Admin Seng'shilo: Brand Bonang is okay but is she?
We remember the exact moment we met Bonang Matheba. It was 2008 at an awards ceremony at Emperors Palace. She was the new Live Amp host and we were told by then socialite, Uyanda Mbuli that this girl was 'one to watch.' Bonang was late and we eventually had to meet up in the dark and dusty parking lot at the casino on the East Rand, Johannesburg.
She wasn't shy, but she was withdrawn. She was wearing a simple black dress and was there alone, giving us a hug and joking about being featured in the now closed heat magazine. As entertainment journalists, we are constantly bombarded with people pushing their friends, their clients and themselves to be featured. They're all seeking the same thing: fame and recognition. Bonang was no different: she was new-ish to the industry and like everybody who first enters the entertainment world, she wanted to make a name for herself.
A few months down the line, heat magazine decided to do a fun photo-shoot with Bonang and her then boyfriend, Slikour. It was the annual Sexpo, and we asked B and her man to come along with us, climb giant inflatable penises and, well, go shopping for sex gadgets. It was cheeky, fun and the two were totally game.
"Slikour is way more famous than me," she joked as we watched her rapper beau get stopped at the event at Gallagher conference venue.
"He gets stopped ALL the time. I never do."
That was then. That was a untainted Bonang who was happy to do photo-shoots with her boyfriend, talk about their relationship and had a seemingly simple view of fame, laughing at the fact that she was in his shadow. It was refreshing to have a celebrity couple so open, so willing to have a bit of fun and talk openly about their life in the spotlight.
Predictably that changed. After their very public break-up, their status shifted, with Bonang hogging the limelight as she soon began to get more coverage in the press, and the rise of her 'it' girl status began. Along with her countless endorsement deals and numerous gigs, came the constant intrusion into her personal life. She was dating Euphonik, but refused to speak about it, apparently making a promise to herself to 'never discuss' her personal life. By that she means her relationships or controversies. Because she let TV cameras into her house, she shared her diet tips, what's in her make-up bag and spoke about her childhood.
In 7 years we've seen the power of brand Bonang grow at a steady pace: Woolworths, Revlon, Ciroc, Gert-Johan Coetzee, Top Billing, Metro FM. This was it. This is what she had always wanted. With each high though, there seemed to be an equally harsh blow: The Slikour break-up, Euphonik abuse claims, a physical altercation with Poppy Ntshongwana, a feud with Minnie Dlamini, a feud with Metro, drug allegations, a sex-tape. She is arguably the most controversial celebrity in South Africa - because of her ongoing hike to major career highlights and because of her inability to stay away from drama.
Enter September 10 2015. DJ Zinhle labelled Bonang as the single reason she and AKA had parted ways. Not just that, but Zinhle painted a terrible picture, telling people in an open letter that she had found out about the so-called affair a week before she was due to give birth.
The blog post became the number one talking point in South Africa. The lines had been drawn and just like when Jennifer Aniston lost her husband, Brad Pitt to Angelina Jolie, there were camps: Team Zinhle or Team Bonang.
Social media was a mess. AKA has spoken out about the horrendous things that were said about Bonang. And yes, they were hateful, horrific and distasteful. While her loyal fans stuck by her side, there was no way she could possibly escape the wrath of angry people who felt let down by her, disappointed by everything that was happening. It was a melting pot of shameful and intimate details South Africans just weren't used to: and they lapped up every.single.piece.
Now a pro at keeping her chin-up and 'carrying on with it' Bonang seemed to continue to focus on her work - even her pr team said as much in a statement after the allegations. "She is not in a relationship and is focussed on her career."
Okay. But behind the pictures of glam dresses and retweeting fans, what was going on?
Bonang made an appearance at her first press conference post the scandal at the launch of Ciroc's new pineapple flavoured vodka. She had to - she's an ambassador for the brand and was contractually obliged to be there. But we all knew that this wasn't going to be our chance to speak to her about what's been going on. No no no.
Bonang was ALWAYS surrounded by her team. There was not a single moment that she was alone - bar when she was posing for a photoshoot at the event in front of journalists.
Pasting a smile to her face, Bonang happily hugged journalists she knew. That was it though: a 'helllllllo, it's been so long,' and then conveniently distracted by something or someone. We expected it. We expected the laughs and giggles during the press conference as we were shown images of her trip to Mauritius with fellow ambassadors DA L.E.S, DJ Speedy and David Tlale.
It was the stolen moments that made our hearts feel for her, though.
Moments like hiding in a secluded corner with her crew for the entire duration of the after-party, hooked on her phone and sipping on a drink. We asked her about the Woolworths issue (the fact that they asked media to retract statements made by Bonang saying that her lingerie line would launch in Australia) Her response? "Oh, I didn't know about that. Someone told me today," quickly excusing herself, only to sit down 30 seconds later.
Another telling moment was much later into the event. We caught ourselves watching her as she spoke angrily into her phone, her arms moving in jerky gestures. In that moment, she turned around and rested her face on her elbow, a look that said the world was on her shoulders. She made eye contact, gave us a wave, and got back to her companion: her phone.
Who knows that caused her to react like that. It could've been anything. But in that moment we knew that things were not okay. How can they be? Yes, brand Bonang is fine. There's been much talk about whether or not her endorsements would be affected: they haven't. Would she lose her jobs? No. But what about her? Is she okay?
We've had sources close to her tell us that she has cried over everything. That she puts on a brave face, but the comments do get to her. That for a certain time she was in isolation, shutting herself off from those who are close to her. Now, slowly, she's making time to surround herself with her trusted ones, making sure that her spirit and her heart is nurtured.
It's a heck of a thing - whether you were in the right or wrong - that she's had to endure. The bigger point here though is that she will be okay. That like with most things in life, time heals, and with the world on her shoulders, it's also at her feet.