Pieter-Dirk Uys: Five reasons I don't miss the Nats
From giving the world Bothas like PW Botha and Pik Botha to putting words into his mouth, Pieter-Dirk Uys recalls why he doesn't miss the Nats.
Corruption, carelessness, nepotism, rotten service delivery, arrogance, lies, racism. Today those words have meaning and topicality.
From 1948 to 1994, they were all covered by one word: policy. It seems an easy solution to blame them all on apartheid. Twenty years after the advent of democracy, to blame the "mock" in democracy and the "con" in reconciliation on apart-hate is like in the 1960s blaming the miniskirt on Adolf Hitler.
On April 27 1994, millions of South Africans queued up to vote for the very first time. At the age of 49 and for the very first time in my life, I was allowed to stand in a line with anyone, regardless of colour, creed, background or race. Life for me started at 50 when I found myself without a job.
Since the early 1970s, I have been "officially" unemployed. The moral guardians of ons volk (our people), the Publications Control Board, decided that an Afrikaner called Pieter-Dirk Uys would no longer be allowed to put pen to paper and make statements that were "blasphemous, obscene", as well as "bringing the racial groups of South Africa in[to] disharmony with one another". Four plays banned in one year.
Luckily it soon became clear that those powerful Broeders were mainly old farts who knew their arses from their elbows. They even corrected my spelling! "Meneer Uys, u spel 'fok' met 'n F en nie 'n V nie." (Mr Uys, you spell 'fok' with an F and not a V.)
I had stumbled into a paradise of inspiration through desperation. Until the laager opened its barred windows to our Arab Spring of 1990, I was blessed with the best scriptwriters in the world. The National Party never let me down. Besides the absurd horrors of the system of separate development, the Nats gave me the homeland fiasco where you could cross borders into foreign lands to gamble, see porn and sleep with the maid. And you didn't need a visa, just a Visa card.
The Nats gave me all those Bothas: PW Botha, Pik Botha, Fanie Botha and Bothalezi. There was Tannie Betsie Verwoerd, Tannie Tini Vorster, Tannie Elize Botha. Tannie Evita Bezuidenhout was inevitable. All I had to do was just follow the leader with his finger and his tongue.
The Nats gave me a career and an audience. They put the words into my mouth. I couldn't have made it up if I tried. That's why for all those years I didn't pay taxes; I paid royalties. As a majority sat beyond the fences, silenced by fear, laws and brutality, it was essential to find ways to draw attention to the injustice, disguised as fluff and fun. Even breaking those laws by smuggling the banned ANC colours on to a stage became a trophy. Putting the black, green and gold together was seen as a subversive statement. You were a terrorist. Take away the black – and you were a Springbok.
On the morning of May 10 1994, I looked from the Voortrekker Monument towards the Union Buildings and saw a new sunrise. Nelson Mandela was being inaugurated on the spot where Hendrik Verwoerd had been canonised after his assassination. How could I now make fun of Mandela? It would be like doing Mother Theresa with a dildo!
But his sense of humour showed me the light at the end of a new tunnel. Freedom of speech, freedom of expression, freedom of choice! I have been working harder than ever in our new South Africa. History doesn't repeat itself and turn tragedy into farce; history just rhymes – from apartheid to tripartite. Some politicians are like monkeys: the higher they climb the pole of ambition, the more of their arses we can see.
So here are the five reasons why I don't miss the Nats.
• The politicians in our present government are just as good at writing my material.
• The brutal, obvious way the Nats destroyed hope has been replaced by a subtle, democratically accepted way of subverting democracy.
• I look at the opening of Parliament today and see the same glorious fashions that made my wardrobe so typical during the Botha years – tannies in glitter and gold, hats and handbags, wide bummed and heftily bosomed.
• Die leier (the leader) then just stood there with a hat on and wagged his finger. Today, Number One wears beads, skins and takkies, dances, sings and demands an umshini wam. He marries copiously and showers me with inspiration.
• I don't miss the Nats. They haven't gone. I see and smell them everywhere. In the ANC, the Democratic Alliance, Economic Freedom Fighters, Agang, Congress of the People, United Democratic Movement, Freedom Front Plus (why does that sound like a condom brand?) and Inkatha – all part of the national democratic noise.
'An Audience with Pieter-Dirk Eish', on at the Lyric Theatre 28 and 29th March at 8:30 pm; 'Adapt or Fly' at the Theatre on the Bay in Cape Town 7-19 April. Tickets at Computicket.