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From escaping her stalker to the heartbreaking struggle of starting a family - Basetsana Kumalo gives us a first look into her extremely personal new memoir

2019-10-15 07:08
Basetsana Kumalo
Basetsana Kumalo (Photo: Supplied)

Cape Town - 25 years after being crowned Miss South Africa, 25 years since making her TV debut, and 25 years into our young democracy, Basetsana Kumalo releases her memoirs, Bassie: My Journey of Hope

Speaking to Channel24, Basetsana, affectionately knows as Bassie, describes her creative space and frame of mind, when she finally decided to put pen to paper. 

At 20 years old, Basetsana Kumalo was crowned Miss South Africa 1994. Throughout her reign, the confident and intelligent university student shattered glass ceilings and served as an icon of racial progress, as well as role model for South African women of colour.  

As the first black presenter of the lifestyle TV show Top Billing, she travelled the world and interviewed legends like Oprah Winfrey and Luther Vandross.

While there were definitely exceptions, seeing a black woman on TV celebrated for her beauty and intelligence during the early nineties was far and few between. For myself, a teenage girl teased for her "staalwol hare" (steelwool hair), seeing a person of colour on TV,  changed my perception of beauty, as told by the mainstream media.  

Basetsana formed a partnership with Top Billing producer, Patience Stevens and Tswelopele Productions was born, with Basetsana owning a fifty-percent stake. 

ALSO READ: PICS: Basetsana Kumalo is all smiles in Louis Vuitton at Sandton book signing

In 1999 Tswelopele Productions was listed on the JSE and Basetsana became one of the youngest black women directors to be part of the mainstream South African economy.

Five years later, when I was 15 years old, Basetsana was voted one of the 100 Greatest South Africans, the only Miss South Africa to do so. Once more, Basetsana paved the way and showed me, and all women of colour, that there are endless opportunities for us to succeed in life. 

For the better part of her adult life, Basetsana kept a journal, documenting her many successes, heartaches, and failures. In 2019 she shares her deeply personal story of hope with South Africans - unfiltered, raw, and uncensored. 

Bassie: My Journey of Hope has been decades in the making, says Basetsana, who had been journaling for years. "In the last five years, I also made a conscious decision to record myself with a dictaphone. Because there may be a moment you want to catch and you don't want to forget about it," she says.

She adds: "I didn't write the book in 2019...the book was always there to be written...it was just a matter of time."  

The businesswoman and philanthropist says: "I just felt like everything was in alignment in 2019, and it was finally time to finish what I started. It was a very poignant year."

According to Basetsana she "couldn't have scripted it better" even if she tried. 

"It's full circle, and I feel like I'm halfway through my life. At 45 years, God willing, he granted me long days, and I have another 45 years left," she says. 

It is also crucial for Basetsana that her kids hear her voice, from her perspective. What made her cry, what brought her joy, what inspired her, and how she overcame life's challenges. 

I've come to learn that the writing process is a complicated task which involves many thought processes at once. 

The late Maya Angelou had one of the more unique writing processes. She had a hotel room that she rented every month, which she visited daily. The room was stripped with no decorations, and she only kept a Bible, thesaurus, deck of playing cards and a crossword puzzle in her writing space.

For Basetsana, a typical writing day would start by taking the kids to school and returning to a quiet home where she would write for about three hours, before taking a break. 

Her usually decluttered study with a sleek minimalist design was littered with journals, notes and photo albums. "I would usually at the best of times, even sleep in my study," she says.  In the afternoon, she would fetch the kids at school, where it then became impossible to write between household work and her parental duties. She would return to the study around 22:00 or 23:00.

But different spaces often ignited different memories. "I took short retreats. Often I would feel like I needed to be in the bush, where I would spend about a week without seeing anybody, sitting with my thoughts and nature."

She adds: "Sometimes I would feel like I needed to be cleansed, particularly after writing intense chapters. I would get on the plane and go to Mauritius, where I would spend a week and write. Wherever I found myself in the world, it would be myself and my thoughts, and my God."

Through her autobiography, Basetsana hopes to "ignite a spirit of optimism." She says: "We, as South Africans, have forgotten that we are resilient people. We are courageous and hopeful. We overthrew a system, and we can once more charge a system that is different for another 25 years."

Through telling her story, Basetsana hopes to "inspire a new generation of young people." She elaborates by saying: "I hope that young people will feel that if I could challenge the system and break the mould back then, then they can do the same in 2019 and 2020."

The pages of Bassie: My Journey of Hope, describes the legal battles Basetsana waged to protect her name. She gives a chilling account of the "stalker who harassed her for decades," and the "spurious" sex-tape allegation that rocked her family and almost ended her career.

She opens up about the pressures of her high-profile marriage to Romeo Kumalo and their heartbreaking struggle to have a family.

About writing the darker chapters, she says: "This was going to be my only book, and I wanted it to be a candid reflection of my life."

"It was raw, painful, and it was gut-wrenching because I realised that I hadn't necessarily dealt with the many losses in my life," she confesses when talking about the unburdening process. 

"The passing of my dad, my mom, and losing my baby. I got on by running away from the pain and throwing myself back into my work. I decided that it was just too painful to go there."

According to Basetsana, she found healing in the book, and she compares it to therapy. 

"It was cathartic, and I feel so much lighter as if an incredible weight had been lifted from my shoulders," she says. 

Basetsana's story is of hope, a story of courage, determination, and resilience. A firm belief that tomorrow would be better. Her story is one that speaks to all people. 

Basetana hopes to encourage the people of South Africa to write their own stories. 

"When we write our own stories, so many lives could be impacted positively. I want to encourage a culture of writing because so many people have amazing stories to tell," she says.  

I look up to several professional women in the media industry, and Basetana has been an inspiration for many years, possessing qualities I wish to one day call my own.

They say never meet your heroes, but today, more than ever, Basetsana remains a light at the end of the tunnel, and her autobiography a guide when I'm lost in the dark.