When a Twitter user took it upon themselves to list the number of partners Bonang Matheba has been with, she clapped back and so did her fans. Thirteen thousand tweets later, this backwards, misogynistic attempt at overtly shaming a woman for her sexual relationships has become a viral celebration of the impact South Africa’s most successful TV personality has on her supporters.

#IAmBonang: more than fan backlash

The hashtag ‘I am Bonang’ may have been sparked by a stranger’s entitlement, but its purpose is to revere Queen B’s success, influence and the overall force that she is. It also affirms and empowers her squadron of supporters. Instead of another furore, for a moment social media became a positive space. It is a rare feat for the South African faction of Twitter, especially where a woman’s sexual autonomy is involved. I guess this formidable woman’s gravitational pull has a lot to do with the fact that she is an unapologetically gifted, hardworking TV personality, and I’m going to come back to this. But first, a burst of feels before I give my TED Talk:

Reading tweets from the #IAmBonang hashtag probably had a lot of us identifying with a few Bonangisms, but there’s a bigger conversation here that I would like to delve into: how Bonang epitomises the meaning of ‘celebrity’ in South Africa.

The Bonang effect

Bonang is phenomenally successful: from Live to Top Billing to her own reality TV series Being Bonang. Then there are magazine covers, billboards, an E! special, hosting Miss SA and awards shows, her own line of lingerie with Woolworths, and Bmojis – just to name a few. In a country where TV presenters were once less well-known than musicians and actresses, ‘Your girl B’ ushered in a new wave where presenting became glamorous, respected, and a dream job for many. But as the adage goes, ‘to whom much is given, much is tested’. With every rung climbed on her career ladder, Bonang has been met with gross antagonism and unwarranted humiliation.

A normal human reflex may be to retort, feed the trolls, and consequently let it break you, but Miss Matheba has always remained graceful and professional. We’ve all seen celebrities inadvertently dim their own light with Twitter rants, expressing problematic opinions or behaving in an uncouth manner towards fans. Of course they are fallible humans, and being gifted and wealthy does not mean you are perfect, so it shouldn’t perplex us when they behave badly.

Why Bonang has true star power

However, Bonang’s brand of fame is an apt case study of the duty celebrated public figures have to their supporters. Even when the opportunity to be crass and indelicate presents itself (sometimes it’s even justified), you take the high road and continue to do your job well – in the same way lawyers have a duty to defend, news reporters have a duty to inform, and government has a duty to deliver to its citizens (eventually… one day). And beyond entertaining, celebrities have a duty to uphold a positive image 90% of the time.

This should not be misconstrued as a license to poke and prod at their personal lives, entitlement to their opinions or that they should display opulence at all times for fear that they will de deemed broke if they don’t. It simply means that there’s a part of fame that is synonymous with virtue, gravitas and charisma; and Bonang is one of the few famous people who has fully embraced that.

It’s the reason why, at the age of 30, she can have 13 000 tweets dedicated to her for simply being the unapologetic force she is. Bonang empowers women to see some of the traits she possesses in themselves too. Thank you for always giving the people what they want.

…give them what they want. ❤

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