In October last year, the inimitable 32-year-old TV personality and entertainment industry maven Bonang Matheba, became the first-ever recipient of the 5 For Changemaker Award “in recognition of her work as the founder of The Bonang Matheba Bursary Fund and for using her platform to advance social justice issues in South Africa and around the world.”
And this year she continues to fight the good fight for worthy causes. As such, Bonang is one of the world-renowned artists, personalities and activists including Hugh Jackman, Priyanka Chopra Jonas, Common, Pharrell Williams, Gayle King as well as corporate leaders and grassroots activists who are working towards conscientising and igniting change with Activate: The Global Citizen Movement.
This is a six-part National Geographic documentary series in partnership with P&G about Global Citizen’s efforts to eradicate extreme poverty by 2030.
Each episode explores an issue connected to poverty, showing the “Keeping Girls in School” episode that was filmed with Bonang Matheba and Gayle King in Johannesburg. In this episode, we will see menstruation-related barriers to girls’ education, and how P&G’s Always Keeping Girls in School programme helps address this through providing puberty education and menstrual hygiene products.
The series premieres on Sunday 15 September 2019 at 20:00 on National Geographic (DStv Channel 181), and ahead of this premiere, Bonang delivered an impassioned speech highlighting the importance of educating girls and called on the private and public sectors to get involved in addressing this issue through various efforts, including the provision of period products.
In light of these events and the glaring fact that three countries in Africa have over a million girls not in school, with sub-Saharan Africa being the region with the highest rate of gender-based education exclusion; W24 sat down in conversation with Bonang to unpack what can be done about these dire conditions.
Charity begins at home
It can be said that good deeds are the fruits of the seeds planted at home, and this is evidently the case with Bonang, who reveals that "education runs in [her] family."
"I'm surrounded by a lot educators so naturally I'm in love with education," she explains that her father is a lecturer at the University of Limpopo and she once aspired to be a grade 2 English teacher. Her mother was a teacher at Careers Center in Soweto.
In addition to this, Bonang acknowledges the brutal awakening of the 2015/2016 Fees Must Fall protests with regards to barriers to education in our country, saying "2016 was a pivotal moment in South Africa with the hashtag #FeesMustFall, where varsity students were protesting about the fact that they can't get into school."
She recalls a personal 'aha moment' amid this tumultuous time, where she said to herself, "I can do something about that" as a public figure in the spotlight who has access to places, platforms, and heads of state. This marked the inception of her Bursary Fund to help girls complete their tertiary education - an initiative she hopes will have educated 300 girls by 2030, and which she herself marvels at, saying "words cannot describe how it feels to have someone say 'Bonang, you have changed my life'."
The line of wisdom "to whom much is given, much is required" immediately comes to mind when this widely appreciated star says she's in a position of privilege which allows her to make the most out of her power network and in turn, be a mouthpiece for others.
It's at this intersection of our conversation that gender-based barriers against the girl child are brought to the fore. We delve into the issue of how the effects of such barriers can be reversed - be it with regards to period poverty or child-headed homes.
Shining a light on issues facing us
Before the award-winning philanthropist explains how we can move forward as a people, she highlights the platforms that she's recently been a part of in order to further inform her work of activism for girl children.
"I was part of the UN General Assembly last year with President Macron, Justin Trudeau and the then Prime Minister of the UK, and earlier on this year I was at the UN Women's Summit in Mumbai, where the agenda was the 'unstoppable girl' and how to make the world an easier place for the girl child to live in."
"The more light you shine, the easier it is [to start being a part of wanting to fix the issue]," she says, adding, "slow and steady wins the race."
Educating the girl child molds her into the woman who'll enrich the office and her home
Equipping young girls with education and the tools to convert that education into power is, without a doubt, an investment any nation can never rue feeding resources into. Bonang agrees with this sentiment, saying, "educating the girl child has a ripple effect - women are nurturers and they pay it forward. They are really the head, shoulders, and neck of any community."
She adds the caveat that this is not to say that boy children are not as valuable as the girl, but rather that girl children have "more odds stacked up against them."
Allow the girl child to be unstoppable by being someone she can relate to
Giving back is a layered duty for someone with as much star power as Bonang, which is why the celebrity who essentially epitomises confidence and grace deems it equally important to pay it forward in both cash and kind(ness).
Growing up as a black South African girl, she always wanted someone she can relate to, whether they look like her or have shared similar experiences.
"What I realise is that the more I share my stories - whether it is domestic violence or going through puberty and menstruation - young girls can say 'ah, if Bonang goes through it then it's fine', you know." This speaks to how the realisation that although unique, the challenges you face are still universal. And once you acknowledge this, they cease to become hurdles that stop you from achieving your goals.
"You need to humanise yourself because that's the only way you can really get to connecting with people, and that's what I love about Global Citizen - we bring it down to the people."
Envisioning a future where The School of Bonang Matheba is a place we can take our children
In concluding my conversation with Bonang Matheba, I asked her what core values and principles would be the backbone of her school in order to ensure the betterment of South African girls' lives.
After a brief momentum of sincere contemplation, she told me the following;
"I would want to teach the boy child to be a better human being, and to raise strong men. That's where the problem is right now - we're forcing girls to deal with the issue and come up with a solution.
"The problem is actually not the girls - it's the world that the girls live in. So how do you make the world that girls live in a better place? By educating people that are not girls. It will solve half the problem if half the people are conscious of who they are, what they're doing and the damage that it has on the fairer sex."
She then adds that her school would "really be about intention."
"I've seen in my life that the better your intentions, the better the outcome - there's something about having good intentions consciously [or otherwise] that creates a domino of positivity towards you. People with pure hearts, pure thoughts and pure minds usually [attract] bigger and better blessings.
"So that would be my focus; to make sure that the children there have good intentions."
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