SPECIAL FEATURE: BONANG MATHEBA
Channel24's Graye Morkel discovers a deeply personal side of Bonang Matheba in a candid interview with the South African star.
Cape Town - Local TV personality Bonang Matheba is the most influential South African female celebrity on social media with close to 7 million followers across Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, not to mention her app, Bonang by Cell C, sitting at well over 789 000 monthly users.
With the dawn of social media, starting with MySpace in 2003, celebrities and cultural obsession slowly began to infiltrate our daily lives, influencing our everyday decision, from the brands we buy to whether or not to go vegan.
Increased recently with the debut of Instagram Stories, Facebook Live and celebrity apps, we've gained closer access than ever before to our favourite stars.
Speaking to Channel24, Bonang, who partnered with director Brian Corso on the documentary Public Figure which examines the power wielded by influencers, says: "I've been in the industry a long time, even before social media and as social media grew, I grew too. I understand the territory and how it relates to my job."
"A lot of what I've done, and how I stay relevant is essentially owed to social media."
As expected, when you reach a certain level of fame, the internet trolls come out to get you, and even though it comes with the territory, it doesn't mean Bonang is immune to cyberbullies.
Case in point, with the release of Bonang's House of BNG bubbly, haters were quick to point out a spelling mistake on the MCC label, without knowing the full reason a limited amount of bottles were made available with the unfortunate type.
"It's expected that a lot of people will have something to say. As I am a public figure and my life plays out in a public space. But at the end of the day, I'm human. I'm not going to say that I am untouchable, because it hurts. That's why I think I block and move on because you can't spend your time altering someone's perception, especially when the good outweighs the bad."
When celebrities share their envy-worthy holiday photos and outfit of the day posts, albeit sponsored, liking, commenting and retweeting make us feel more connected to our idols than ever before.
But what Bonang ever so carefully pointed out to me was, even though celebrities flood our timelines with carefully curated photos, how well do we actually know them and the lives they lead.
"If you pay special attention, I don't share anything about my life. I don't share when I'm home or having dinner with my family, because those are my quiet times. I show work stuff, like when I'm in a different country working. All the moments that aren't on social media, that's really what I enjoy and what's special to me."
And I quickly learn that the same goes for media interviews as well.
"I've taken great care in managing my personal life and, keeping it out of my business since I left my ex, and that's how I like it too," Bonang replies when I couldn't resist asking about recent engagement rumours. The way the media mogul has utilised social media to build her empire is just one of the topics Bonang will explore in Public Figure, which she also co-produced.
"We also spoke to psychiatrists, social media attorneys and entertainment lawyers. Not only do we cover what influencers do but we want to help adults understand where social media is going, how it's impacting our generation and how we can benefit from it."
About the documentary, which received an award at the Socially Relevant Film Festival in New York, Bonang says: "For a first time producer, I don't think people expected this big of a splash, or for me to receive so much love. Life is looking good for me at the moment."
Another project close to Queen B and her multitudes of fans' hearts is her reality show Being Bonang, which over two seasons saw her reach trending on social media status week after week.
Not be confused with yet another upcoming TV project Bonang: Coming to America, the 31-year-old promises that season 3 of Being Bonang will still be "very much stationed in South Africa" which she calls home.
Speaking more on what viewers can expect from the new season she says: "I'll be travelling in an out of Lagos, as well as some London travel, so season 3 is going to be a little bit more international. It's going to be true to what my life has become at the moment."
Bonang: Coming to America, which she says is still a working title will be chronicling her life in the United States.
"I'm currently putting together a travelling talk show, looking for a place to stay and signing several new deals in America, so that show will be focussed on my life in New York," she explains.
With season one and two of Being Bonang currently streaming on Showmax, Bonang reveals that of course she too is a fan of internet TV and enjoys Grace and Frankie, The World's Most Extraordinary Homes, Chef's Table, 7 Days Out and You on Netflix.
But with a spirit of putting others first, Bonang is putting her fame and fortune to good use, not only advancing with the Bonang Matheba Bursary Fund, but she is also investing her time and efforts in other educational initiatives.
"I see a portion of the funds from House of BNG going back into the African community. Either by sending more girls to school, or building a school where young girls can pursue their education for free. It will be a great honour, and a great way to leave my mark in this country."
"Education is something that can change somebodies life. It is something that somebody will always be grateful for, and is something that nobody can take away from you."
Bonang, who no longer graces our airwaves during a regular timeslot, but instead dedicated her time to building her personal brands, says that she believes God removed her from "that space for a reason" even though it was hard to see at the time.
"I understand now that He wanted me to be a butterfly because he needed me in so many places at the same time, and I couldn't be bound to just one place. God is really taking me on a global journey, and I needed to be free to fulfil that."
She continues: "This is my time. I'm looking at things that I love, everything I own. Everything that I'm doing I love and I'm at a time and place in my life that I am just so happy. I'm comfortable and blessed because I get to choose what I do now. How I spend my time, how I spend my money and projects that I want to be a part of."
Let's clink a glass to the rise of Bonang, and what's yet to come.
(Photos: Gallo, House of BNG by Celebrity Services Africa)