Comedy: Satire is alive and well and living in South Africa

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The Independent Culture

POLITICAL STAND-UP comedy in this country is like voting Tory at a general election: a decidedly passe kind of thing to do. In South Africa, by contrast, people have never had the luxury of taking politics for granted. Even five years after the end of apartheid, politics still infuses every nook and cranny of South African life.

So it is hardly surprising that the leading comedian from that country, Pieter-Dirk Uys, should be a biting political satirist. He is now so used to the political arena that he recently performed in the South African Parliament as his most famous creation, Mrs Evita Bezuidenhout, South Africa's answer to Dame Edna Everage. As he himself remarked: "I mean, please, can you see Lily Savage in the House of Commons?"

As Evita, he also fronted a 10,000 kilometre, 60-city voter-education campaign before the general election last month.

Uys has been a regular performer in London over the last decade, but his latest show, "Dekaffirnated", which opened at the Tricycle Theatre on Wednesday, is perhaps his most moving work yet. It underlines how hopes for the brave new world of the Rainbow Nation have in many cases been cruelly dashed. "We're quite a successful democracy," he reckons, "because we're all equally pissed off."

The most powerful sections of the show recount the voter apathy Uys encountered on his nationwide tour in the `ballot bus'.

Urging a black woman in a remote village to vote, he was unceremoniously rebuffed: "Why must I vote those fat cats back into a job when they haven't given me a job?" In another off-the-beaten-track community centre, a young black man in the audience stood up and told Uys: "We fought for freedom. All we got was democracy."

In the character sketches of various South Africans that comprise the show, Uys demonstrates the frequent absurdity of politics. Language, for instance, has been distorted beyond recognition in the politically- correct, post-apartheid South Africa. When a bus is stolen in a township these days, "we don't call it hijacking. We call it affirmative commuting."

Like all the best political comedians, Uys deftly intermingles light and shade, finding humour in subjects where by rights there shouldn't be any.

Who would have thought that a comedy show could include a routine about a white policeman telling Desmond Tutu's Truth and Reconciliation Commission the way he mistreated black female prisoners?

When apartheid came to an end, many predicted that Uys's satirical darts would be blunted. Sadly, the new political set-up has presented him with nearly as many sitting targets as the old.

Pieter-Dirk Uys's `Dekaffirnated' is at the Tricycle Theatre, London, NW6 (0171 328 1000) until 14 August