Politicians Impaled by the Satirist's Pen: Comedians and Cartoonists Had a Ball Poking Fun at South African Politicians in the Run-Up to the General Elections. Tom Nevin Reports

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South Africa is a quickly developing society of the savvy, the smart, the trendy and the tolerant, the latter having blossomed in the last 15 years when the country's 42m or so black people suddenly found themselves part of a political society that is allowed to be irreverent towards its leaders without the fear of being flung into jail or out of windows from tall buildings, as happened during the apartheid regime.

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At the hustings of the recent general elections, nothing was sacred. Often the barbs were flung from electioneers' platforms and it was not easy to separate the insults from the politicking slings and arrows. Former Finance Minister Trevor Manuel took an unkind dig at Democratic Alliance (DA) opposition leader Helen Zille's self-confessed Botox treatment; African Nationalist Congress (ANC) youth president Julius Malema called Zille an "imperialist and colonialist". She fired back by labelling him an inkwenkwe, a Xhosa term for an uncircumcised boy not yet considered a man. Malema immediately returned the insult by calling the DA's youth league "garden boys". "And you're no better than a garden gnome," riposted DA youth leader Khume Ramulifho.

Nando's, a chicken eatery franchise, has for years based its marketing on contentious current issues and often lands in hot water but reckons it is worth the free publicity it generates for its spicy Portuguese dishes.

In the election run-up, as Zille traded insults with Malema, cartoonist Jonathan Shapiro mercilessly parodied president Jacob Zuma and playwright Pieter-Dirk Uys staged a farce that shredded the egos of just about all of South Africa's political figures.

Bubble, bubble, toil and trouble

You had to be a fly on the wall at recent packed houses at Johannesburg's Market Theatre for the staging of MacBeki: a Farce to be Reckoned With to catch the drift of how the societal cauldron bubbled as South Africa's satirists got to grips with the current crop of politicians in the run-up to the general elections. Audiences were a kaleidoscope of young and old and black and white.

"For the next two hours, their reactions were a combination of laughter, murmurs of approval and sharp intakes of breath," says reviewer David Smith. "It is not a normal response to Macbeth, but this is no ordinary Macbeth. The Scottish play has become the South African play: For King Duncan, read Nelson Mandela; for Macbeth, his successor Thabo Mbeki; and for Macduff, the man set to become president of the country, Jacob Zuma.

MacBeki: A Farce to be Reckoned With lampoons the nation's leaders with fearless abandon, likening the internecine warfare in the governing African National Congress to the bloody power struggle in Shakespeare's tragedy. It suggests that political satire is flourishing in South Africa in ways unthinkable elsewhere on the continent."

The play's author is gay performer Pieter-Dirk Uys and features his cross-dressing alter ego, Evita Bezuidenhout, a politicised version of Dame Edna Everage.

"Satire is not a very familiar alphabet in Africa," says Uys. "In the last 15 years of democracy, I've been celebrating my freedom; we tend to forget how free we are and how far we've come. But if Zuma tries to curtail freedom of speech, he's going to be busy, because we'll bite him whenever we can. …