BONANG FROM A TO B

South African busi­ness­woman and ra­dio and TV per­son­al­ity Bonang Matheba’s pop­u­lar­ity is un­matched. In this ex­tract from her new book, she gives her fans some in­sight into the evo­lu­tion of the in­dus­try and com­pares it to what it was like when she first ent

CityPress - - Front Page - From A to B by Bonang Matheba Pub­lished by Black­bird Books 195 pages R220 From A to B will be launched on Au­gust 3

Icame into this in­dus­try at a dif­fer­ent time. Say­ing that makes it seem like it was decades ago – but some­times that re­ally is what it feels like. When I look at the evo­lu­tion of so­cial me­dia, as well as what it has done for and against the en­ter­tain­ment in­dus­try, I am con­stantly shocked at what there was when I ar­rived and what ex­ists now.

In the early 2000s, when South Africans met me, so­cial me­dia hadn’t taken off like it has now. Back then, we mainly had Face­book and a limp­ing Mys­pace. Now, the pos­si­bil­i­ties, ex­tent and reach seem like a com­pletely new world with all we have go­ing on.

Ev­ery­thing seems closer, big­ger and eas­ier. I re­mem­ber a time when things moved slower, with­out the many live and mul­ti­me­dia fea­tures – it was Twit­ter with just 140 char­ac­ters, no gifs, no Periscope that al­lowed you to go “live” on Twit­ter; you had to down­load gifs on to your phone – and that’s if your phone could even sup­port gifs. You also couldn’t re­ally hope that YouTube could get you no­ticed – maybe in the US, but not in South Africa.

In the early 2000s, if you wanted to “break out”, you had to en­ter a VJ or pre­sent­ing com­pe­ti­tion, which is how pre­sen­ter, pro­ducer and busi­ness­man Sizwe Dhlomo got his big break – through the first MTV Base VJ search.

The fal­lacy of so­cial me­dia is that it makes things seem and feel in­stant. One of my most im­por­tant lessons from this in­dus­try is that you sim­ply have to put in the time and in­vest in your work. Many peo­ple look at me now and imag­ine my jour­ney has been easy, and that it was in­stant and that I had things handed to me. But I have known since I was 14 what I wanted, and have been working at it since then. Even when I wasn’t vis­i­ble, I was al­ways some­where working my ass off, wait­ing and hop­ing for a chance.

Noth­ing teaches you the value of time and pa­tience like working in TV and ra­dio; or rather try­ing to get into the space. In these in­dus­tries, things move at their own pace; a glacial pace. As I learnt early on in my ca­reer, it can take years to get in. Once you’re in, it takes years to build some­thing worth­while – at least it did when I was start­ing out. It seems so old school to keep talk­ing about ca­reers tak­ing time to build, but it’s true. This is not true just for me, but for many of our idols. The Bey­oncé you see now, that in­cred­i­ble force who can trend for days from just one Instagram post, who has in­spired so many girls and women like me, started out in 1997. So when she dropped Lemonade, her in­cred­i­ble vis­ual al­bum with a fea­ture film in 2016, she’d been at it since she was a teenager. DJ Fresh, world-fa­mous club DJ, busi­ness­man and all-round ra­dio god, started out in 1992 – be­fore host­ing break­fast shows on YFM, 5FM and Metro FM.

I know that it seems, when we speak about the value of time, that we want to dis­cour­age younger, fresher tal­ent from entering the game, but we aren’t. I am cer­tainly not, but it re­ally is how the game con­tin­ues to work, even in this age of so­cial me­dia. Do some peo­ple get in quickly? Yes. Do some peo­ple get in with­out “merit”? Maybe, of­ten, yes, but what is merit?

That said, I do not want to seem to be tak­ing away from the fact that the ad­vance­ment of so­cial me­dia has helped some of the new faces get ac­cess to the eyes and ears of peo­ple they oth­er­wise wouldn’t have ac­cess to. Blog­gers, In­sta­gram­mers and peo­ple on Twit­ter have been spot­ted and picked up by brands, oth­ers even be­com­ing col­lab­o­ra­tors and am­bas­sadors for cer­tain brands, which is an amaz­ing and ex­cit­ing op­por­tu­nity for young peo­ple. It opens up the en­ter­tain­ment in­dus­try in many ways, and that can only ever be a great thing.

What I gen­uinely worry about, though, is that so­cial me­dia and the in­ter­net have eroded the value of tak­ing time to build some­thing that has true, last­ing value, be­cause it gives the im­pres­sion that trend­ing or a so­cial- me­dia mo­ment is mak­ing it, or that your Char­l­izeTheron-in-the-bank-mo­ment must hap­pen here and now.

Char­l­ize Theron did, es­sen­tially, per­form in pub­lic to get no­ticed; the story of Char­l­ize Theron’s dis­cov­ery goes that she got in­volved in a scream­ing match with a bank teller on Hol­ly­wood Boule­vard. They re­fused to cash a cheque her mum had sent her to help pay her rent be­cause she needed the money while try­ing to break into act­ing in Los An­ge­les. While Char­l­ize was do­ing all this shout­ing, a tal­ent agent was in the queue be­hind her and gave her his busi­ness card, and he went on to in­tro­duce her to cast­ing agents and an act­ing school. It took an­other three years for her to get her first big Hol­ly­wood movie, and her Os­car came a whole decade af­ter that im­por­tant mo­ment in the bank.

Am I be­ing preachy? Per­haps a lit­tle, but if you get any­thing from this ser­mon, let it be this: noth­ing is as in­stant as the world wants us to be­lieve. In the times of in­stant grat­i­fi­ca­tion, it is im­por­tant to note that worth­while ca­reers and/or brands still need some of that tra­di­tional slow cook­ing.

My big break is un­de­ni­ably bag­ging Live on SABC1, but be­fore that came along, I was at the Uni­ver­sity of Johannesburg (then known as Rand Afrikaans Uni­ver­sity). While I was still in high school, my fa­ther ac­cepted a lec­tur­ing post at UJ and moved to Johannesburg and that is what even­tu­ally in­formed my de­ci­sion to study there.

The Uni­ver­sity of Johannesburg, like many uni­ver­si­ties in big cities, was a pre­vi­ously whites-only in­sti­tu­tion that opened its doors to all stu­dents once the coun­try be­came demo­cratic, and it be­gan its awk­ward pro­gres­sion to­wards shed­ding its Afrikaner cul­ture and find­ing a way to be a home to the mul­ti­tudes of peo­ple that make up the coun­try and their chang­ing stu­dent body. It’s a big in­sti­tu­tion, in the South African con­text any­way, and boasts more than 27 000 stu­dents over nu­mer­ous cam­puses, one of which is the old Vista Tech­nikon cam­pus in Soweto, not too far from the home in Pimville that I once shared with my fam­ily.

The cen­tral cam­pus in Auck­land Park is a few kilo­me­tres from the SABC twin build­ings that can be seen on the Joburg sky­line, right next to the Sen­tech/Brix­ton tower. When they came into view, I would look up at the SABC tow­ers and imag­ine them be­ing my place of work some day. I would imag­ine my­self entering the SABC and dis­cov­er­ing the im­mense world of television and ra­dio hid­den in­side it. It was like my North, and while I waited for some­thing that would take me in its di­rec­tion, I was con­tent with be­ing down the road at UJ.

That I would go to uni­ver­sity was al­ways a given; I come from a home where both sides of the fam­ily have re­ceived some kind of for­mal ter­tiary train­ing. I was also ex­cited to use uni­ver­sity to dis­cover what I wanted to do with my life (in ad­di­tion to TV). I was con­sid­er­ing a BA in mar­ket­ing communications, which I chose be­cause I thought it could help me get into mar­ket­ing for a chil­dren’s prod­uct or brand. I went through the mo­tions of stu­dent life – I was there and present, but a part of me was very rest­less. My TV ca­reer had hit a plateau. At that point, the only TV work I had done was kids’ TV, so un­less you watched those pro­grammes, you wouldn’t have seen me.

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