National treasure

He wrote back: “I’d love to be one of your house cats for a week, and meet all the inmates” – and thus the (adapt or) die was cast for a most remarkable guest recently – a spontaneous situation that arose, thanks to my innate sense of adventure.

He arrived in the pouring rain, dressed in his usual attire of black, from beanie to sneakers, with one small overnight bag, and the daily papers.

A quiet, understated contrast, to his flamboyant, world-famous alter ego, Tannie Evita – who was set to take to the stage at The Playhouse in Somerset West for a run of six performances, including his latest offering, utterly compelling, Echo of a Noise.

I’d warned Pieter Dirk Uys that he may want to reconsider while he still had a chance, writing to him about my houseful of noisy, furry friends, and other idiosyncratic features of home/ hearth – but true to his irrepressible style, he was “game on”.

In a fit of shyness, I reverted to comfort zone converstions – and over breakfast, tea and early dinners before his shows, I told him of the vast array of animal encounters during my life’s journey (and just before he left, he said “You have to write a book, and call it Kiki’s Ark” – and you know what, I think I shall, thank you PDU!).

He shared many bits and pieces of his own, utterly extraordinary life, some more behind scene.

Standing under the trees in my garden, he told me about Keith Kirsten coming to Darling a couple of years ago, where PDU lives, at the eclectic (historical/ hysterical) “Evita’s Perron” – and how they planted 560 trees with the children of the Darling Trust (founded in 2003).

On another occasion, Tannie Evita (in flat shoes – the only time she wasn’t in heels!) accompanied the children on an outing to the SPCA, where they could pet all the animals there.

When youngsters can have encounters with animals, they develop a better understanding of their vulnerability; an experience like this also helps to connect them to their own sense of humanity, he says.

Of course, PDU is a household name in South Africa (and one of our country’s greatest ambassadors) – employing the medium of humour and satire to unravel the intricacies and intrigue of politics, economics and the warp and weft of our social fabric over time (and metamorphosis).

A satirist of note, his fearlessness defined him, and I’m sure there were many times he was one signature away from being incarcerated (banning his work was seldom an effective form of silencing him, as he cunningly outwitted the censor board time and again) – and often quite literally was a step ahead of them, leaving the stage hurridly with his characteristic crates stuffed with his personas’ attire.

I’ve seen most of his performances since my student days in the 1980s, watching his audacity with a sense of awe and disbelief at his courage, first at the HB Thom theatre in Stellenbosch (where, in a surreal extension, I attended the launch of Tannie Evita’s first cookbook at Woordfees, in the same venue just a few years ago).

I have no question that he was one of the influences on me that resulted in my postgraduate studies in journalism, which after a long and winding road abroad, led me back this vocation.

He blessed me with a gift of his new Evita’s Bossie Sikelela, when he arrived – (I’d warned him that I’m no cook, so perhaps he felt it would inspire me, which it does, but for reasons other than culinary).

He also spoke to me about his work in Aids-awareness at schools; he is inexhaustible and devoted to this mission, and from here he went to Durban for the internationally-attended Aids conference.

He says, “I ask the children, do you know about the birds and the bees? I follow with ‘So, how does a bird f*ck a bee?’ And when they dissolve in laughter, I take it to the next, more serious level – having captured their attention.” Bravo, PDU.

I went to see his documentary Nobody’s died laughing” at Eikestad Mall this weekend. I urge you all to see this movie while you can (it’s also on at the Labia, and other venues in Cape Town next week). It is a poignant reminder of the history we all have to take ownership of.

If only this man could have been commander in chief for our beloved SA… (ah well, commander in chef will have to do).

Carolyn Frost: Editor