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Pieter-Dirk Uys

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Don’t cry for me Tannie Skattie — a point of view from Pieter-Dirk Uys

– Pieter-Dirk Uys, Cape Times, 23 June 2017

 

It was a time of scandal and corruption. The highest in the land were suspected of criminal actions beyond their accepted political policies.

 

Millions upon millions of state funds were being secretly diverted into illegal operations. A few chosen families were allowed into the inner sanctum of power, manipulating contracts and tenders for their own benefits.

 

The public were left in the dark even though the samizdat of underground communication was spreading the news far and wide. State capture was complete and so securely established that a solution was virtually unthinkable.

Tell a friend

 

It was 1978 and South Africa was stranded in its separate developments.

 

Back then, to hint at the happenings even in jest was not only illegal, it was impossible. Nothing was funny about apartheid.

 

The small white audiences who ventured into fringe theatres to be entertained with absurd and obscene politics, had very little real knowledge of the essence of the satire. Censorship was everywhere. State radio was controlled and 90% of the local facts were fabricated to enshrine government opinion.

 

Television had just started and that evil little box was hemmed in by countless rules, confusing regulations and dour committees of Broeders on their moral high ground.

 

Political plays were easily banned on grounds of obscenity and blasphemy. It was also illegal to wear women’s clothing. And so it was inevitable that a little star from Bethlehem shone brightly. And an unexpected legend was born in that Free State town.

 

She had no name to start with. I had been given a weekly column in the Sunday Express — 100 words reflecting the madness of our political minefields at R1 a word (maybe that hasn't changed either?).

 

It was also the era of the so-called Information Scandal, where government policy had been exposed as naked corruption. Ministers were exploiting their fiefdoms of power like the demon warriors of Marvel comic-culture. How to expose these bizarre doings in a satirical and entertaining way, and survive to cash the cheque was the question.

 

Once a month, in those 100 words, an invented tannie would be at the Waterkloof party and whisper sweet nothings with a smile.

 

All the little details of sies and siestog burbled out of her reddened mouth, straight into the column, bouncing into the minds of the readers and entering the public domain.

 

Eventually, the editor of the newspaper enviously asked how all that lethal gossip could appear in the column, things he dare not even hint at in an editorial. "All from the mouth of that Evita of Pretoria," he declared, giving her a name that would stick for decades.

 

And so, after a year of 12 Sundays in the public eye, this woman could be focused on as a flesh-and-Velcro character in my first satirical revue, Adapt or Dye. She started the evening dressed like a boere tannie, with big picture hat and matching bag, bra and broad smile. She was the wife of a Nationalist MP and so condemned her white government with sweet, faint praise.

 

Her appearances should have only lasted the three weeks of the revue's run. But she had appeared at the right time. 1981: people in opposition politics and the media were tired of just the joke. They wanted the danger; to laugh at their fear and confront it with ownership. Even her surname was a flippant answer to the question from a journalist.

 

Does this Tannie Evita have a surname? I saw a poster on the theatre wall advertising a play starring the actress Aletta Bezuidenhout. ‘Bezuidenhout!’ I said confidently. This Evita of Pretoria now had a surname (and I don't think Aletta will ever forgive me). Evita survived the short run of a fringe revue and became known as “the most famous white woman in South Africa”. She straddled the diplomatic world as the South African Ambassador to the Black Homeland Republic of Bapetikosweti. She adapted after April 27, 1994 and did not die. She cooked for Nelson Mandela, and today she is doing the same for the ANC comrades in Luthuli House.

 

2017: It is a time of scandal and corruption. The highest in the land are suspected of criminal actions beyond their accepted political policies. Billions upon billions of state funds are being secretly diverted in corruption.

 

A chosen family is allowed into the inner sanctum of power, manipulating contracts and tenders for its own benefit. The public is left in the dark, even though the samizdat of social media is spreading the news far and wide.

 

State capture is complete and so securely established that a solution is virtually unthinkable. And Evita Bezuidenhout is still there, no longer a doyenne in the National Party, but now undoubtedly the most famous white woman in Luthuli House, ironically in the same position as she was during the apartheid era.

 

As a member of the ANC she is part of the problem, and yet only as such can she hint at the solution through her sweet condemnations of faint praise.

 

She has been a constant in the lives of most South Africans under the age of 60, reflecting their long tiptoe to freedom through the minefields of apartheid, then across the rolling lawns of the Mandela Mar-a-Lago of reconciliation and now into the dark age of the Zumas.

 

Maybe once again, as in those other dark days, the clown can dance where victims fear to tread. This legend in her own lunchtime, this icon who still is seen as an aikona, this woman who actually doesn't exist?

 

But that doesn’t mean she's not real. Maybe the next president of South Africa, instead of appointing Ms Bezuidenhout as the SA Ambassador to Mongolia, will allow Comrade Evita to stay in her Luthuli House kitchen and from there start to clean the political sandbox of power, a very messy, smelly, dirty reality, after all those fat cats had the Saxonwold Diarrhea for far too long.

 

Theatre on the Bay presents Evita Bezuidenhout & the Kaktus of Separate Development from June 22 to July 1 / Pieter-Dirk Uys in his one-man memoir The Echo of a Noise July 4-15 / book at Computicket

 

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