As It Happens

South African court orders political commentator and puppet Chester Missing to put a sock in it (Update)

Chester Missing may be a puppet, but that hasn't stopped a South African judge from putting a sock in his mouth. Chester -- with the help of his ventriloquist, Conrad Koch -- does rather sharp-tongued political commentary on South African TV.
South African comedian Conrad Koch with his puppet 'Chester Missing.' The ventriloquist says he will challenge a gag order against his puppet (Photo: Schalk van Zuydam/Associated Press)

Chester Missing may be a puppet, but that hasn't stopped a South African judge from putting a sock in his mouth. Chester -- with the help of his ventriloquist, Conrad Koch -- does rather sharp-tongued political commentary on South African TV.

Recently, the puppeteer and the puppet have been raising questions about a popular musician named Steve Hofmeyr. Hofmeyr is an Afrikaner, and earlier this month he sent out a tweet accusing the African National Congress of victimizing whites. Last month, he tweeted that blacks were the architects of apartheid.

Chester Missing and Conrad Koch have joined a campaign urging Mr. Hofmeyr's sponsors to drop him. Mr. Hofmeyr has responded by taking them to court under South Africa's hate speech laws. Now the singer has convinced a judge to bar both puppet and puppet master from saying anything, in any way, directly or indirectly about him.

"What I can talk about completely, separately, is that my own work is involved in discussing the discourse of culture in South Africa," Koch tells As It Happens host Carol Off. "The conversation, we, as the entire country are having is [about] recreating our identity. And part of that is that people blame the liberation party, the African National Congress, Mandela's party, for a lot of the problems, because there are things that have gone wrong since Apartheid ended. But at the same time, there's a huge drive among white South Africans to deny their involvement in the system."

Chester the puppet chimes in. "Racism is like our national sport. There's racism all the time. It's insane. You benefited from race for 400 years and when it's time to fix it, there is no race. That's like those people who when it's their turn to do the dishes, go, 'There's no dishes.' It's ridiculous."

"Today, I was the first puppet in the history of the world to pick up police papers. Kermit the Frog must be dying of jealousy."

As you may have noticed from the picture above, Koch is white, but Chester isn't.

"His colour is brown," Koch says of Chester, "although the identity claims of blackness and his accent have all mostly been removed. "So he never goes, 'I'm black' or 'As black people," or does anything stereotypically black. He just looks brown. Which is part of my concept, I'm a white guy questioning my own privilege and the history of apartheid. By far the majority of Chester's fans are black."

Of course, Chester responds to this. "Conrad's exploiting me, it's absolutely disgusting. This is a white South African riding on my career. I feel like I'm Beyonce and he's Destiny's Child, it's offensive."

In all seriousness, Koch tells us he has retained the pro-bono services of a prominent South African law firm, Webber Wentzel. He expects to go to court on Nov. 27.

Update to this story: A judge has lifted the gag order on Chester Missing. Both the puppet and its master are free to speak. We reached ventriloquist Conrad Koch after the court ruling to get the update.

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