19 years ago in South Africa, the era of apartheid ended with the election of Nelson Mandela. April 27, 2013 marks Freedom Day in this country, and we feel so lucky to be here on this day.
What does freedom day have to do with comedy? Well, just about everything. With the end of apartheid, comics around the country unleashed a blitzkrieg of political comedy. Suddenly you could say anything without fear of repression or repercussion. Nineteen years later, what did we find?
Well, for one thing, even though South Africa is supposed to be one of the most heavily armed nations in the world, you sure can get close to your president! Our day started in Pretoria, with a 21-gun salute, helicopters overhead, and a cultural parade right in front of President Jacob Zuma. Whether you were Zulu dancer or a television cameraman, getting within a spear-throw of the nation’s top guy was really, really easy.
Hey, can you imagine getting this close to Barack Obama?
Here’s some other things I learned about President Jacob Zuma: his nickname is “JZ,” he has seven wives, and an estimated 21 children. Polygamy is legal in South Africa, so when our host, Hasan Minhaj, was chatting up some pretty girls at the Freedom Day celebration, one told him, “You’re so cute you could have five wives here.” (Two less than JZ.)
Security guards also believe in freedom here. They let me and my cameraman right up on the main stage at the Freedom Day festival. We followed one of the country’s top singers up the ramp, on to the stage, in front of a crowd of a few thousand screaming fans. In the US, could I ever get that close to Kanye?
Finally, we ended our day back in Joburg at the huge Hip Hop festival, “Back to the City.” Thousands of young South Africans came out to celebrate Freedom Day–sporting fresh designs, skateboards, heavy gold chains and collectible Nikes that would make any sneakerhead give a second look. And whoa, the break dancing!
In a nation where not so long ago being openly gay could get you killed, we encountered groups of gay young men, wearing fine fashion and proudly singing their own theme song.
Let Freedom Ring!