pa destyds op die sensuurraad was, en hoe hulle twee baklei het oor die werk wat Pieter doen.

 

“Maar twee weke nadat my pa ’n sensor geword het, het hy vir my gesê ek moet by hom kom eet, want hy wil met my praat. Hy sê toe: ‘Pieter, is jy bang vir hulle?’ Ek sê: ‘Wel, dis die Nasionale Party-regering, hulle kan enigiets doen.’ Hy sê toe nee, hy praat van die sensors. Hy sê hy is een van hulle, en hulle is ’n klomp blerrie ou fools. Hulle weet nie wat hulle doen nie.

 

“Hy sê toe: ‘Moenie dat hulle jou bangmaak nie, maak hulle belaglik.’ Daardie woorde het my lewe verander. Lag vir jou vrees en maak dit minder vreeslik. En dít is wat humor vir my beteken.”

 

Oor die huidige stand van Suid-Afrika, en natuurlik politiek, sê hy Suid-Afrikaners word daagliks met negatiwiteit gekonfronteer en vrees is aan die orde van die dag.

 

“Op die oomblik word ons almal stilgemaak deur vrees. Ons wil iets sê, maar ons doen nie.

 

“Tydens apartheid was alles geheg aan politiek. Jou kerk was politiek. Jou huis was politiek. Jou opvoeding was politiek. Die geskiedenis was politiek. Seks was politiek. Liefde was politiek. Alles, alles, alles. Dit was ’n virus en ons moes onsself gesond lag.

 

“Nou is die wêreld siek van dieselfde siekte, want alles is politiek.”

 

Op die vraag of satire nog funksioneel in Suid-Afrika is, antwoord hy: “Wel, vryheid van spraak is bietjie van ’n boggher, want jy mag alles sê. Hoe meer vryheid jy het, hoe minder gebruik jy dit. Vandag is die wêreld heeltemal mal. Mense soos Donald Trump het ons heeltemal stil gemaak. Ons is te bang om iets te sê, om kommentaar te lewer.

 

“Nou waar is ons dan vandag met humor in Suid-Afrika as niks meer snaaks is nie?” vra hy.

 

“En dit is tog so belangrik om humor byderhand te hou om minder mal te word, want ek dink politiek maak ons heeltemal gek.”

 

Almal wend hulself nou tot sosiale media, en dit help ook glad nie, meen hy.

 

“Op sosiale media is almal koning. Almal is die keiser. Die standaard is om so lelik as moontlik met mekaar te wees. Dit is soos graffiti in ’n toilet — ek wil nie elke dag daarin vaskyk nie. Die internet word deesdae toenemend gebruik vir tydmors.”

 

Satire is egter steeds relevant, glo Pieter. Kritiek is ontsaglik belangrik, maar daar is maniere om dit te doen. Daar is maniere om mense heeltemal doof en blind te maak en hulle te vervreem. Dit help nie. Daar is egter ook maniere om kommentaar te lewer op só ’n manier dat jy mense laat lag en hulle intrek.

 

Satire doesn’t take any prisoners. Ek wou nooit venynig of bitsig wees nie. Miskien is deernis nie iets wat ’n satirikus moet hê nie, maar ons het dit nou baie nodig. Jy het baie mag op ’n verhoog om mense te vernietig, en ek wou dit nie so doen nie. Om iemand te verkleineer en te verneder is nie die moeite werd nie; ek wil net hulle denke uitdaag. Dit is ongelukkig waar party van die komediante en satirikusse gaan – baie mense dink as jy iemand vernietig het jy gewen.”

 

Deernis is belangrik, beklemtoon Pieter. Ons het almal keuses. Probeer eerder ’n verskil maak as wat jy net kwaad word.

 

“Ken jy jou bure? Hoekom nie? Klop aan die deur. Dis Evita (Bezuidenhout) se ding. Klop aan die deur met ’n bak koeksisters en as hulle Moslem is sal hulle vir jou ’n beter resep gee,” lag hy.

 

“Ag en laat daai taxi tog maar voor jou indruk, dit baat jou niks om kwaad daaroor te word nie. Dit maak jou net bitter. Hoe meer kwaad jy word, hoe sieker word jy van binne.”

 

En hoekom doen hy al die jare dit wat hy doen?

 

Die antwoord is eenvoudig.

 

“Dit is my werk. Dit is wat ek doen. Almal doen iets. En ek hou verskriklik baie van wat ek doen. Ek is sedert 1975 unemployed, so ek moet my eie baas wees en my eie werk skep. Solank as wat mense kom, sal ek hier wees.

 

“Ek sê altyd vir kinders as ek by skole omgaan dat jy nooit die werk sal kry wat jy wil hê nie. Jy gaan altyd vir iemand anders moet werk. Wat wil jy met jou lewe doen? Wat is jou droom? Begin vandag daaraan werk. Skep jou eie werk en word vandag jou werk.

 

“En gaan stem. Ek wil hê jongmense moet stem. Daardie stem is die sleutel vir die deur tot jou toekoms. Dit is so belangrik.

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THE ECHO OF A NOISE

– Julian Richfield, Cape Times, 30 November 2018

 

WHETHER or not you saw a performance by Pieter-Dirk Uys in his autobiographical production, The

Echo of a Noise, you will likely relish his new book of the same title.

 

As in the stage version, this is Uys unpowdered — no props, no false eyelashes, no high heels.

 

In his inimitable style, in this memoir, Uys reveals the person behind the persona.

 

The book has many elements in common with its theatre version, but it is a literary work in its own “write”.

 

He explains: “With the stage monologue as its spine, this book emerged from the tsunami of memory, stories, experiences and characters that could not be part of a 90-minute live performance.”

 

With that familiar and loved voice in one’s head as one reads, one meets many of the people who have played major roles in his life.

 

Two take centre stage: his father Hannes, and their fascinating and complex father and son relationship and Ant’ Sannie Bader, his Cape Flats ma who raised him in Pinelands.

 

There’s Uys’s mother, his sister Tessa and the “un-omittable” Sophia Loren too and many more.

 

As impressive and memorable as the theatre production was, The Echo of a Noise the book is more personal, and the reader becomes an audience of one. Pieter-Dirk Uys in writing is as delightful as he is live.

 

The book is a joy to read and is full of glorious black and white photographs from the family album.

 

“I know at last, I have come to know the most difficult character among the 80 or so I have performed on stage in my chorus line of creatures, clowns and criminals. Me.”

 

Dear Pieter-Dirk, thanks for sharing you with us.

 

Power to your pen, your performances and your persona. We are entertained and enriched by them all.

 

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Book Review: The Echo Of A Noise

A Memoir of Then and Now

– Brian Joss, The Gremlin, 28 November 2018

 

There is much more to Pieter-Dirk Uys, one of our ace satirists and playwrights, than the face of Evita Bezuidenhout (who was) the most famous white woman in South Africa, until she was put into mothballs not too long ago. Uys has published two other memoirs, Elections and Erections (2002) focusing on Aids, and Between The Devil and the Deep (2005) which put the spotlight on his theatre career.

 

Uys, who stays in Darling, and owns the train station, Evita se Perron which has been transformed into a theatre and a museum, visited the West Coast  as a child, never dreaming that he would one day settle there. Visiting Boerassic Park, as the museum is called, is like taking a trip back in time with some painful reminders of the dark days of apartheid. Can they be anything else, except dark.

 

In The Echo Of A Noise he unpacks the raison d’être for bringing Evita Bezuidenhout to life and then putting her in quarantine. The creation of Evita Bezuidenhout was an anarchic response to the excesses of the apartheid government and the then Publications Control Board, a panel of Calvinistic judges who banned anything and everything that they deemed harmful to the South African way of life. And Uys was always a thorn in their side. He recounts in detail his long-running battle with grey-suited censors. He beat them in the end by following his father’s advice who joined the control board when Uys challenged him. In those days it was illegal for men to wear women’s clothing, it was considered a crime, and prison was the likely result. Evita got her name from two people, the editor of the Sunday Express, for whom Uys wrote a weekly column where he reflected on the madness of the Information Scandal as it unfolded, and from the musical of the life of Evita Peron of Argentina which had just hit the box office. Uys read her biography and knew that he had a blueprint for Bezuidenhout. The Afrikaans tannie from Pretoria, was able, through the column, to  condemn the National Party in the most gushing terms. Her surname came from a poster for The Seagull starring Aletta Bezuidenhout at the Market Theatre in Joburg. Uys as Evita has had her 15 minutes of fame. However, I suspect, she will be back soon.

 

Uys grew up in Pinelands with his father, Hannes, with whom he had a conflicted relationship, his mother, Helga Basel, his sister Tessa, the child prodigy who is now an internationally renowned pianist, and his “second mother”, Sannie Abader, who worked at Sonskyn, the Uys’s house in Homestead Way. Long after he left home and settled in Darling he invited Sannie to Darling for the weekend and he had planned a full itinerary for her. Two of Uys’s friends fetched her in their Jaguar. However, the weekend didn’t pan out as expected.

 

Uys also remembers the first democratic election: April 27, 1994. On that day, a turning point in the country’s history, he stood in line with Sannie Abader, who was dressed to the nines, and her long-time friend, Ant’ Leen, who in her finery,  looked like the Queen Mother, to cast their vote. In the queue at the polling station Ant’ Leen realised she had forgotten to put in her false teeth and she refused to enter the hall. “Toemaar,” Sannie said, “you can borrow mine.” So Sannie went in to vote and when she came out she surreptitiously slipped her teeth to Ant’ Leen, who went into make her mark. She came out with a wide, toothier smile. She had just voted for the National Party. It was Sannie who had prepared him for that moment, helping him break down barriers of fear and the superiority he took for granted, and helping to feel less white, Uys writes.

 

Basel, Uys’s mother was Jewish and a gifted musician, was officially notified by the Reichsmusikkammer that she may no longer play the piano anywhere in Germany “because she was a Jew”. On the advice of her then fiancé, a geology professor at Berlin University, Franz Michels, not Jewish, she took her Bluther and fled the Nazis to settle at the southern tip of Africa. There is an interesting story too about the piano. It  was only after she committed suicide in Cape Town that the satirist learnt of her ancestry. Uys writes that he regrets not asking Helga about her life when she was still alive. It also shows what can happen when people are treated like the other. Now he enjoys putting it on his CV: “Jewish-Afrikaner, belongs to both chosen people”. Uys also had a matriarchal grandmother , his “Paarlse ouma” and his German Oma, who baked delicious strudel.

 

Uys describes in some detail about his relationship with Hannes and his Kinder-Sang choir. Although his father suspected he was gay, and Uys was called a “moffie” at school they didn’t speak about it except once, when he asked Hannes what a homosexual was. Uys writes very movingly about his father’s last  days, when Sannie moves in to help ease his suffering. Uys finally gets to open the “top drawer” that holds the family legacy and other important documents.

 

The book also includes Uys’s recollections about his time at the London Film School in Covent Garden where he presented his first play, Faces in the Wall, and how he packed his bags to come home after accepting an offer from Bryan Astbury and Yvonne Bryceland to join them in the Space, a non-racial theatre they were starting with Athol Fugard in Cape Town.

 

Uys has walked with kings and queens, presidents and movie stars, among them Greta Garbo and Sophia Loren, the Italian actress with whom he built a long-lasting relationship which endures to this day. Former president Nelson Mandel was a big fan; PW Botha not so much. Uys also has some pithy comments about the present day government. He describes them as careless. They knew what had to be done but they didn’t. “The apartheid government killed people, the ANC government just lets them die. The Thabo Mbeki era left 380 000 people dead of Aids, a victim of his carelessness.  Some 50 million jobless South Africans raise the spectre of a Mad Max scenario,” Uys warns.

 

To fight racism, one has to reflect racism to remind a generation of ‘formers’ that former words used contemptuously to describe others can no longer be used carelessly by anyone, he says.

 

The Echo Of A Noise reflects the highs and lows, the sadness and joys of one of South Africa’s icons, who experienced the jackboot of the National Party government and lived to see the dawn of democracy which hasn’t turned out the way he hoped.

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★★★★  Pieter-Dirk Uys unmasks SA in new memoir

The book gives a complete picture of one of SA’s most relevant commentators who approaches the world with love and not hate.

– Adriaan Roets, The Citizen, 8 November 2018

 

The Mother City’s booming film and television industry is seeing international journalists make set visits to speak to the biggest stars of the small and big screen to get exclusive behind-the-scenes content.

 

I was sitting with a few journalists from Europe and Russia in Cape Town who were interested in the fact that I’m South African and in what I was reading.

 

On the bus, The Echo of a Noise: A Memoir of Then and Now was on my lap.

 

As they peppered me with questions about drought, Lion’s Head, life in South Africa and what books to read to get to know the country and its people, I just pointed down.

 

I had been reading it since that morning and from the first page it struck me as one of the most stripped-down, honest biographies from a local giant.

 

Behind the make-up, the jokes, the doek and outside Luthuli House is a sensitive soul who has worked tirelessly to entertain and educate. And behind the smile it took a toll we never saw. It’s a South African story like no other.

 

Uys lets go of the masks of the likes of Tannie Evita, Bambi or Dr Verwoerd and lets us into the home where he grew up and we see the world through his gaze, a gaze that started questioning the world.

 

We talk about his German heritage, his Afrikaner indoctrination and meet Nelson Mandela with him.

 

The book gives a complete picture of one of SA’s most relevant commentators who approaches the world with love and not hate, telling stories that give international readers a deft, heartfelt and level-headed view of the beloved country.

 

Uys is witty as he recalls interactions with people like Mandela, his strict dad and the people he grew up with.

 

His relationship with his father, his relationship with the stage and his relationship with SA is vivid, beautiful and, at times, sad. It is further brought to life by pictures from Uys’ own photo albums.

 

I hope those journalists read it and learn about one of SA’s biggest stars, because it’s a journey that stays in your mind as you ponder your own place on the tip of Africa.

 

 

The Echo of a Noise: A Memoir of Then and Now

Memoir

Rating: ★★★★

Author: Pieter-Dirk Uys

ISBN: 9780624086918

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Pieter Dirk Uys on discovering his Jewish roots

– Moira Schneider, South African Jewish Report, 25 October 2018

 

When apartheid ended in 1990, Pieter-Dirk Uys thought his career was over. But with the wealth of satirical material presenting itself on an almost daily basis, is he ever going to retire?

 

“I can’t spell the word,” he answers simply.

 

Uys was speaking to the SA Jewish Report on the eve of the launch of his book, The Echo of a Noise: A Memoir of Then and Now.

 

Uys has been a performer since his early childhood, from singing at weddings and in his father’s children’s choir and, he adds, “playing the piano very badly”.

 

Originally, he wanted to be a teacher and completed the first year of his degree, but a trip to Europe, “a life-changing experience”, put paid to those ambitions. “When I went back to my second year, I saw a very glamorous lady in the canteen with a beret and sunglasses and a long cigarette-holder and I thought, ‘Gosh, that’s quite nice!’ I said, ‘What do you do?’

 

“She said, ‘I’m an actress.’ So, I went with her to drama school, and then she said, ‘Why don’t you sign up?’, and I did!”

 

The book, he says, is about the small signposts in his life, of which this incident is but one.

 

The greatest denials in his history are the truths about his mother — her life remains shrouded in mystery. Uys did not know until after her suicide in 1969 that Helga Bassel was, in fact, Jewish, though he says he sensed it.

 

“I think it’s in your soul — your soul has fingerprints,” he surmises.

 

Her paternal grandfather was a rabbi in Hungary, and the accomplished pianist had left Nazi Germany in 1937 — accompanied by her Blüthner piano. “There was no discussion. When we were children, nobody said to us that six million people were murdered by the Nazis.

 

“It was only after I left school that I realised there was far more to it,” he recalls. But, still, he is tormented by the fact that he didn’t ask more questions, both of his mother growing up and of his father after her death.

 

“I know more about Sophia Loren’s family than my own,” he says wistfully, referring to a pen friendship that has spanned over 50 years.

 

All his mother spoke of was the “laughter, music, and happiness” of the Berlin of her youth. Even when her best friend from those days turned up at the Uys home in Pinelands with numbers tattooed on her wrist, there was no explanation.

 

“Is that a telephone number?” I asked. She laughed, and ruffled my blonde hair.

 

“Why don’t you call it, and see who answers?” My first hint of that concentration camp hell — with humour, writes Uys.

 

“There was no discussion about anything that would have terrified [his sister] Tessa and me,” he reflects.

 

One of the things his mother brought with her was the telephone book from 1936, he relates. “There was a hole in the cardboard cover where she had cut out the swastika.

 

“Tessie took it to London, and to this day, there are people who come and look up their families who were killed. But again, that wasn't something we talked about when my mother was alive — it was just there,” he says.

 

Uys relates in the book how he loved going to his Jewish schoolfriends’ homes, how he loved the food, and fell in love with their mothers. His first female character, Nowell Fine, is in fact a composite of some of the 70s kugels.

 

“[Family friends] Charles and Lucy Kreitzer [like Uys’s parents] were musicians, and their children were our best friends — we loved them.

 

“They lived in Sea Point, and we used to love going there because the food was fantastic and there was just such fun! There was much more fun in Jewish families than in Afrikaans families — a lovely camaraderie which we found extremely exciting.”

 

In his book, Uys relates a particularly poignant incident when his sister, today an internationally renowned concert pianist, was being driven to a music eisteddfod. She had said to her mother that her best friend would win the medal.

 

“She’s so musical because she’s Jewish. Oh, I wish I was Jewish!” Tessa had said. “Ma just gave her little skew smile, and said nothing,” writes Uys.

 

“It was protection,” he now says, “of herself, but also of us. I was called names all my life. I was called a Nazi at school because I had a German mother, a Boer because I had an Afrikaans father, a moffie because I sang in a choir, so I think one tried to be very careful not to open oneself up to more.”

 

Did his mother’s denial of her roots and submerging them in a new life contribute to her bipolar disorder, I ask Uys. “Oh I’m sure,” he replies.

 

“Leaving your culture, your life… in the two years before her death, I think there were four of her friends that also committed suicide, friends who had left Germany. But I’m very careful not to speculate, I don’t want to put reasons to any action,” he adds cautiously.

 

Uys loves going back to Berlin, his mother's birthplace, and he and Tessa both perform at the Jewish Museum there using his mom’s piano that found its way back several years ago.

 

“It’s been a wonderful journey of discovery and rediscovery and reinvention,” he reflects.

 

Uys performed in Tel Aviv in 1990 doing Nowell Fine. When I ask how the character was received in a different milieu, he shoots back, “They were all there in the audience!

 

“Now, when I travel, most of my kugel audiences are there, they’re not here anymore. The only kugels here are the black ones, who also sound like that,” says Uys, launching into a raucous nasal rendition of “Howzit doll?!”

 

•     Uys is staging a rerun of “When In Doubt Say Darling” at The Fugard Theatre in Cape Town from 27 November to 15 December.

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Unpowdered, intimate, poignant, and funny, of course!

THE ECHO OF A NOISE: a Memoir of Then and Now by Pieter-Dirk Uys. Published by Tafelberg, Cape Town, 2018

–  Myrna Robins, 22 October 2018  

 

Is it perhaps because he has reached 70, that his writing — while still witty and pithy — has softened, sharing more of his persona? It took only a couple of chapters before I felt I really knew the little boy living in Pinelands, going to school, desperate to join the others wearing long pants, constantly in a state of skirmish with his unbending father.

 

The role of Sannie Abader, the Cape Malay housekeeper who ruled the Uys kitchen and doubled as a mother and friend to Pieter-Dirk, a situation replicated in so many South African domestic households during the middle of the 20th century.

 

For someone a few years older, who also grew up in southern suburban Cape Town with live-in maids, politically aware parents who were anti-Nat but fairly conservative followers of De Villiers Graaff, the world was white indeed.

 

This very human slice of his childhood and early career, his first trip to Europe and to Sophia Loren’s house makes enchanting reading. His student years at UCT Drama school and antics outside of it , another trip to Europe then back in Cape Town to work at the Space theatre and spend time annoying the inspectors of the Publications Control Board follows . In 1981 he performed the first of his one-man shows. As he remarks, 35 years later he is still writing, presenting and performing them...

 

Decades after the death of his parents, he regrets having not asked them more questions, particularly about his mother’s background. Scenarios  like this that resonate with so many of us. Today P-D still churns out so many words using, of course, Windows 10. But always, next to his laptop sits his mother’s portable Underwood typewriter in its battered box, which she brought to South Africa in 1937.

 

As the back cover of this softback tells us “This is Pieter-Dirk Uys unpowdered. No props, no false eyelashes, no high heels...” Indeed. His first two memoirs, Elections and Erections published in 2002 and Between the Devil and the Deep in 2005 were great reads, but in this title I felt I really got to know something of the complex, talented person that he is, perhaps underlined with vivid memories of a matinee at Evita se Perron one spring weekend last year, where he was as brilliant as ever but looking, I thought, tired.

 

Does he ever get tired? The text finishes with a short biography followed by a list of his plays, revues, novels, memoirs, cookbooks and documentaries, feature films and television specials. Looking at that impressive list, one concludes that he cannot ever find time to be tired.

 

Illustrated with a fascinating collection of black and white photographs, ranging from babyhood to the present, a diverse family album that greatly enhances his prose.

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