Pieter-Dirk Uys was born in during the second quarter of the 20th century and has been active in the theatre scene since the 1960s. he is quite acclaimed and accomplished, having written 20 plays and performed more than 30 revues all over South Africa as well as abroad. Being the great performer that he is makes him an associate with the Space Theater in Cape Town and Johannesburg’s market theatre in the 70s and 80s. In this regard, therefore, Uys has a number of famous plays to his name including ‘Paradise is Closing Down’, ‘Panorama, God’s Forgotten’, ‘Faces in the Wall’ and ‘Just Like Home’ have done well. There were also his one-person shows have been showcased in the UK, Denmark, Germany, Netherlands, the United States, and Canada. Pieter has also been credited with a previous award-winning performance of ‘Foreign Aid’ in New York in 2004.
Pieter-Dirk Uys is a maestro that has perfected his craft for so long that many now see it as a full-time career. Uys has been unemployed from way back since the 1970s, which gave him ample time to direct, produce, act, and even make his own dresses for performance. Needless to say, is the fact that he also wears these dresses himself during these renowned performances. Worth noting is the fact that after surviving the mediocrity that accompanied apartheid “kultuur”, he uses his performances as a platform for his own therapy, as well as exposing the various rots in governments. He also takes pride in the existence of a government that allows him to express his ideas freely.
During the apartheid regime, his works found it difficult to reach his required audiences due to the strict government censorship that existed. However, despite this censorship, he still managed to reach quite a very large number of multiracial audiences through the availing of his works on DVD formats. Uys is famously known for playing the character Eva Bezuidenhout, who is a white farmer of Afrikaan descent and is a socialite and self-proclaimed political activist. In essence, the Evita character was an inspiration from one Australian comedian’s character ‘Dame Edna Everage’. Being an ambassadress of Bapetikosweti, it paints the picture of a fictitious black homeland that is situated right outside of her house in the well-off white-only suburbs of Johannesburg. As such, Evita Bezuidenhout is given the name in honor of former Argentine First Lady Eva Peron.
Under the apartheid regime, Pieter mostly employed the use of humor as well as stand-up comedy to poke fun at and critic the South African government for its poor policies on racism. As seen earlier, due to most of his work remaining uncensored, this made many ruling party politicians to approve the work half-heartedly, because they were not brave enough to do so because of fear of backlash from the general public and other members of the ruling party. Uyn particularly mocked the South African government as well as the discriminatory nature of white liberals.
Following South Africa’s first elections of non-racist nature in 1994, Uys was in a TV series where Evita interviewed the then former president Nelson Mandela and other famous politicians. He also had notable performances in theater such as the ‘You ANC Nothing’ performance. While openly coming out as gay, Uys was also an avid activist for the HIV/AIDS education in the country. Furthermore, he is currently involved in bringing AIDS awareness programs to children in the country, as well as providing lessons on proper condom use. Additionally, he has also managed to convert the old Darling railway station where he resides into a performance arena where he does his regular performances. In 2004, Pieter participated in the Carte Blanche story, which was mainly involved in deciphering the common myths and mysteries that surround genetics, race, and ethnicity in South Africa. This was entitled “Where Do We Come From?” in this case; he found out that he has sort of a Khoisan Heritage from his mother’s side. One of the greatest achievements of Uys was winning the prestigious Special Teddy award at the Berlin International Film Festival in 2011, mainly due to his successful contributions towards AIDS education in South African schools. Worth noting is the fact that this award is usually awarded to people who have achieved in life through delivering content with LGBT topics.
However, the biggest dramatic performance was delivered to him by his mother when she wrote him and his sister a note minutes before she was to commit suicide. In the note she confessed something that left this Lutheran raised 4th generation South African with Dutch descendance that lead back to the Hugenots settlement in South Africa in tatters and shred to pieces everything he thought to be true and real about his genealogy. His sister a famous concert pianist in her own right in London nor him a trained actor, never once had one moments suspicion nor even ever a concern nor a doubt about who they were and were they came from. Convinced of nothing but the thought to be truth as anyone would be when told by your parents. They were sure that they were 100% 4th generation South African until that terrible day when they learned of their mother’s suicide and they discovered the note their mother left behind confessing who she really was. She was none other than a German Jew and holocaust survivor that escaped Berlin right after being told by Hitler himself “to go that he no longer wanted this talented concert pianist to pollute the German philharmonics with her Jewish music.” And so, she did as she was told and left in a big theatrical way. She in seeing that the prospect of her ever-playing piano at the level and grandeur she was accustomed to was all but shot. Not knowing if she would ever be allowed to play the piano in Germany left Berlin and headed to South Africa packing her grand piano with her and sending along with all her personal belongings to South Africa in a move she thought was forever. Upon arrival to South Africa she vowed never to go through that experience again of hatred for being born of a certain religion and discriminated for something that she could not change, or could she? So, to avoid discrimination again to challenge her life in the musical arts for her and her children that were yet to be born. She having later learned of her families fate in Berlin at the hands of the Nazi gas chambers, made what must have been the toughest decision to never speak about the incident that left her with nothing but survivors guilt. She left never fully comprehending that she would never see her family in Berlin again. Also, knowing at the end coming to grips with the true intentions of the Reich was to exterminate all Jews which was sure to include her but without thinking about something she couldn’t possibly. She went in search of freedom to play the piano at any venue without discrimination. So, she left Berlin innocent of the knowledge of what was to become of her family she never knew that on the day she left that she would never again see her extended family and became the only living survivor of a family who had succumbed to their deaths by the hands of a diabolical holocaust lead by the 20th century most despicable man Adolf Hitler.
Abdurrazack Achmat has seen and experienced closely two of the most savage struggles of current times, which have happed in his hometown of South Africa, first was the fight against apartheid towards the end of the 20th century, as well as the fight against HIV/AIDS during the first quarter of the 21st century. Zackie, as he is usually referred to, watched helplessly as the pillars of his country’s racist regime crumbled. However, despite all these, he still had a dream of a day when he could talk about how there is also a major health crisis in the region. As such, he has been effortlessly working hard, with hopes that that day would finally come.
In 1998, Achmat boldly disclosed that he was HIV positive. By then, he was already an established gay activist and even co-founded the Treatment Action Campaign to help others that are infected with the virus. View the Treatment Action Campaign as a tool to be used against ignorance and outright discrimination that has largely contributed to the high infection rates in the country. The good news is that ever since the establishment of the campaign, there has been a drastic fall in obstacles that may prevent the treatment or management of AIDS in South Africa. To this effect, the many victims of HIV/AIDS in South Africa usually view Achmat as their “Nelson Mandela.”
Achmat was born in Johannesburg but later grew up in a Muslim community in Cape Town. For some reason, he deviated from his religious roots that lay emphasis on Trotsky teachings, later dropping out of high school to delve into a life of prostitution and imprisonment at the time when his country was at peak black power struggle. As such, he joined the war against apartheid because he saw it as a just cause, and also due to the fact that he used it as a way to let go of frustrations due to his sexuality. In one notable instance, he tried to set his school on fire at the age of 14 because black South Africans were being forced to learn the Afrikaans language, which was considered a white minority language. As a result, he received jail time for his rebellious antiques so many times that he even failed to graduate from high school. By this time, the streets were also his other home.
By the time Achmat emerged from the underworld, the country was also gradually coming out of white minority rule, and thus he was forced to confront a new struggle. In this case, he was diagnosed with HIV/AIDS and the doctors gave him only six months to live. Confused and scared, he withdrew from family members and watched action films while waiting for his imminent death. But death was far away than he had imagined and he immersed himself into making films about gay and lesbian lifestyles as well as a pursuit of a degree in English, from the University of western cape. He was also among the founding members of the National Coalition for Gay and Lesbian Equality and was on the forefront towards strengthening anti-discrimination laws in South Africa.
Ever since the Treatment Action Campaign was initiated there has been a direct relationship between its activism and positive signs of progress in South Africa. As such, the cost of antiretroviral drugs has sharply dropped to $ 2,000 per annum from a whopping $ 10,000. There are also numerous employers in the country offering treatment cover for an even lesser amount. Achmat’s shaming antiques helped the government win a lawsuit that would ensure that less developed countries are also accorded the opportunity to import drugs. His other achievement was forcing the then president Thabo Mbeki to avail antiretroviral drugs to pregnant women.
Most recently, he was also involved in a campaign dubbed the Civil Disobedience Campaign, whose aim was to ensure that the government avails drugs to all people that are infected. Perhaps, many may agree that his greatest sacrifice towards this cause was his own infected body. Even though he was well within means to afford the expensive drugs, he vowed not to take any medication until the government made them available to all that was positive. This has led to his body being riddled by a myriad of opportunistic infections which have greatly weakened his body.
Achmat has won many accolades and recognition due to his bravery. One of these awards is the Global Mann Award for Global Health and Human rights. Achmat, therefore, believes that his moral courage will be crucial towards freeing his country from its oppressors.
Simon Tseko Nkoli
Simon Nkoli is another South African renowned activist. He is also an individual that has experienced first-hand oppression of black gay South Africans through apartheid. Ever since he was a young boy, he was always aware of what it meant to be a black man in the apartheid strong South Africa. He was raised by his grandparents who at the time were employees of a white land-owner. As a way out, he attended school to help empty his frustrations. After the white owner and his grad father pushed him to stop school and work on the farm as well, he then opted to run and go stay with his step-father and mother Sebokeng.
It was at around this time that he started taking a keen interest in politics and activism. As such, he joined the fight against apartheid by becoming a member of the ‘Congress of South African Students.’ He discovered his sexuality and later came out as gay, but Congress was not about to stop him working due to his sexual orientation and thus he was allowed to continue serving. Even though he had the go-ahead, there were looming repercussions ahead.
His family could no simply fathom and welcome the idea that he was gay, even though they had initially vowed to support him. As Nkoli began having a sexual relationship with a certain white driver called Andre, there were massive protests against this by both sides of the families’ individuals. The funny part about this is that while Nkoli’s family protested because of his sexual orientation, Andre’s family protested because Nkoli was black.
In a bid to make Nkoli “straight” again, his family embarked on a mission to take him to several religious leaders who would, in turn, quote anti-gay scriptures but when they bore no success, the had a psychiatrist see him to offer counsel and support. After Nkoli and Andre threatened to commit suicide, their family members had no option but approved of their relationship.
During this time, Nkoli was already an active member of the Gay Association of South Africa (GASA). The people of this group were mainly whites and had an apolitical white stand. Because Nkoli was also actively involved in the fight against apartheid, his fellow GASA counterparts refused to be a part of any of his discussions that involved racism and apartheid.
In one notable instance, Nkoli got arrested during a rent-boycott protest. His case was serious because he and other 21 political leaders were on trial for treason charges. If convicted, all of them would have to face the death penalty. As he awaited his trial, his sexual identity was made public, prompting other fellow inmates to demand a separate trial, in fear that his sexual orientation would affect their trail. As this went on, GASA was still at crossroads on whether to support Nkoli or rather, banish him from the group altogether. They eventually banished him and withheld any support towards him. Surprisingly, his fellow prisoners decided to stick with him and even acknowledged his bravery.
After spending four years in custody, he was finally acquitted and went on to found the Gay and Lesbian Organization of the Witwatersrand (GLOW). As such GLOW aimed to avoid previous mistakes and discrimination like those of GASA, by ensuring that they recruited more black members as well as whites without any prejudice.
After his release, Nkoli travelled widely and met many influential leaders as well as winning awards for his role. In fact, he was the first gay activist to visit and meet former president Mandela. In 1990, Nkoli was even brave enough to organize South Africa’s first gay parade in Johannesburg, dubbed the Beverly Palesa Ditsie. During this parade, he emphasized the importance of equal rights and protection to everyone, regardless of their skin color or sexual orientation.
Nkoli was also among the first gay men in South Africa to come out that he was HIV positive. In this regard, he founded the Positive African Men foundation located in Johannesburg but later succumbed to complications from AIDS at the age of 41. One thing that remains clear is that as he lived his life, Nkoli was always in a dilemma and those closest to him seemed to try and choose his path instead of letting him accept who he actually was. However, he took a stand and refused that choice, stating that he was indeed black and gay without any shame.
Any person that knows just how difficult it is to be in between multiple marginalized identities can relate with this struggle. However, Nkoli’s balancing act made him the leader that he actually was.
THE THREE MOST UNLIKELY HEROS UNITED WITH A POWERFUL FORCE THAT WOULD LEAD THEM IN TO SOUTH AFRICAN HISTORY BOOKS FOREVER:
These three very different people could never in one million years know that they would fight apartheid and later would all three turn their sights on the cause of gay rights in South Africa. These three historical characters were activist fighting side by side with Judge Edwin Cameron. Not one thing in common except two things one was the will to be free to be gay and to have the freedom to marry and see millions of others in the LGBTQ community enjoy the freedoms they fought so had together to obtain. They would fight side by side and shared not only this journey but also commiserated on the second thing that they had in common that they were not only gay men but they were gay men fighting for their lives the fact they were all three fighting an even bigger enemy separate but together an enemy thought to be too powerful to overcome and one that they thought they couldn’t possible predict or ever know HIV/AIDS. They for the exception of Simon when their battles with apartheid, gay rights, gay marriage and the de-legalization of sodomy laws which were tantamount to a sentence of death or 30 years in prison. They would found organizations together and lead parades and throughout there struggles both personal with their tenacious attack of the virus that would send them on a tailspin in to full blown AIDS and the recuperation of it through antiviral treatment and renewed. They weathered many storms together but more storms where looming in the horizon and they would band together once more to fight a bigger enemy they couldn’t see coming…