For certain North Americans, it was three days of riots in 1969 that precipitated liberation. For some Australians, it was the first Mardi Gras parade in 1978, which ended in violence, arrests and a reinvigorated activism. For white South African actor and playwright Pieter-Dirk Uys, year zero was a little later.
When Nelson Mandela became president, suddenly we became free. Besides being a democracy we had a constitution, have a constitution that allows me to be gay, as well as to be honest, as well as to be middle-aged, as well as to be optimistic. I keep on saying my life started on 10 May 1994 when Mandela freed me from the darkness.
Uys will be hitting Sydney soon for his one-man show Foreign AIDS, in which he plays his signature persona Evita Bezuidenhout as well as Mandela and President Mbeki. He was last here in 1988 for a show opposing apartheid and the South African government, an institution which banned his plays in the late 1970s for obscenity, blasphemy [and] setting the racial groups into disharmony against one another. Now his beloved South Africa is a country in which one in nine people are HIV positive, with Africa the current epicentre of the global AIDS crisis.
Well, you know, interestingly there’s not that much difference, says Uys, on the phone from Paris, about his shift in focus. I call apartheid the first virus -¦ and there were good guys and bad guys. Now there’s a virus with no cure but there are no bad guys -¦
It think it’s a more serious, more frightening reality. Apartheid was simple in comparison, that was good against evil.
His main character Evita was born out of a column Uys wrote for a Sunday paper, a satirical oasis that allowed for scathing and hilarious criticism of the government. Evita is the Afrikaans wife of a National party member of parliament, who spouted delicious nonsense, allowing comparisons with our own Dame Edna Everage. He got away with it because it was funny, and his tactics haven’t changed.
One has to find ways of reminding people without boring people to death -¦ anything that is not a lecture, not dull. Dull is death, says Uys, rephrasing a familiar ACT-UP slogan. Uys educates children in schools, dealing with some disturbing myths.
When the urban legend starts moving around the communities that a man with AIDS can be cured by having sex with a virgin, and then you suddenly find two-month-old babies being raped, you go -˜Oh God’. This is actually not out of sex but out of terror, adds Uys.
All of which makes Uys and his show sound a little grim, but he insists this is not the case. Nowhere is this clearer than when he mentions one his other characters, Evita’s wayward sister Bambi.
She was a hairdresser who went to Europe and married a Nazi, [but] she didn’t know what a Nazi was, she just thought he reminded her of all the Afrikaans people she knew -¦
And then she got a job as a stripper and started fucking donkeys in clubs in Amsterdam -“
Um, there’s more, but it’s not really fit to print. Uys is deadly serious about helping to save his country, but his show sounds irreverent and, thankfully, not in the best possible taste.
Foreign AIDS runs from 30 October to 16 November at 8pm at The Playhouse, Sydney Opera House, as part of the Gay Games cultural festival. Tickets are $39 ($30 for groups of 10 or more) and may be booked on 9250 7777. For more information visit www.sydneyoperahouse.com.