Cheers! Why Bonang Matheba is SA’s only true celebrity
Queen B has a story and a fantasy that she’s selling, she has an image: she is glamour, she is sass, she is success
Alright, before you attack me, a disclaimer: yes, SA has a few big names in the entertainment industry, such as Somizi Mhlongo (obviously) – but Bonang Matheba is the best example of how to do the whole celebrity thing correctly.
Starting off as a TV presenter, Bonang (she is in the league of celebs who don’t even need surnames – Madonna, Beyoncé, and yes, Somizi) has grown her career in a way no one before her has done. Her CV is so bright it’ll blind you: from Top Billing to Metro FM, an E! Entertainment special and hosting lots of awards shows, and having an endorsement deal with Revlon, she has transcended the “It Girl” tag we irresponsibly pasted on her.
“It Girls” fade. “It Girls” don’t have star quality. “It Girls” follow someone else’s narrative: Bonang has moulded hers in her own image. She has her own hugely successful lingerie line with Woolworths and now she’s launched her own MCC (House of BNG). She’s the first black woman to be a member of the Cap Classique Producers Association. And she isn’t working for anyone anymore – she doesn’t really need an employer to keep her relevant.
But Bonang’s celebrity power is about more than just the “what” – it’s also the “how”. She controls her narrative in the same way Beyoncé and Rihanna do. As she said in an episode of her reality show, Being Bonang: “They don’t understand me when I say ‘on my terms’.” And she really does do things on her terms. The rumours about her haven’t stopped flying for a decade: if anything, they have become more feverish with time, the more famous and powerful she becomes. But never mind that – when Queen B (as her rabid fan base calls her) talks, something she seldom does these days, people listen.
She was one of the first SA celebs (and I use this term loosely when referring to other people) to refer to herself as a “brand” and to sell herself as such. Unlike a lot of other people in the entertainment industry, Bonang has a story and a fantasy that she’s selling, she has an image: she is glamour, she is sass, she is hard work, she is success. She is aspirational to many a young black woman in SA, but beyond that, she also sells herself as accessible (especially on Being Bonang). That’s a rare combination to have: unattainable accessibility. Is it oxymoronic? Yes. Does she pull it off? Of course, darling.
During the launch of House of BNG, she was almost two hours late. People were agitated, they were edgy, they were antsy. But as soon as she arrived, all of that faded and suddenly the air shifted. Journalists, VIPs (including a minister) and photographers swarmed around her. They followed her as she walked on the grass, diaphanous pink dress with the highest thigh slits possible, ready to pose for photos. There was a wall of photographers frantically clicking away as she posed like a natural. And this is always the case when Bonang arrives anywhere: all the attention is on her and her alone, no matter the event. No one else gets that reception in SA, except maybe our politicians.
It’s no wonder her MCC sold out within hours of its launch online. And it’s no wonder she’ll get away with selling her MCC at champagne prices. We love status symbols, and we love glamour. Bonang is a glamorous status symbol.
As Sowetan writer Emmanuel Tjiya says: “Bonang has been ‘unemployed’ for three years – but her star hasn’t faded. She hasn’t been on ‘free TV’ in years, but people remember her. Now she just needs to give us that cologne.”
True: we can already dress like Bonang and now we can drink like Bonang. So why shouldn’t we smell like Bonang?
PS: I wasn’t paid to write this article.