Charlize and me

David Bullard says everyone should calm down over the actress's remarks on Afrikaans


Back in February 2004 I was sitting in the Planet Bar at the Mount Nelson Hotel enjoying a few drinks with some friends when my cell phone rang. It was the delightful Vanessa Chemaly, events organiser par excellence for the Sunday Times, who wanted to know if I would be able to auction some items at a huge event at Gallagher Estate the following month.

To be perfectly honest I wasn’t enthusiastic about the gig because it meant I had to cut short a holiday and return to Joburg so I didn’t ask very many questions before I ended the call. My drinking buddies wanted to know what the call was about and they were obviously better informed about the social events calendar at the Sunday Times than I.

“You’re mad to turn it down” said a well connected female drinking buddy. “It’s the bash they are throwing for Charlize Theron to celebrate her winning an Oscar for the movie ‘Monster’. You’re crazy. Phone Vanessa back before they hire Gareth Cliff”.

So I phoned Vanessa back and told her that I had checked my busy diary with my agent and found that I could squeeze this into my hectic schedule.

Thus it was that I found myself on stage with the gorgeous Charlize who had just won an Oscar for playing the most unglamorous role of her career. ___STEADY_PAYWALL___ The late Barry Ronge was the MC for the night and Ms Theron arrived surrounded by lots of stocky, sullen looking bald men with bits of wire in their ears. They probably moonlighted as tow truck drivers when they weren’t guarding bodies. We were all instructed not to approach the Hollywood superstar or attempt to make conversation with her. That privilege was reserved for the VIP guests like Patrice Motsepe and the head honchos at the Sunday Times.

Ms Theron sat at a central table set safely apart from the riff-raff and surrounded by her protective goons. When the time for the auction came Barry called me up on stage, introduced me and I took over the podium. I cracked a few warm up jokes and then got on with some charity fund raising.

One of the lots was a signed copy of the ‘Long Walk to Freedom’ which was bought by Patrice Motsepe for R125 000. Other lots such as a signed poster of ‘Monster’ went for R25 000. But the main auction item came last and that was the slinky, black Ralph Lauren dress that Charlize was wearing that night.

No sooner had I announced this auction item than Charlize got up from her table and, to the horror of her minders, sashayed her way seductively to the stage and joined me next to the microphone. Then she covered the mike with her hand and said to me “Do you think we’d get more if I took it off David?”

Sadly this turned out to be a rhetorical question and my suggestion that we postpone events for about twenty minutes while we discuss the logistics of this offer behind the stage curtain was politely but firmly declined before the Walking Viagra returned to her table. But at least she managed to convince all the women in the room that they wouldn’t look nearly as good in the dress as she did.

It sold for a measly R80 000 which was a fraction of its original cost apparently and it was later claimed that the dress didn’t even belong to her. It had been lent by Ralph Lauren who were probably hoping to get it back.

The auction raised a total of R650 000 for POWA (People Opposing Woman Abuse) so they were well pleased. Of that R650 000 Charlize Theron stumped up R200000 of her own money for a photo of her with the late Gwen Gill and the then editor of the Sunday Times, the bibulous Mondli Makhanya, and the soon to be removed CEO Connie Molusi.

After our intimate exchange at the microphone I felt very hurt that she didn’t want me in the photograph and this is a rejection that I will carry with me to my grave.

But, all in all, it was a great evening and Charlize Theron was the perfect, home-grown, Hollywood superstar returned to South Africa to be adored by her people. Which is why I found the hysterical reaction to a reported conversation about the number of people left in the country speaking Afrikaans so surprising.

Apparently, Charlize was the guest on a podcast which I attempted to listen to but found stultifyingly dreary and couldn’t fast forward so I didn’t actually hear what she had to say. But reports have it that she said that Afrikaans is only spoken by 44 people, that it is a “dying language” and that it is an “unhelpful language”. This has set the whole of social media on fire with news channels and aggrieved political parties attempting in vain to contact Charlize to find out what she really meant.

Even the Pan South African Language Board (PanSALB) which I didn’t even know existed (more jobs for cadres no doubt) swung into action labeling her remarks “disheartening, disturbing and inaccurate”.

It seems abundantly clear that some people need to ‘get a life’ as the saying goes. By claiming that only 44 people are left who speak Afrikaans Charlize was clearly taking the mickey out of her American interviewers who would probably have known no better.

It’s so obviously an outlandish statement that to demand an explanation suggests a woeful sense of humour failure. I have it on good authority having done some empirical research of my own that at least 368 people speak Afrikaans and that number might even be higher.

As for the claim that it is a ‘dying language’ we should perhaps consider the current woke fashion for decolonisation. Afrikaans is denounced by various lefty trendoids and even Stellenbosch academics such as Jonny Jansen as the language of the oppressor which is why it should apparently be chased off campus.

I would submit that my own language is far more worthy of the title of the ‘oppressor’s language’ (no offence meneer) but should everyone stop speaking English most of the world would be reduced to communicating in grunts. If Charlize had claimed that Afrikaans was a growing language she would have found herself in just as much trouble.

As for the comment that it is ‘an unhelpful language’ one would have to concede that every airline pilot in the world communicates in English so Afrikaans wouldn’t be at all helpful on the flight deck of an Airbus A380.

Similarly, if you wanted to engage with the Inuit people in a remote part of Greenland and ask them for a chunk of whale meat then Afrikaans would be worse than useless. However, should you wish to order a drink in Dorp St in Stellenbosch or on one of the many stunning wine farms in the area then speaking Afrikaans is a definite bonus and turns out to be very helpful. It’s also quite an advantage to have a smattering when you’re watching a rugby game on a big screen in a pub. But where Charlize now lives I suspect Afrikaans is redundant so her point is valid. Calm down everybody.

PanSALB’s comments that Charlize’s throw away comments on the Afrikaans language are “disheartening, disturbing and inaccurate” is a classic example of the medical condition known as ‘irrational hyperbolic overreaction’ which is becoming increasingly common thanks to social media.

If her comments really are ‘disheartening’ then morale at PanSALB must already be at a low ebb. To describe them as ‘disturbing’ puts them on the same level as that recent warning of an imminent terrorist attack in Joburg and as for ‘inaccurate’, well that all depends on how you define accuracy.

The obvious lesson that we can learn from this (or the ‘takeaway’ as the corporate suits would have it) is that we are blessed to live in a country with very few real problems. While Europe and the UK are panicking about rising inflation, a looming long cold winter, flooding, a collapsing health service and a seemingly never-ending war in Ukraine down here on the southern tip we prefer to get in a tizzy over a monstrously rich actress mocking her mother tongue.

Looking at the bunch of bandits lining up to lead the country at the coming elective conference you would think we would have bigger worries wouldn’t you?


The secret of great comedy is timing. Knowing exactly when to pause, and for how long, before delivering the punchline. Knowing how to spin the story out for maximum effect and to hit the audience with an unexpected ending.

Pres Frogboiler has turned out to be a master comedian and last weekend was one of his finest performances. Just as Eskom had dropped from Stage 4 load shedding to no load shedding at all and while the issue of government sponsored donkey cart transport in the North West province was still fresh in people’s minds Pres Frogboiler announced the plan to build two new ‘smart cities’; one on KZN and the other in Gauteng.

It’s quite possible that my understanding of what constitutes a ‘smart city’ is completely at odds with the ANC’s understanding but I assumed a reliable electricity supply to support all the high tech surveillance features would be a minimum requirement.

The obvious question being asked is how the ANC can even hope to build new smart cities when so many existing bankrupt cities and their infrastructure already lie in ruin. More to the point, how on earth can South Africa begin to afford this vanity project which, like most ANC projects, will run over budget and allow huge amounts to be siphoned off by loyal cadres?

Shortly after the Frogboiler finished explaining these grandiose plans Eskom announced Stage 5 load shedding. Oh how we all laughed. The kindest explanation is that Pres Frogboiler had just been to a screening of Wakanda Forever.