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i'm stephen sackur. leaders who routinely abuse their power can't stand to be laughed at. satire is a potent political weapon, and that is a truth my guest today has exploited for a0 years. pieter—dirk uys styles himself as the most famous white woman in south africa, thanks to his alter ego, auntie evita — a character he created to poke fun at the white afrikaner establishment during the apartheid era, and which he now uses to lampoon jacob zuma and the anc, but are there are dangers in playing south africa's recent history for laughs? pieter—dirk uys, welcome to hardtalk.
thank you. you've made a career and a life out of humour, pretty subversive humour. but would you say you're fundamentally driven by anger, or is it something else? i think anger is a very important motivation, after all these years, and especially in the beginning when i was very quiet and very scared of opinion, because most of it was illegal. so actually i try to keep a balance of 49% anger, 51% entertainment, not the other way around. and what about another word — sympathy? when you target people, and we will talk, through the course of your life, about the targets you have picked upon — whether it be white or, in the more recent past, black — leaders of your country,
is there any sympathy at all within you? there has to be some compassion, even if they are not on my side, or vice versa. like pw botha, there by the grace of god. and there are some i don't do — i find them just offensive and i don't do them. they become one—line gags. some of them only deserve one line, like eugene terre‘blanche, who was the neo—nazi leader. but you're saying actually there are some people i won't laugh at, because it is not funny? orjust because it is too serious? well, no — i find things for people to laugh at by commenting on them, but doing them as characters. i sometimes find... for example, manto tshabalala—msimang, the minister of health during thabo mbeki's denials against hiv, when she came out with all those beetroots, african potatoes and garlic. i remember, yeah. now that in itself was absurd and obscene, but to do her with one of the sort knitted hair wigs, and to talk like that... affects accent i find it very uncomfortable, i don't feel right doing that.
there, i cross the red line of racism. let us begin in a sense by going back. you come from a sort of classic afrikaans family, brought up in the apartheid system. it seems to me something important must have happened to you to turn you into that young subversive, a young man who actually wanted to mock the system that you were actually, that your family was actually very much a part of. one of your cousins had been a national party prime minister... the first national party prime minister, dr df malan, yeah. an architect, yeah. it was the theatre — it was eventually going to university, having been through the white education, white school, afrikaans calvinist church — god was white. my mother, she committed suicide, which i think was a very important wake—up call for me as well. you ended up in theatre, acting and working alongside black south africans.
which must have been another way in which you started questioning the assumptions of your people? yes, this definitely happened at the uct drama department, at the little theatre. the uct was allowed token people of colour. that is the university of cape town? yeah. we had two — a black man and a young mixed—race coloured man, both my age — in the class. and there we did scenes together, as brothers, scenes together as all these dramas, and touched, and shouted, and called names. and it was ibsen, and brecht, and when we left the drama school we couldn't go anywhere together — it was against the law. we couldn't have a drink, we couldn't go and drink tea, or have meals, or sleep together. now, sex made a big difference for me, because i broke the law of actually having sex with somebody who was not only a male but also somebody who was not white, so i broke the law in two places. and i think through that instinctive survival,
i could answer that question now. it took me many years to be able to answer that question. well, that is a fundamental question and it leads me then to the discussion of this wonderful creation of yours, which has in a sense defined your career, and that is this marvellous lady, evita bezuidenhout. that's right, bezuidenhout. and i even managed to pronounce it almost correctly. you did! she is this sort of wonderful afrikaans woman, obviously creation — you're in drag. what is the point of her? why did you create her? i think one of the things i enjoyed doing at drama school was make—up, because it could change one's face. then, when i started writing plays, the plays were banned by the censor board, and i had to find another way of earning money, so my cat could be fed, and then i thought pw botha, who gave me the first title to my one—man show — "south africa, you must adapt or die," and adapt or die
was the first show. six months before that i had a little column in a sunday newspaper, which a friend of mine gave me, which i thought was great. "give us a hundred words every week on your look at where we are in the politics," and i thought one of the things i wanted to do is i wanted to have a female voice. i'm going to create this afrikaans lady, who at a party in pretoria can say, "scotty, have you heard what's happening ? " during the information scandal — this was during the late ‘70s, withjohn vorster. then when i did my first one—man show, adapt or die, i thought i would do this woman called evita. in fact, the editor said to me, "why is it possible that you can say things in your column through her mouth that i'm not allowed to put on the front page?" she had a husband who was a national party mp. i think she took a bizarre job as the sort of ambassador to one of these so—called bantustans... yes, the black homeland of bapetikosweti — we created that in 1981. and she became the ambassador.
and all of this was in essence poking fun at this horrible — but also in some ways laughable — system of organised racism which was apartheid... yes, but knowing that my white audience didn't actually think that they were doing anything wrong — it was their survival. they were so frightened of the black terror, of being massacred by black people, that they thought apartheid was the only way to survive, so the hypocrisy behind the christian, relatively well—educated and probably quite decent society that were allowing these things to happen, that was the basis to evita, because evita would condemn with faint praise. did you, even from those early days in the ‘80s, find that you were building a black audience for evita? yes, we were building a black audience illegally, because it wasn't allowed to have black and white people in the venue together. the first place i worked in was the space theatre in cape town, which was an unracial theatre, meaning we had broke
the laws — many laws — and then the market theatre injohannesburg, where eventually the government eventually gave up on that law and allowed black and white people to sit in the theatre together. so people would come illegally. white people would be sitting there when the lights were on, and then as the lights went down the black people, who were sort of... not in the foyer, they would slip in. and i would just say to them, "don't laugh, don't smile, because we will see the whites of your teeth, and you'll be arrested," so the sense of humour was terribly important against the reality of me as a white afrikaner making fun of apartheid, knowing that if i had been a black south african i would not be alive. we know that some very prominent leaders of the anti—apartheid movement were watching those videos, because it later turned out that nelson mandela himself, in robben island, had been a fan of yours. and let's get our first look now at evita herself, and in the most iconic circumstances — perhaps one of the most memorable times of your life —
actually interviewing mandela just months after he was released “119911. let's play this little video clip, and give everybody an idea of evita bezuidenhout. we were very scared in the old days, as you'll probably remember. afrikaners like me were frightened that when black south africans would take control of south africa, all the old symbols, the old paintings, the old stinkwood furniture, would be removed, and we are so happy to see that everything is still here. minorities are entitled to be concerned about the type of changes that have taken place in our country. the task of the government and the anc leadership would be to assure the whites that change would not mean a reversal of the position where blacks will now oppress the white minority and the other minorities, and i think that we have succeeded, we are succeeding, in addressing their fears. i mean, what is beautiful
about that is that mandela appears to be taking you so seriously as evita. very seriously. when we sat down, i was ready with everything, which is frightening when a film crew waits. it is like waiting for the death warrant, the death sentence, to happen, and we could hear his voice down the passage. affects accent he walked in, he came round, he saw evita, and he said, "oh, evita, you look so beautiful!" he sat down, and ijust said to him, "president mandela, thank you so much for allowing us this 30 minutes to do a 30—minute interview. he said, "no, pieter, i want to be on evita's show because i've got important things to say and nobody watches the news." and he actually used this programme to give a new year message to the people of south africa in which he said, "i want to talk to the police, and say to you, i am on your side." three orfour policemen were dying every day, because three armies had to become one, so he used this nonsense programme to actually reach the policemen who didn't watch
the news because their colleagues died on the news. but the thing is even as we are talking about mandela you have that twinkle in your eye. you clearly loved the man, and revered him, to a certain extent, and ijust wonder whether that was sort of the moment, the liberation moment, when mandela walked out of prison and, you know, the anc triumph in the election and liberation has happened, the moment your satire really died because, you know, you had been poking fun at the oppressors, and the oppressors were finished? i was bereft of bothas — i had no more bothas left — and there was nelson mandela. eventually, the anc found me, after two years of really truly celebrating the fact that the party i had voted for was the government, and i suddenly realised, hang on, things are going wrong here. there is an arrogant happening and it became very similar to what i saw in the national party. did you ever mock mandela himself? while he was there, yes.
usually through evita... i found it very difficult to do him. it took me a long time to find his voice. you know, it is a cross between donald duck and a hadida bird... squawks but evita would say, with this wonderful audience at some of his fundraisers for his foundation — bill clinton, oprah winfrey... and she would say," oh, president mandela, so wonderful to see you here, and, oh, my goodness, i never knew why you were injail — i thought you'd stolen a car!" he was a great audience, and a few years before he really left the world i had coffee with him, and it was the most important performance of my life. i sat and entertained him for half an hour, and hejust needed popcorn. the biggest criticism of you actually i think probably comes from people inside the white community, leftists — committed leftists, anti—apartheid strugglers — who look at your work and can say, "you know what, yeah, he sort of gently mocked the leadership of the national party, and the afrikaner elite, but he didn't ever go for the jugular."
i agree with that criticism, and that is why i say to many people i am not a satirist, because i do not kill, i do not destroy, and we had a very brilliant satirist called robert kirby in south africa. i think in fact robert kirby was one of those people. oh, he was, and he hated what i did. and he criticised me with such brilliance that it sounded like a rave review. i loved his venom, but he was brutal. and i just felt that that was... it didn't fit in with the need to keep the balance. again, let me just say that i also made fun of the white liberals, and they also found that uncomfortable. i'm just actually looking at a quote from kirby, who said, you know, the problem is that you turn these guys like botha into something avuncular, a bit lovable, instead of — and this is the key point of his — instead of the horrible lethal fascists that they actually were. now if you accept... that is a very fair criticism.
it is a very fair criticism. i did not turn them into the hitlers, i didn't turn them into the hitlers. i turned them into the idiots that they were. the obscenity of what we took for granted — the group areas act, the population registration act, where every year helen suzman would ask the question, how many south africans were reclassified? so every time that came out 125 coloureds became white, seven whites became indian, three indians became malay, four malay became chinese — the obscenity of that nonsense made people laugh, but then they would stop laughing when they realised that this was not a joke. here is something sensitive, and you have alluded to it in this interview already, how you as a white afrikaner man, albeit playing a woman, begin to be really quite sharp with the black post—liberation leadership without opening yourself up to the accusation of racism. very interesting question, and very difficult to answer it
just with one answer, because there are four or five. but i'll tell you the most important thing for me is my total discomfort and loathing of anything racist. i did fight it without actually realising that i was fighting it. evita is now a member of the african national congress. i have to put her into the armpit of power. laughter shejoined, did she? she did join, because her black grandchildren — her daughter married a black man because, i mean... do white south africans like this rubbish that you are creating? they do, and now this is the important thing — rubbish is a very important word here, because evita represents so much of the white south african prejudice and fear. she is — evita — she is the queen mother, who is suddenly now speaking xhosa with her grandchildren. and she says, "they're not black, they're not white — they're a barack obama beige." laughter and she says they've challenged her. what is she going to do protect democracy? well, let's look at modern—day evita then. oh, yes. we've got a rather wonderful clip here of evita's free speech. she does a thing every sunday — she addresses the nation having read the sunday papers.
this one, she is actually considering the mindset of afrikaner whites in south africa today, so let's have a listen... are we whites never going to realise that we actually got away with apartheid ? nothing happened to us! there was no nuremberg trial, none of us was hung like saddam hussein for crimes against humanity, nelson rolihlahla mandela came out of 27 years in darkness and gave us light, and eskom gave up. so enough of this white noise. i mean it is absolutely ridiculous — everybody is always complaining, complaining. stop complaining — we are the luckiest people in the world! you know how blessed we whites are in the 21st year of our democracy? we are totally irrelevant! laughter i love lots of things about that, not least the caption — the most famous white woman in south africa. evita doesn't sort of hide her light under a bushel, does she?
no, because winnie mandela is the most famous black woman in south africa. let's stick with this idea about the sophisticated way in which you're playing with the space you've in south africa. the space you've got today in the country may well be getting narrower again. i mean, there are lots of people concerned about the degree to which the current leadership — jacob zuma and the people around him — are compressing freedom of speech, making a free media more difficult. and you have taken on zuma, but zuma fights back. he accuses those who mock him of racism. yes, yes. how comfortable are you with your attacks on zuma? well, my attack of zuma is a puppet — i have a little zuma puppet based on a zapiro cartoon, which is wonderful, with a shower head with the thing that you press and all the water comes out because, you know, he said famously that after unprotected sex with a woman who was hiv positive he had a shower, and he didn't use condoms. i do remember that, and in fact it raises the point that one
of the subjects upon which you have been fiercest in your critique of the post—liberation black leadership is on this issue of their response to hiv aids in south africa. you really went after thabo mbeki when he said he didn't believe hiv aids could be spread by sexual intercourse, and he also was extremely slow to believe in the power of anti—retroviral drugs. then i called apartheid the first virus, and hiv the second virus. i said, we got away with the first virus. but the second virus, really and truly, in the days when i started and i used to go to schools, as many schools as i could, because i had this fantasy that children had not been exposed to sex. that's not true — they have sex at the age of ten. and the denials, because of my fear — it was purely selfish, i was so frightened of aids. i mean, my lifestyle was... because, frankly, you could have contracted it yourself. absolutely, and i had buried some of my best friends who died of it. but here's a quote from you. again, i am interested in the way
in which this became so personal and so important to you that you sort of suspended satire and just went for plain outright profound critique. you said, "once upon a time, not so long ago, we had an apartheid regime in south africa that killed people. now we have a democratic government that simply lets them die." yes, 380,000 funerals later. they did not need to die if they had the information. you're saying in essence that people like mbeki had the blood of thousands on their hands. i do, and i hope everybody will remember it for a long time. my hope was also that he and his minister of health would go to the hague, because genocide will never happen like we remember it through auschwitz, or even through rwanda and burundi, but frankly if you don't tell people how to save their lives they will die, and it is the same thing. i mean this in the most non—flippant manner, but you're not being funny anymore. no. what i mean is you don'tjust see yourself as a satirist and a comic — sometimes things are too
serious for that. i think the satire is my weapon of mass distraction. people don't expect to remember what they laughed at. when i am confronting families and people who haven't got the information to understand what i'm saying, i have to simplify my attack and my humour, but when it comes to the fact that in a democracy we have a democratically elected government, as we have today, of great history — and i use the word careless, which i think is the most terrible word to use for a democratically elected government. they knew what to do but they thought, "to hell with it — i'm not going to do it." let's introduce a final clip, when we are now talking about the democratically elected government that south africa has today, and this is you — and we have talked about the fine line you tread — this is you taking on zuma and the inadequacies, as auntie evita sees it, of zuma's political performance. this is auntie evita talking
about zuma responding to opposition questions in the south african parliament. i don't know ifjacob zuma was laughing at the eff, but every time he giggled every mp in the anc laughed. of course they have to laugh — if they don't laugh they lose their jobs. now, i don't know why the president was laughing. he actually said, "i don't know how to stop this laughter," and then he said, "is it hurting ? " and i thought, laughter isn't hurtful. although i must say drugs and corruption, rape, murder and the economy are not actually funny. there we go again. things so serious they are not actually funny. ijust want to end this interview by having you reflect your personal journey and the country's journey over a generation and more. you say, and this is something that really struck me, apartheid won't come back
under its own name, but it will be back. it won't be any more the segregation of colour because we've done that, but it might be the segregation of education, the segregation of language or the segregation of tradition. is south africa reverting back to a society of segregation? the danger of an uneducated society following a leader who says black is more important than coloured, mixed—race coloured, or indian or white is there. it started with mbeki — he started calling black people africans, but the rest of us were coloured, indian or white, and i thought that was a very subtle way of dividing to rule. and ijust feel it's very important for us to realise that, yes, apartheid, which i think was horrendous in every single way, won't come back as it was then, but i look at europe today with the muslim problem, and evita's next onslaught is to come to the united kingdom
and to europe and to say, "look, i've got some laws here that you can buy from me — you just take out black and white and put in muslim and you can control them." and we controlled people for 46 years, but mandela saved our lives. i never thought we'd get away with that. i thought we would end up in the most terrible bloody revolution, and that is why today i keep on saying to people, we are in a far better place. i am an optimist about the future. i think we have a very badly structured government, very weak leadership, but an extraordinary society. still a majority of black people who could have put me against a wall and shot me for what i was responsible for — which i was, as a white — but didn't. desmond tutu to this day, staying with us, and i keep saying to him, "don't fly away — we need you." "0h!" mimics laugh i love that! i give constant reminders to my audience to just google once in a while. google weimar republic, then google adolf hitler in 1929.
pieter—dirk uys, thank you so much for being on hardtalk. thank you. thank you very much indeed. good morning. london may not have been the sunniest place across the country yesterday, but it was the warmest with highs ofjust over 23 degrees. i expect over the next couple of days, the south—east will get warm, if not hot, as we drag warm air in from the near continent. this slow—moving weather front will bring a contrast to the far north
and west. it will be a mild start for all, some mist around, especially close to the coast. that weather front is a slow—moving affairand weather front is a slow—moving affair and will bring rain into northern ireland and scotland, lingering for much of the day. cloud, largely dry, and more in the way of sunshine across the extreme self. despite some afternoon cloud into the south—west part of wales, temperatures 18—22d, reasonable. highs of 25 widely in the south—east corner, and stretching into the north of england. a different day for the north west, in the lake district, isle of man, northern ireland and western scotland. here it stays cloudy and wet for match of the day with a scattering of showers into the far north—east as well. —— much of the day. this conveyor belt of rain sitting across the irish sea, affecting the western fringes of wales. to the south and east, it
days sticky overnight. a milder feel with widely mid teens across the country. it means that on friday, we gradually start to see change. a level of uncertainty as to how quickly that weather front moves eastwards. hopefully improving through scotland through the day. the front sitting on the spine of the country by mid—afternoon. it stays very warm, if not hot, in the south—east. 27 degrees, much fresher condition is beginning to follow behind. that is the general theme as we move into the weekend. significant thunderstorms are likely across the near continent but the wind direction moves to a fresher westerly feel. a good deal of dry weather with a scattering of showers for the weekend, but look at the difference. 16—17 in the north—west, highs of 22 in the south—east corner. on sunday, a similar story. fresh with a scatter of showers and
a touch of breeze. in case you don't have the message, this is the story for the weekend. a scattering of showers and a fresh feel for all. take care. this is newsday. old leaders condemned the attack in kabul, the afghan president calls it a crime against humanity. i warm handshake for the chinese premier noes visit to germany but is this a shifting global alliances? in singapore. the sri lankan government promised to improve building laws after the death toll rises above 200. nasa sets its sights on the sun. plans are under way for the space agency to fly a probe into the stars fiery atmosphere.