Uys’s brilliant take on the South African political scene

2012-03-14 00:00

ON a stage bare of everything except a screen plastered with newspapers, two boxes and the old and new South African­ flags, Pieter-Dirk Uys kicks off his latest show in the guise of one Adolf Hitler who has popped up from hell to see what’s happening in South Africa.

Uys likens the German führer to Julius­ Malema and reminds the audience that, like JuJu, Hilter too was once on the lunatic fringe and that simply by forming his own party, appealing to the poorest in society and promising them everything, he came to power.

The message: it’s not safe to write off Malema, even if he’s been expelled from the African National Congress.

Adapt or Fly is being staged 30 years after Uys debuted his one-man show, Adapt or Die, the title of which was sparked by the then Prime Minister P. W. Botha’s words “adapt or die”, which he said while proposing revisions of apartheid policies before the 1981 general election.

The new show’s title, meanwhile, was inspired by a spokesperson for the ANC Youth League who said that if whites did not like the fact that the youth would take over South Africa, they could “adapt or fly”.

In Adapt or Die, Uys used his show to tackle the apartheid regime and its architects, and during the evening some of those old faces — the Bad, the Bold and the Bastards, as Uys calls them — made an appearance, including B. J. Vorster, Hendrik Verwoerd, P. W. Botha and F. W. de Klerk.

The satirist also shares anecdotes of what it was like to perform his shows during apartheid. It wasn’t easy to say the things Uys said and made him, at one point, the most banned playwright in South Africa. The satirist also revealed how his trademark boxes came into being — they were quick to carry if he needed to get away fast — and he reminded the audience of Helen Suzman, the lone voice of protest in Parliament during the apartheid years, and a woman who “drove the Broederbond insane” because she was like a “Chihuahua on crack” with her constant refrain of “free Mandela, get rid of apartheid”. Suzman also told him that if he wanted to impersonate the National Party leaders on stage, he had to see them in action in Parliament. It was, he said, a little surreal when he did.

Other characters who pop up include a coloured police officer, whose grandmother was turned out of her beautiful Cape Town home and forcibly moved to the Cape Flats, Pik Botha, who maintains that he was not here, but over there (in foreign lands), during apartheid and so did not know what was happening, Piet Koornhof, who went from apartheid spin doctor in chief to a man happily married to a coloured woman, South Africa’s former black presidents Nelson Mandela and Thabo Mbeki, Kgalema Motlanthe and Jacob Zuma, Cape Flats resident Mrs Petersen, who is campaigning for the DA and kugel liberal­, Nowell Fine (circa 2012 and the eighties).

He also allows his irrepressible alter ego, Evita Bezuidenhout, to make an appearance, this time as the chairwoman of the Media Tribunal.

A dapt or Fly makes it clear that Uys is worried that history is in danger of repeating itself.

This is especially true of the Protection of State Information Bill, which he says could impact heavily on freedom of speech.

God forbid that happens, because we need Uys’s biting political commentary and witty satire to help keep those in power on the straight and narrow.

Adapt or Fly is without question one of Uys’s best shows, so whatever you do, don’t miss it.

• Adapt or Fly is at the Elizabeth Sneddon Theatre until Sunday. Performances are Monday to Saturday at 8 pm and Sunday at 3 pm. Tickets are R140 at Computicket.

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