The quaint little village of Darling, more or less an hour’s drive north of Cape Town off the R27, and midway between Yzerfontein and Malmesbury, is the home of South Africa’s most famous White lady: Evita Bezuidenhout.
She lives and performs at a most unusual theatrical venue: Darling’s old railway station, which has been lovingly converted into a delightful theatre and restaurant complex known as Evita se Perron. (The Afrikaans word for station platform is ‘Perron’, but yes, it is also an allusion to another Evita – Eva Perón, the First Lady of Argentina until her death in 1952).
Tannie Evita (‘Tannie‘ is the Afrikaans word for ‘Auntie’) – as she is lovingly known – is the most well-known alter ego of satirist, comedian and social commentator Pieter-Dirk Uys.
PD Uys is an unashamedly outspoken critic of South African politicians across the entire spectrum from left to right. In his shows, he usually traces our difficult and chequered past, from the beginnings of apartheid, through the worst decades of racial oppression and discrimination, and to the numerous problems faced by our budding democracy, such as the spread of corruption, nepotism, crime, poverty, and HIV/AIDS.
In addition to appearing as Tannie Evita, complete with dress, high heels, make-up and big-haired wig (this transformation is the highlight of each show), PD Uys impersonates a whole host of South African politicians.
He does so with the consummate ease that comes from decades of close observation and dedicated practice, changing personalities by putting on a hat, a ‘doekie’, some make-up, a moustache, glasses, a handbag, a dress… He brings these characters to life by mimicking their accents, their ways of speaking and their gestural mannerisms, creating instantly recognisable caricatures. Amazingly, seeing these familiar figures portrayed on stage also transports one emotionally right back to those awful days of all-pervasive fear and oppressiveness.
But his shows are not just about playing dress-up and poking fun at politicians, who – let’s face it – are easy targets.
I like to think of him as the voice of our collective conscience.
He reminds us where we have come from, eerily reawakening the ghosts of the past, and he uses humour, tinged with irreverent, provocative and hard-hitting satire, to shine the light on the problems that beset our beloved country right now. He pulls no punches, and he makes no apologies to anyone.
Amazingly – wonderfully! – he has gotten away with this approach for decades.
I think his first one-man shows hit the stage in the scary days of the 1970s and 1980s, when the anti-apartheid protests intensified and the clampdown from government was at its strongest and most vigorous.
Despite that, not only has he gotten away with years of defying and questioning those in authority, but he has become one of the most well-known, most respected and admired, and most loved satirists/comedians South Africa has ever been blessed with. So much so, that he (or rather Tannie Evita? ;-)) has met and been photographed with many of the politicians he satirises and a whole host of celebrities.
All his shows remind us that it is important for us as a nation to laugh at ourselves and not to take ourselves so seriously – and yet, at the same time, to take our country’s future seriously enough not to allow our democratically elected leaders to get away with lying, cheating and stealing.
It is a tricky balancing act, but he gets it just right.
Visitors do need to know a little about South African history and politics to understand ALL the jokes. Some of his shows are more for locals while others are more geared towards overseas tourists who don’t speak Afrikaans (he often switches back and forth between English and Afrikaans). It is a good idea to ask the receptionist at the time of making the reservation, which show would be most suited.
Before or after the shows, visitors are free to wander through the shady garden known as Boerassic Park, where you will find comical statues of political figures and many artistic metal sculptures of people and animals.
The Museum-Nauseum is crammed full of memorabilia, curiosities and kitsch, athough you can also purchase books, CDs and DVDs of Uys’ performances throughout his long theatrical career.
The adjoining Art Gallery contains a series of brilliant paintings by Nina van der Westhuizen: referred to as Evita’s Great Master Collection, each of them is an art work or painting by a famous artist (Goya, Raphael, Modigliani, Picasso, Kahlo, Irma Stern…) that has been creatively copied and transformed into a picture of Evita, in various recognisable styles.
Tannie Evita has even published a Cookbook of all her favourite recipes, which is called Evita’s Kossie Sikelela. (This title is a play on the South African national anthem, “Nkosi Sikelela” or God Bless Africa and the Afrikaans word “kos” or its diminutive “kossie”, which means “a little something to eat”.)
Demonstrating his close involvement with the community of his adopted new home, in August 2003, PD Uys established the Darling Trust, to assist the previously disadvantaged communities of Darling and the Swartland with the aim of creating projects that ‘help people to help themselves’ and to become empowered by providing them with the skills and support they need.
Go and have a read through the most recent edition of the newspaper known as the Bapetikosweti Basuin (Tannie Evita was supposedly the former South African ambassador to the independent homeland republic of Bapetikosweti, a fictional independent black homeland created by PD Uys in his plays). You will learn more about the history of this intriguing place in the middle of the lovely West Coast flower region.
And if you get a chance to visit the area, go and see one of his shows. You will come away inspired!