Evita Bezuidenhout - Phenomenal Woman

Recently I wrote a post about Princess Grace of Monaco and I feel honour bound to balance it with a post about our own royalty.  Now as you know, SA is a Democracy so we do not have a royal family but the closest we will ever get to it, is a phenomenal woman, Evita Bezuidenhout, or Tannie Evita as she is affectionately known over here.  She is loved by many, and hated by many, but nobody can deny or ignore her.  She has lived a rich and rewarding life and played a major role in the recent history of our country.

Tannie Evita was born as Evangelie Poggenpoel on 28 September 1935 in the little Orange Free State town of Bethlehem. In the 1950's she became almost famous as an actress for her roles in such Afrikaans epic movies as Meisie van my Drome (Girl of my Dreams) and Duiwelsvallei (Devil's Valley).

She married Dr J.J. de V. Bezuidenhout (affectionately known as Oom Hasie), the Member of Parliament for Laagerfontein, in 1958 and three children, De Kock, Izan and Billie-Jeanne were born from this union. Of course, as Oom Hasie's wife, Evita met and became involved with many politicians, even Prime Ministers, Presidents and other various Cabinet Ministers. Eventually, she completely overshadowed Oom Hasie in his political career and was appointed as SA Ambassador to the Independent Black homeland, Republic of Bapetikosweti.

For many years, Evita has been the conscience of the Afrikaner, whether he likes or admits it, or not.  She took this nation through all the changes since the 70's and is currently assisting the present government to keep its feet firmly planted on Mother Earth.  Such is her influence that they relied on her to help to educate the "masses" on the intricasies of voting in National Elections. 

At present, Evita is an Ambassador without Portfolio and living at Evita se Perron (railway station) in the little town of Darling in the Western Cape. She is the grandmother of Billie-Jeanne and Leroy Makoeloeli's three children. Her son Izan is an active member of the AWB (radical rightwing movement) and De Kock is a member of the Gay Liberation Movement. Oom Fasie is retired and working on his memoirs.

Evita is known and loved as a truly phenomenal woman, not only in her own country, but worldwide. She was awarded the Living Legacy 2000 Award in San Diego by the Woman's International Centre for "Her contribution to the place of women in the last century". Both Mother Theresa and Hilary Clinton are past honourees of this award and while they received it for their own uniqueness, Tannie Evita received it for the laughter and positive energy that her presence evokes.

Perhaps the most remarkable fact about Evita Bezuidenhout is that she is not a real person.  She is the brainchild of South African playwright and satirist, Pieter Dirk Uys.  If you remove the wig, the eyelashes and the lipstick, you will see the resemblance!

I will allow Pieter Dirk (himself a phenomenal person) to tell you about Evita in his own words:

"Toward the end of the 1970's, I was writing a weekly column for the Sunday Express in Johannesburg. It was during the time of the Information Scandal, which led to the eventual fall of John Vorster and the rise of PW Botha. The land was abuzz with rumours of embezzlements, thefts, even murder - but because of the ever-increasing paranoia about press control and censorship, it was not possible to write about these things.

So I created a character in my column out of whose mouth these rumours / facts dripped like warm honey. She was the wife of a Nationalist NW, someone on the fringes of power but elbow-deep in the catering, so she knew all the ins and outs. For 3 years she appeared about once a month, informing the nation of the stench under the cloak of respectability and no-one stopped her (me). Someone even gave her a name: "The Evita of Pretoria".

When I started my one-man show "Adapt or Dye" in April 1982, I gave this creature a physical reality - eyelashes, high heels and handbag - and she has never looked back! Right from the start "Tannie Evita" stepped out of the chorus line and took off into folklore, leaving behind the many other characters I did in my shows.

The public wanted more of her all the time, so I created more around her - her husband Hasie and her three children. I played them all on stage in "Farce about Uys" and on film in "Skating on thin Uys".

The absurdity of the homeland system cried out for attention and so she became its most famous ambassador. Even during 2 years when I stopped performing her - fearing she would swamp me with her forcefulness - the public didn't notice. Mrs Evita Bezuidenhout was alive and living among them, in spite of me!

I introduced her to audiences in Australia, the United Kingdom, Canada, Holland, Germany and Scandinavia. She became as confident on foreign soil as she was in her own backyard. People wrote to her, promising to support her in her legal efforts to control that "third-rate satirist Pieter-Dirk Uys" who was so cruelly making fun of her.

Politicians wrote too. Minister Pik Botha faxed her, Archbishop Desmond Tutu kissed her on the cheek and danced the toyi-toyi with her in his garden. Designers designed for her. I dieted because of her.

Originally the idea for a biography on Evita centred around a few recipes and funny pictures, but once five years of research into the fascinating detail of South African politics had passed, I realised that Evita's biography was not just the story of a woman, or the story of a nation. It was, in many cases, the story of our lives."

I have read this biography, A PART HATE A PART LOVE , and it is one of the most entertaining books I have ever read.  What amazed me the most was that this was the biography of a person who does not exist, yet her story, apart fromt he satire, could be the story of a real woman.  If you can get hold of it, read it, it is well worth it!


Nicole said...

Amazing! Thanks for such an interesting post! I would love to get my hands on that book!

Gaelyn said...

Wow, this is an amazing story.

A human kind of human said...

Hi Guys, if you look at this website, http://www.pdu.co.za/, you can read some of his work but be warned, HE CAN BE QUITE SHOCKING IN HIS HONESTY, especially when it comes to sexual matters!

janis said...

Oh what a lovely surprise! Great post, Great Character!

DUTA said...

It reminds me in a way of an israeli journalist and cartoonist who invented the figure of a boy, Srulik, in shorts, sandals, and sun hat whose reflections reflected the israeli public mood. Srulik is a national icon featured on posters, stamps, stickers.

Of course, a woman like Evita, is much more interesting and intriguing.

Susan said...

Excellent! creating the key character when and as needed! I can think of several political parties that could use this talent!

Minnie said...

Found my way here via Karen @ Kasane's beautiful blog: I noticed the ref to Evita Bezuidenhout in her blogroll and had to follow it. I am so glad I did. As an ex-Londoner, I remember her (his) many gloriously irreverent and hilarious appearances on radio & in cabaret - it must have taken guts to do & say what PDU did. So it was a treat to read more and see the pix.
Thank you/Un grand merci from France and totsiens!

Anonymous said...

What a great resource!

Sine said...

thanks for clarifying! I'll link to it from my blog, Joburg Expat. I had never quite understood what she represents here in South Africa, so it's good to have that cleared up.