Evita Bezuidenhout, regarded as ‘the most famous white woman in South Africa,’ heads to the Artscape Theatre with her new show: An Evening with Evita Bezuidenhout. We sat down with her at the Mount Nelson to chat about the show, her grandchildren and of course, politics. More information about the show can be found at the bottom of the page.
I am very honoured to be here….
Let’s chat about the show that you are about to do.
I’m so excited. It’s going to be at the Artscape in the beginning of November. An Evening with Evita Bezuidenhout.
What can audiences expect?
They always know that I will tell them as close to the truth as I have researched. I will share with them my opinions and I will remind them where we come from so we can celebrate where we are going. They often say that history repeats itself and it takes tragedy and turns it into farce, I hope not. I don’t think history repeats itself in South Africa. I think it just rhymes. From Apartheid to tripartite. From Amandla to Nkandla. I would like people to bring their children. There’s an 8pm show on Wednesday the 3rd and Tuesday the 2nd, but on the Sunday, I have two shows, one at 3pm and one at 6:30pm in the evening so bring your family. Bring the children, it’s their future. The wonderful thing about me and what people know, is I have never in my life used bad language. I tell the truth but I don’t use bad language. So don’t be frightening of having to close your children’s ears. I mean what you hear on TV, my goodness me! Terrible language. But I look forward to that experience because I’ll be on a stage with an audience of people and it will be live so it’s from my mouth to your ears, or my mouth to your lawyer’s ear.
Do you ever get starstruck?
I do. I fall in love with people all the time. I look at them on television and I think ‘oh my goodness, what a fantastic man.” I’ve been in love with Desmond Tutu for a longtime but you must remember that in the old days we thought he was a communist but we were wrong, he’s an Anglican. Barack Obama! I think Michelle, ooh did you hear her speech just a few days ago about women and children after Donald Trump said all those horrible things? And I thought ‘at least that is the good news from this American election,” what she said because it’s an ugly election. I still find power makes me starstruck because I know how easy it is for those people to get what they want, like movie stars. So I do, I’m a bit naïve when it comes to that.
Going off of what you just mentioned with the election happening right now, I watched your latest Free Speech episode and I am so sorry that you experienced that horrible incident. Does this mean that you are rooting for Hillary Clinton?
I’m not rooting for anybody but I think Hillary is a better choice because at least she knows what she is doing. This other man, unfortunately represents a huge amount of people who will never know what they are doing but that’s the way the world is going. I think it was my son who said that “in an upside down society, the lowest common denominator floats up to the top.” The Clintons come with baggage, of course, because all politics is corrupt and all power is questioned but at least they know where the red button is and they wont press it. Donald Trump will press it because he thinks he is changing TV stations.
Do you think that South Africa could benefit from a female president?
I think South African needs a president who knows what he or she is doing. A female president could be a very good idea but don’t just put a woman there because you feel you have to tick the box. I know that Barack and Michelle Obama are without a job after the 20th of January next year, why don’t they come and take over for 6 months so that we can clean the sandbox of politics. I said this to Cyril Ramaphosa the other day, I said “Cyril, Jacob Zuma is the big tomcat of politics. Everything he puts into the sandbox you have to clean up.” If there is going to be a change of power in South Africa, and they talk about Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, I like her very much but I don’t think she is the right person because she will keep Jacob Zuma protected and we don’t necessary want to protect people when they are out of office. I want to say to Jacob Zuma “Please take retirement for health reasons with full amnesty” because we don’t want to go through years and years of court cases. It’s boring. We’ve been there. Give him Nkandla as a present and we can name an airport after him, Upington Airport and then get him out of the way. That’s my point. We can’t move because the elephant is in the room and the elephant can’t fit through the door to get out so make the door bigger.
Don’t you think by rewarding him that is going to maybe encourage up-and-coming leaders to behave the same way?
No leader is going to behave in the same way. They are going to behave in different ways which we won’t find out till too late. That is because they are clever. Nobody is going to be Adolf Hitler anymore. Nobody is going to have Auschwitz anymore. But they are going to find ways of actually torturing people and bring Apartheid back in a different form. And education is one of those terrible things that maybe only certain people will be allowed to have, so it will be the separate development of education and we must prevent that. My grandchildren are the ones that say to me “Gogo, you must protect democracy so that we can use it one day when we have the vote.” Because they are still little born-frees.
You have 3 grandchildren right?
They are not black, they are not white, they are Barack Obama beige. I’ve got 3 little, well they are not so little but they are. They always throw the hashtags at me and I’ve got to make sense of the hashtags and I agree with most of them. Yes, the fees must fall but fall means disappear down a black-hole. Fees must be less but you can’t have free education. You don’t get free anything. Life is not free. The only thing you are free to do is to be human. That is your human right. That is the only right you have so we must sort out what the rights are and we can only sort it out when people read the bill of rights and the constitution. Nobody reads the constitution because nobody does their homework. I keep saying ‘gogga gogga, find out.’
How are you able to remain so optimistic with everything that has been happening in the country over the course of your career?
Well pessimism is a no-go area. What do we do through pessimism? You go nowhere. You feel sick and you die unhappy and nobody even knows who you were. But optimism means, you know, I believe that things are always going to be better than we expect because there are more good people than bad people. Find the good people especially the ones in politics and tell them we are on your side. We spend too much time looking at the bad people who love the attention, who love being famous. With politics we still treat them like the royal family like we did under Apartheid. They are not. They are civil servants. We put them there. So they must do their job or they must get out of their job. I’m a member of the ANC and I am very proud to actually have put the cabinet on a diet. Look at them, they can fit on economy class seats on SAA. That’s a start, neh?
A big start. You have had such a great long career, how have you noticed women’s roles in society have changed in South Africa and where do you see this developing in the future?
There is virtually no comparison. In the old days we knew our place as Calvinist Afrikaans women, 3 steps behind your husband and sometimes they forgot and we said “I can’t stand next to you. I’ve got to stand behind you.” Nobody ever thought that a woman could become a politician. Nobody ever thought a woman could become a leader. Nobody thought. Nobody thought. Then things change, we said what about Queen Elizabeth the first? What about Queen Victoria? What about Golda Meir? And what about Margaret Thatcher? I will always have Margaret Thatcher there as an inspiration. I didn’t always understand what she said and what she did, but she did make me realise that hypocrisy is the vaseline of political intercourse. Then of course we have some wonderful women today in our democratic structure because of the equality of all before the law. I’ve always had a great admiration for Winnie Madikizela Mandela. She is 80. She looks beautiful, bit of botox maybe but then black doesn’t crack so you don’t notice the botox. She is an important voice in our politics because she is definitely a senior member of the ANC and has the right to criticise. But we have some important women who we don’t know through fame, all the wives of Afrikaaner politicians; Dr. Malan’s wife, Mr. Strijdom’s wife, Mr. Verwoed’s wife, Mr. Vorster’s wife, Mr. De Klerk’s wife. They kept their husbands relatively sane because those politicians had so much power. They could do anything and there was always the wife who at the end of the day would say ‘Ag papa, kom sit, kom sit. Let me get you a cup of tea and let’s listen to some nice music and calm down.’ Don’t forget, behind every powerful man is a very powerful woman who never says “I am important” and that is why she has power. I love the way that women use their femininity to seduce the world. Who was that wonderful woman, Gloria Steinem? Always, you know, you thought “oh she’s a movie star. She’s a model.” And she said “This is me. I don’t do it specially for you. I do it for me.” I keep saying to women “Don’t do it for anybody. Do it for yourself.” Women must lead. No, women must be free to choose what they want to do. To put a woman into politics just because she is a woman is an insult. I think that is really bad. It’s not a good idea at all.
I think now with what is happening in the world, especially with the U.S election, it’s showing younger women that they can aim for that. They can aim to be a leader.
I think it has become part of the alphabet of life compared to 20 years ago, compared to when I was a child, it was impossible. Hillary will do the job well. Hillary will keep the titanic floating. Donald Trump will…I don’t know. This is the frightening thing, we don’t know. But is that what people thought when Steve Jobs held up a little square and said “Guess what this is? It is a cellphone.” And we thought “No!” Is Donald Trump maybe where the world should go when we have become a reality TV show anyway? I don’t know. I think that is why the only answer to the question ‘what do we do?’ is ‘vote.’ That is it. Vote. If the majority of people want him, every democracy deserves the government they get. We have to educate people about what is wrong and about what is better and what is easy because easy is always dangerous. I think it’s going to be very difficult to choose anyway because we’ve got to do homework. We don’t do that. Nobody knows anything about Jacob Zuma. All white people say “oh he is so corrupt. He only has standard 3.” Look how far he’s got with standard 3! We taught him to read and write at the University of Robben Island, that helped and he’s got charm and he’s got charisma. Never underestimate politicians, each one has got charm and charisma.
I saw recently that you did a Youtube collaboration with Suzelle DIY.
Can we expect more collaborations between you and the up-and-coming personalities of South Africa?
I would love that! I didn’t know who Suzette, I mean Suzelle was. I didn’t understand. I got a phone call “Tannie Evita we want a recipe.” I thought they wanted a recipe from my book so I said “yes of course I’ll share it with you.” Maybe she wants me to show her how I make it? So she arrived and she was very sweet and she just kept talking, never stopped talking. She was like a chihuahua on tik. And then I suddenly realised that she was going to take 4 hours to make this rooibos tea rusk. Liewe aarde! I was a little bit confused but now that I’ve understood more, I thought she was very nice. And what a good idea because she speaks the language of the people and she doesn’t make people think it’s complicated to cook. That’s why my cookbook…oh I have one for you by the way.
Wow. Thank you!
My cookbook is really there for people who can’t cook, and especially men and they said “no we are frightened of cooking! We don’t even know where the kitchen is.” I said “well then follow the cat.” The cat will always go to the kitchen.
One of the questions that I ask everyone that I interview, and I think this would be a great place to end off, is who are some South African women in the arts that inspire you?
Women in the arts? Well you know Thuli is in the art of negotiation. Helen Zille in the art of politics. Mimi Coertse in the art of opera singing. Miriam Makeba in the art of beautiful struggle and culture. I think everything that is done well is an art. It’s not just theatre and music and films. Charlize Theron. Major. I love Charlize. Every time I see her she is so sweet. She always remembers that I said to her mother “take your daughter to New York because she can’t be a ballet dancer because she is too tall.” I helped her mother get a cheap flight to New York and I said to Charlize when I met her, she had this thick South African accent and I said, “Nee skat. You’ve got to sit in front of the television and watch soap operas and just speak with them and eventually you will develop an accent,” and look, she’s done that. Clever and very important because she has led by example. She has adopted two little children, beautiful little boy and little girl, African-American and not out of guilt because she is a white Afrikaaner but because she loves children and children don’t have colour. Children are innocent like angels. Children must be protected and women are the first people to protect children. Every man must realise that if it wasn’t for women, he would not be there.
Thank you so much.
Thank you and good luck with Sarafina!
An Evening with Evita Bezuidenhout runs at the Artscape Theatre on Tuesday 1 November at 8:00pm, Wednesday 2 November at 8:00pm and on Sunday 6 November at 3:00pm and 6:30pm. Tickets cost R150 via 0214217695 or Computicket and 08619158000. Not suitable for those under the age of 14 and anyone without a sense of humour.
Please also note: Pieter-Dirk Uys returns to the Baxter Theatre with his acclaimed one man show The Echo of a Noise from 29 Nov – 17 Dec at 8:15pm nightly with booking via Computicket or 08619158000.
Cover photo credit: Stefan Hunter
About the show:
It is 2016. We are in the 22nd year of our democracy and Evita Bezuidenhout is still with us. For the last 35 years she has been in the public domain, firstly as the South African Ambassador to the Independent Black Homeland of Bapetiskosweti, and then once Nelson Mandela dissolved the Bantustans into one homeland called South Africa, she went into his kitchen and cooked for him. Now still regarded as the most famous white woman in South Africa, she has taken over the kitchen in Luthuli House where as a member of the ANC she cooks for reconciliation, having put the Cabinet on a strict diet. Her three born-free grandchildren have challenged her to protect democracy for the future generations to enjoy. As she says: ‘Boer maak ‘n Plan!’ So spend a special evening or matinee with her in the Artscape Theatre and join her in focusing on the news of the day with humour, confronting the realities of a rainbow nation in some trouble with optimism, and always keeping the glass half-full and not half-empty.
Sarafina Magazine and Adele Goldberg maintain all copyright for images taken during this interview. For usage please contact us.