In her memoir, Bassie: My Journey of Hope, businesswoman Basetsana Kumalo reflects on the abuse she says she suffered at the hands of former boxer Dingaan Thobela, a painful miscarriage she suffered and how she built her empire, writes Ntombizodwa Makhoba
Basetsana Kumalo’s life is far from being perfect. She has had her fair share of trials and tribulations on her journey to success. In her memoir, Bassie: My Journey of Hope, the former beauty queen is vulnerable as she pours her heart out.
“As public figures, we also go through struggles and deal with pain in our silence. When I turned 40, I kept a journal and recorded thoughts and recollections on my dictaphone. But I wasn’t ready to release my book then,” she told City Press.
She described writing her memoir as a “cathartic and healing process” for her. This year marks 25 years since she was crowned Miss SA in 1994, instantly becoming a public figure. “I also turned 45 [this year].
This is important for me and the reason I wrote my memoir. It’s a gift to myself. “In this memoir I am vulnerable and I speak my truth. There is nothing left unsaid and the moments are so raw in their truth,” she said.
‘My first boyfriend Dingaan physically abused me’
Kumalo had just being crowned Miss SA when she met her boyfriend, former super middleweight boxing champion Dingaan Thobela.
“This is the first time I’m talking about the abuse I suffered at the hands of my first boyfriend Dingaan. I was celebrated publicly but privately I had an abusive boyfriend who physically assaulted me more than once. But I was ashamed of coming out because the society would judge me. It was a very hard time in my life. Sometimes I was living a lie, pretending that my relationship was perfect. But I knew it was far from being perfect,” she said.
She recalled one incident she would never forget. “One day he hit me twice with a back-fisted hand that had a big ring on it. My head hit the headrest so hard. I was bleeding and hysterical and I ended up in hospital.”
But she said she had to lie about the incident, saying she was mugged. A few weeks later, she had already made up her mind that she wanted out but Thobela would not entertain that.
“Instead, he pulled out a gun and put it to my head threatening that he would kill me if I ever tried to leave him. But from that day I knew it was time to walk away,” she said.
However, on Friday Thobela denied ever beating Kumalo, saying the story was fabricated. “First of all, she is lying. I am not her first boyfriend,” said a fuming Thobela.
He said when he wrote his autography, Rose of Soweto, he offered Kumalo a chance to tell her side of the story but she turned down the offer. “Before I wrote my biography I went to a consultant with her to give her version of the story but she declined,” he said.
He said it was sad that Kumalo did not talk about his contribution to her life in her book. “I was hoping she would bring the positive side of me. Like any other relationship, we had our own disagreements but I don’t remember laying my hands on her. Did she show you the pictures of the beatings?”
Kumalo said that it was when she looked at the pictures of her beatings she found in her journal, that she said to herself: “I’m glad I left.” Kumalo said at first she was ashamed to speak out about her abuse because she felt no one was going to believe her but she eventually confided in her family. She said she was fortunate that when she left Thobela she was financially independent.
“The reality is that when women are not economically empowered and independent they stay in abusive relationships. But when we are independent we make better choices for ourselves.”
‘Depression is a silent killer’
In 2008 Kumalo found out she was expecting twins. She was excited to be a mother again as her first child, Nkosinathi, was almost three years old. But one day she woke up and she wasn’t feeling well. It turned out the amniotic sac had ruptured and the twins didn’t survive.
“I had already bonded with my babies, felt their moves but things didn’t go the way I had planned. I went through a severe depression after losing my babies.” She described depression as a silent killer, which is seen in communities as a taboo.
“It was the [most] painful experience that you don’t wish anybody could go through,” said an emotional Kumalo, adding that writing this part was really hard.
“I was sitting in my study room at 3am. I was literally wailing and my keyboard stopped working because it was soaked [with tears]. I [re]visited places in my life that I never wanted to go [to].” She said she tried therapy and a therapist wanted to put her on antidepressants but she refused.
“I had a strong feeling that I had to work through this pain so that I could get to the other side. “But I was not alone, ubab’ Kumalo [her husband Romeo] and my siblings were there for me. “My sister, Lerato, carried me through that time. She would arrive and order me out of bed and run me a shower. She’d put me in a robe and comb my hair.”
Stalker of note
In 2003, Kumalo had a secret admirer called Rakawu Joseph Bokaba but he was not a harmless stalker like Kumalo had before. He was obsessed with her and said he would do anything to be her husband.
“It all started with him sending letters, faxes. What started as something strange and unsettling soon became shocking and scary. The letters became more frequently and urgent. I feared for my life.”
Bokaba went as far as falsely claiming that he had spoken to Kumalo’s father Philip Makgalemele to arrange lobolo negotiations. Even after she had laid a complaint with the police, Bokaba did not stop stalking her. He became more threatening, not to only to Kumalo, but also to her family and colleagues.
“He went as far as sleeping at the petrol station down the road from my home, hoping he would catch a glimpse of me getting petrol,” she said. Two years later, she applied for a preliminary protection order.
The police later tracked Bokaba down in Mamelodi, Pretoria, where he lived with his mother. “His entire room was covered wall-to-wall with every single picture and article that had been published of me.” She later found out that Bokaba had been in a horrific accident in 1991, which left him with amnesia and epilepsy.
‘The importance of entrepreneurship and mentorship’
Kumalo said by the time she was 20 she was self-employed and she wanted to instil the same spirit in talented young people. She believes they can be whatever they want to be.
“Entrepreneurship runs in my veins. I was raised by parents who were hustlers and they taught me to work hard and to be my own boss.”
She also highlighted the importance of mentorship because it has shaped her into the woman she is today. “I’ve always encouraged people to have mentorship [programmes] in any field of business. This is because I have also stood on the shoulders of giants, such as the late ubab’ Madiba and mama Graça Machel. They both contributed so much to my success and this is the reason why I mentor young people,” Kumalo said.
The businesswoman said her book has helped her to bury the dark memories in her life.
“From this memoir I want people to learn the spirit of optimism, [I want] to inspire and give young people hope and [encourage them] not to give up on their dreams. My story is the story of survival.”
- The memoir will be launched on Thursday. Catch Basetsana Kumalo on Friday and Saturday at Diamond Walk in Sandton for book signing sessions
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