Yearning to be Bonang

2014-11-16 15:00

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Exactly 20 years ago, people wanted to be Basetsana Kumalo (née Makgalemele). Now they want to be TV’s Bonang Matheba.

Who we dream and aspire to be like reveals who we think we actually are.

Like a veritable television statue of liberty, she lifts her light – beckoning the tired, the poor and the huddled masses, who all tune in to see her and yearn to be just like her: glowing, poised, successful and upwardly mobile.

Not only is she South Africa’s first face of Revlon, she’s the new face of a transitioning South Africa.

As the country celebrates the anniversary of two decades of democracy, it’s easy to miss, when we reflect, that 20 years ago it was Kumalo, when she won the Miss South Africa crown in 1994, who personified the South African Dream (and yes, she still does).

In the whitewashed absence of successful black people on South African TV, a beauty pageant had to be the chalice holding the aspirations of millions who didn’t dream that they could be famous and beautiful on TV.

But suddenly they did think they too could be(come) famous for simply being beautiful.

Two decades on, and now people think they can be Bonang – a word not signifying just beauty for the sake of being but one of accomplishment borne out of effort – a word that encapsulates an aspirational value set of hard work, tenacity, determination and beauty with brains.

Where young girls grew up thinking they could “only” maybe be a Miriam Makeba, an air hostess (yes, they now call themselves “flight attendants”) or a pageant queen, they now aspire to be beautiful and brilliant on TV.

Bonang is already working on two new TV shows for next year – besides being the walk-and-talk face of Top Billing on SABC3 and Clash of the Choirs on DStv’s Mzansi Magic.

Just this year, she showed her tremendous range on telly, from World Cup coverage on SuperSport and hosting the MTV Africa Music Awards in Durban, to hosting ANN7’s South African of the Year Awards in Joburg and presenting coverage in Glasgow at the MTV Europe Music Awards.

Oh, she’s on radio too.

While Top Billing might sometimes be panned and criticised for its lavish and deluxe lifestyle showmanship, it remains the golden standard on local television of South Africa’s aspirational values.

Trying to emulate Oprah Winfrey, it was by no means a guarantee that our smaller local TV-verse would be able to unearth and nurture similar local name brands able to build a large base of followers.

But we did, and among them Bonang is by far the biggest.

All hail the Queen B and her continued TV success.

What her rise to fame says about her is the same as what our adulation of her says about us: that 20 years on in our freedom, even bigger and better dreams are possible for us than what we could ever have imagined.

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