South African ventriloquist to challenge gagging order against his puppet in race row

Chester Missing's broad brown face is familiar on South African television where he is known for provocative, funny comments on politics and racial issues. Missing asks South African politicians questions that few others would dare.

Now he has been gagged by a court order to stop challenging a white singer.

Chester Missing is a puppet.

Comedian Conrad Koch, who is the ventriloquist for Missing, says that he will fight the gag order against his puppet in court.

The white comedian strongly denies allegations that tweets criticizing the singer Steve Hofmeyr amount to hate speech.

The singer said the tweets, which came from the Twitter account of the puppet, accused him of racism. He said he obtained a court order barring the ventriloquist and his puppet from making any statements about him in public or on social media.

The ventriloquist said he would not comment directly on the order, "out of respect for court processes."

"I don't admit to the allegations and will be opposing them strongly, very strongly," he said. The case will be heard in a Johannesburg magistrate's court on Nov. 27, according to a statement from the singer.

The singer had tweeted to about 121,000 followers on Nov. 3 that the ruling African National Congress is victimizing white South Africans. In a related Facebook statement where he discussed the merits of segregation under apartheid, the singer wrote: "Apartheid was cruel, unfortunate and unsustainable, but WHAT inspired that maddening segregation?"

In response, the ventriloquist began a campaign calling on sponsors to remove their support from the singer and asking South Africans to boycott any commercial brand associated with him. A local car dealership said it removed the singer's sponsored car. One of South Africa's largest supermarket chains said in a statement that while it "rejects Steve Hofmeyr's comments on apartheid," it will not revoke sponsorship of a festival where Hofmeyr is to perform.

The ventriloquist and his popular puppet, known for controversial political commentary, still perform on South African television and on stage. Nevertheless, he said the court order has affected his act.

"I do feel like I'm cautious about what I say," he said. "I talk about race and culture all the time."