Watching Bonang Matheba in action is like a masterclass on how to get an audience eating out of the palm of your hand. She has that presence that draws people to her, yet keeps them at a safe distance.
We want as much of her as possible, but we also don’t want to be too much in her space, so that we don’t stifle her. It’s almost like there’s a rarefied air that she breathes that’s different from what everybody else breathes. Such is it being one of the most followed, revered, loved, hated, but also respected media personalities on the continent.
Bonang was the hostess of the popular lifestyle event, The Grand White Dinner, and she was in her element — and it was mesmerising watching her on stage, with the audience trying their best to snap the perfect images of her.
But what surprised me, even more, was seeing her spending almost half an hour taking pictures with fans, all of whom jostled for her attention.
Bonang has that effect – the ability to make things popular, more so than any other public figure in South Africa and, I dare say, on the continent. She has not only reached the glass ceiling in South African entertainment, she’s smashed it too. It, therefore, makes sense that she has started making inroads beyond our borders – the demand for her is huge.
The many foreign magazines she’s been on the cover of, working with stylists like Law Roach (now a judge on America’s Next Top Model) and now Harrison Crite; being on the radar of US celebrities like Gabrielle Union, she’s solidified her status as one of the continent’s biggest stars.
I’m still shocked that she agreed to do a reality show and, after the first season had mixed reactions (and yet it was one of the most talked-about shows last year), I was surprised she was doing a second season.
“I bowed to pressure,” Bonang tells me over the phone recently. “Everywhere I went, e-mails, social media: people wanted to know when Being Bonang was coming back on screen. Even on the continent people wanted to know when the show was coming back, so clearly the demand was there, and, well, I needed to give the people what they want.”
The show gave us so many catchphrases; it’s one of the reasons why it has become part of South African pop culture.
She admits the first season was difficult. “I was nervous having cameras around me all the time. I felt like it was intrusive. I didn’t know what I had set myself up for. I value my privacy and it meant opening myself up to scrutiny, and also my family to the whole country. I do think I have prepared myself for the second season and I’m more comfortable.”
This season, Being Bonang will see a lighter, more carefree, fun Bonang – the Bonang we fell in love with early on in her career as a Live presenter.
“It’s a celebration of life, love, family and friends, my success…there’s going to be champagne, the exclusive events I attend, working on my brand, more laughter. It’s going to be fun. I have a new lease on life and while there will be a bit of drama and some shade, it won’t take over the show.”