Satirist and social activist Pieter-Dirk Uys usually has audiences crying tears of joy but last week he had guests shedding tears of sorrow.
With no heels, gown or makeup – his alter ego Evita Bezuidenhout was in the boot of his car- dressed in black as he launched his memoir, The Echo of a Noise, at the Thursday Club, held at Kelvin Grove.
Often hailed as a national treasure, Pieter-Dirk, 73, mesmerised guests as he talked of the billboards and signposts in his life, growing up in the madness of white South Africa and living with a musical family.
His parents would travel around with him dressed in kortbroek (shorts), performing at weddings and on the radio for pocket money.
His father was concerned that if he wore long pants his voice would break.
His relationship with his father, Hannes Uys, was fraught with tension. The family’s domestic worker, Sannie Abader, worked in their home in Pinelands and had a sense of humour but would not abide rudeness or racism (although she never called it that). “She wouldn’t take kak from a boer,” says Pieter-Dirk. She disappeared one day but returned later in his life.
Later, Pieter-Dirk was kicked out of home, he didn’t say why, and moved into Long Street. However, it was his mum’s death in 1969 which became, “A billboard among the signposts of my life.” His vulnerability was palpable as he described how this event changed his life.
He says the book is also a celebration of the denials that people have, such as family secrets.
Pieter-Dirk’s mum, Helga Bassel, left Berlin in 1936 with her piano. Her children Pieter-Dirk and internationally renowned pianist Tessa Uys had no idea their mother was Jewish until her death.
She left Germany when she was told she could not play her piano there because she was a Jew.
Pieter-Dirk says he regrets not asking his parents about their lives when they were still alive. “I knew more about Sophia Loren. I never knew that my father hated his job as a senior admin clerk with the Cape administration,” he says.
The family were not well off and his dad had to borrow money; his brother was a millionaire and “owned a hill in Durban- ville”.
Another of Pieter-Dirk’s little signposts was asking his father to get him onto the censor board, watching films, uncut. “Most of the time he loved it, but he was wary of being a censor. He watched a Fellini film and was angry that it had been cut to bits. He told me maak hulle belaglik (make them look ridiculous), don’t be afraid of the censors.”
He performs his 16th season at Evita se Perron in his hometown Darling with Evita’s Xmas Tree and When in Doubt say Darling. Oh yes, he says he came to live in this Swartland town by accident after losing his way to McGregor.
The book is filled with rich vivid memories and photographs from the family album, including Pieter-Dirk with lots of hair, and his 40 years in theatre, the invention of Evita Bezuidenhout, and the joys and sorrows of his amazing life.
As for the elections next year, he says: “There’s not a single party worth voting for, they’ll all let you down. But vote ANC otherwise, put on your red beret and say you were here first because you’ll get the Economic Freedom Fighters’ (EFF) and land up with land expropriation without compensation.”
Earlier, he had regaled guests at his table with a story about the EFFs first day in Parliament. He says they were complaining that they were not given pencils, staplers, etc. Pieter-Dirk went home to a stationery store in Darling and collected everything red, from rubbish bins, pens, packets of paper, and delivered them to Parliament, “not in heels, the cobblestones are not female friendly”, he quipped. It was a test of the party’s humour. He was disappointed and says there was no response, unlike when he sent koeksisters to Nelson Mandela.
Pieter-Dirk has authored two other memoirs, Elections and Erections (2002), and Between The Devil and the Deep (2005).