There’s the online shaming, the new love in her life, the hundred tweets a day and, above all, her brand. But who is the real Bonang Matheba? MC Editor, Jackie May, finds out.

Bonang Matheba sits quietly, blanket over her knees, head down, fingers scrolling across her phone. The woman who has more followers on social media than any other woman in Africa is cutting out the noise of the crew putting together the shoot around us. We’re at Morrells Boutique Estate in Northcliff, Johannesburg, and there must be 40 people bustling about: Bonang’s publicity team, two TV crews for behind- the-scenes inserts, a public relations team, Marie Claire’s fashion team, catering staff and me. Bonang remains unfazed. But with 1.57 million followers on Twitter and 938 000 on Instagram, she’s probably used to attention. Bonang manages her own social media. I counted more than a hundred tweets on one day and 58 by mid-afternoon on another day. The tweets range from ‘Pre- production meeting! Shooting my new Revlon commercials this week! Yay!’ to ‘Let’s rock!’ and ‘Flights to LA always leave me LOLing hey!!! The Rand is killing us’.

Most tweets are retweets, with or without comments and a colourful use of emojis. ‘There is a certain way I want to present myself,’ she says. ‘People love the attention they get from me.’ If she didn’t manage her social media accounts herself, she believes her followers would react to the loss of authenticity. But being on the front line means she’s not protected from negative comments. ‘Every single word in the world that you can think of, I’ve been called. I have encountered the worst. The very worst.’ Bonang, who is 29, has become all but unmissable. She has a production company, a lingerie line with Woolworths, and a radio show, The Front Row, on Metro FM. Not to mention hosting SABC’s Top Billing and Afternoon Express. She also has her Revlon endorsement and is an ambassador for French vodka brand Cîroc. Her heart, however, remains in television – ‘that’s how I was introduced into the business’ – but she loves her radio show for its immediacy and intimacy. ‘Actually,’ she says, ‘I love everything I do. I only do work that I love.’ It’s almost eight hours since we started the shoot and we’re having a drink in one of the hotel’s luxury suites. The bed is strewn with remnants of the day’s work – clothes, shoes and bags. It was a long, difficult day but Bonang is still keen to chat. Her publicist and personal assistant occasionally pop in and out the room, pack away her stuff, check on her, ask questions about tomorrow’s schedule – her morning radio show and a shoot for a Revlon campaign. Still, there is clearly no rush to get home to anybody or anything. One reason, as she suggests later, is that she’s got no commitments at home: not a dog, a cat, or even a fish to worry about. And yet, she has her worries. ‘I have definitely been bullied. If this past six months had happened to me six years ago, I would be broken. I would be on the floor at my mother’s house, weeping, on a drip, using an asthma pump. I would be finished. Now, it’s water off a duck’s back.’ She is referring to comments on social media relating to a two-and-a-half-year relationship with DJ Euphonik. When I probe, she curtly says, ‘It happened in 2012, and I left it in 2012. I don’t want to drag this dead dog across the street.’

She is currently dating rapper AKA who, she says, treats her like gold. The day before our cover shoot, the couple had returned from a short holiday in Mauritius. Her downtime is spent travelling, mostly to see family in Durban and her two best friends, who live in Cape Town and Kenya respectively. ‘I take a lot of holidays,’ she confesses. It’s not all planes and champagne, though – she’s been working on building a strong brand, figuring out what it stands for and what she loves. ‘It’s all about fashion and lifestyle: about luxury, beauty, travel and glamour. Brands that come to me don’t only want to tap into my market, they also want to attach to Bonang. I don’t attach to them.’ She’s so committed to her work, she says that when asked if she’ll have children, she tells people to ask her when she’s going to Milan instead. ‘I just want to be about Louis Vuitton, and Top Billing and Revlon. Amazing hair, contouring, inspiring young girls.’ Bonang’s fans are mostly young and female, and she is interested in supporting girls especially while they are transitioning between school and post-school studies, or between studying and the workplace. Girls often lose their way at these precarious times and lack the confidence to go into their chosen careers with determination. She gives workshops and motivational talks, offering advice on fashion, beauty and finances. Bonang has been recognised for her work with many awards, most recently by winning this year’s Oliver Empowerment Award for Top Empowered Media Personality of the Year. I ask her how she copes on a bad day. ‘In this industry, nobody cares if you’re having a bad day. “The show must go on. You have to be professional. You have to be flawless. We booked you.”’ And yet… ‘I have gone through the worst pain: an ex-boyfriend having a child with someone else during our relationship. Being beaten. Being cheated on. Being embarrassed on social media numerous times.

Everything you can imagine and then some more.’ She doesn’t respond to online haters. ‘I have mastered the art of silence. I am not combative. I don’t enjoy arguments. I don’t like to fight. I am a very peaceful soul.’ Another coping mechanism is boxing. ‘I box three times a week for an hour at a time. It’s a stress reliever. I box out all my frustrations.’ She believes in seeing through pain, not harbouring the hurt, and in getting help. ‘I get lots of help from my family. And professional help – you need someone who is neutral, someone who is not on your side, who will tell you the truth, the brutal truth. I am a Cancerian: hard on the outside, super sensitive on the inside.’ She was born in Mahikeng in North West. After her parents divorced, she moved to Johannesburg with her mother, where she matriculated from Fourways High School. Her father is an academic based in Limpopo and her mother lives in Durban. Both have remarried. She did well at school: prefect, captain of the netball team, cheerleader. But it’s her determination to succeed that explains her success: As a little girl, she went to audition after audition until she got a job. ‘I’m hard-working. I am very talented. I wake up in the mornings, wanting to do better than I did yesterday, do better than I did an hour ago. I pay attention to detail. I give one thousand percent of me to anything I do.’ What about the next five years? ‘I want my own talk show – definitely on a national broadcaster. I am at a point in my career where I want to pay it forward.’ She tells me to think of a mix of Oprah Winfrey and Queen Latifah’s shows. ‘Think something fun with gravitas and substance that cuts across all races and ages, something that is hard-hitting. A platform where you can talk about fashion but also rape and women’s abuse and child abuse.’ It will be a reflection of women, something she believes we’re missing on national television. ‘Women are multifaceted. One day we want to talk about fashion, the next about wine, but when the shit hits the fan we want to talk about that, too. About abuse and racism.’ Bonang is clearly a focused, hard-working woman with a clear vision of how she sees herself in the world. ‘I live, sleep, and eat entertainment.’ Her strategy has been successful: She employs 10 people, and is building a Bonang Matheba empire. It will be one to watch.

Production: Kelly Fung

Photographs: Steve Tanchel/ Red Hot Ops