Last night I went to a play written by and starring South Africa’s most famous cross-dresser, Pieter-Dirk Uys. The play, entitled Elections and Erections, is a satirical look at two things that were illegal in South Africa for most of his life, democracy and sex, and how his interest in politics arose because of an erection. Using the medium of theatre, Pieter-Dirk Uys exercises one of the most important rights to him—his freedom of speech (www.epp.org.za). Against a backdrop of past and present political posters, Uys presents himself as a series of characters to comment on the political situation in South Africa and the world (the were plenty of references to politics in America…even dating back to the Monica Lewinsky scandal and more recently to the optimism that the election of Obama brought to the world). With national elections less than a week away in South Africa, Uys wants to make the message clear on how important voting is for everyone, and does it in such a humorous and moving way that I’m about ready to get in line to vote on Wednesday. As an outsider to South Africa, and a newcomer to trying to understand the politics and psyche of the country, I cannot say that I understood all of the nuances or references in the play (not to mention the parts that were in Afrikaans), but I had a great time.
He opens the play with a sketch involving Hilary and Bill Clinton, and then goes to a skit with him portraying an older white South African woman as the cleaner in the White House that is now occupied by an African-American family (reversing the idea of the role of master and servant in South Africa based on racial lines). He parodies the problems and solutions at the Home Affairs office. He also discusses the lack of legacy left by Thabo Mbeki, the singing, dancing, and preaching of the soon to be president Jacob Zuma (and of course parodies the infamous Zuma response that taking a shower after having unprotected sex with an HIV positive person will prevent AIDS). In a more serious moment, Uys sits and talks candidly to the audience about an experience he had growing up with a coloured boy that changed his sensibilities about races and the divides that exist in South Africa.
The second act of the play involves Uys famous alter ego Evita Bezuidenhout. This part of the show involved audience participation, and even allowed the audience to ask Evita questions about the upcoming election because, as Evita says, democracy is about asking questions and demanding answers. There are also many references to the hope and optimism of the 27 April 1994 elections that brought Nelson Mandela into power and lifted South Africa out of the shame of apartheid.
Although the play is a satire at heart, it is also remarkably inspiring. Uys recognizes how young and fragile the South African democracy is, saying that in South Africa, the democracy is so young that its voice hasn’t even broken yet (although just about everything else about it is broken). Another one of my favorite moments was when Uys talks to the Zuma doll he had made, and the promises Zuma makes to the country are to “yield to the left so that nothing is right. And to yield to the right so that nothing is left.” Uys wants his message to be to the politicians of South Africa that “No, you can’t!” (in reference to Obama’s campaign slogan Yes We Can!) No they can’t continue with the ridiculousness and corruption that is creating a bad image of democracy in the country and not allowing the country to move forward. South Africans must keep their politicians accountable, and to do this, everyone must vote.