Cover story – Bon­nie Mbuli On Her Ca­reer Longevity

Ac­tress, TV pre­sen­ter and au­thor BON­NIE MBULI, waxes lyri­cal about par­ent­ing boys, con­tribut­ing to the fight against de­pres­sion in Mzansi and cel­e­brat­ing 25 years in the en­ter­tain­ment in­dus­try

True Love - - NEWS - By MBALI SOGA Pho­to­graphs JURIE POT­GI­ETER

We’ve planned our Oc­to­ber cover shoot with Bon­nie Mbuli on pos­si­bly one of Joburg’s cold­est days in Au­gust. We anx­iously await Bon­nie, who was gen­er­ous enough to fly in from Cape Town, a city she and her two sons now call home. She ar­rives shortly be­fore mid­day, look­ing svelte in black leather pants, ca­sual white sneak­ers and an easy jumper. She beams as she gets out of the car and gives me a warm em­brace, re­mem­ber­ing our last True Love cover shoot back in 2015, and an­other in­ter­view I did with her ear­lier this year for SABC 3’s Af­ter­noon Ex­press. With a chock-a-block day ahead of us, I sneak in some in­ter­view ques­tions in be­tween hair, make-up and the dif­fer­ent shots.

In your last True Love cover story in July 2015, you men­tioned that you are co-par­ent­ing with your ex-hus­band, Sisanda Henna. Is this still the case, and how does it work? We don’t live in the same city but we have shared cus­tody. The boys ei­ther travel to him or he trav­els to Cape Town. Be­cause they pri­mar­ily live with me dur­ing school sea­son, they spend all their hol­i­days with their dad. When Sisanda is free on some week­ends, he makes time to see them or if I’m trav­el­ling to Joburg for work, for about a week, then I’ll take the boys with so they can see their dad. We try and cap­i­talise on what­ever free time we have in our sched­ules.

Shared cus­tody can get tricky, espe­cially when you’re jug­gling it with the ma­jor­ity of day-to-day house­hold is­sues. Do you, at times, feel that it’s not bal­anced?

I think that shared cus­tody only be­comes hard when par­ents don’t want to grow up. For in­stance, when par­ents have their own drama that they take for­ever to sort out, then shared cus­tody can prove prob­lem­atic. Chil­dren sel­dom make cus­tody an is­sue — they are very loyal and know how to love nat­u­rally. I re­ally feel like Sisanda and I have worked out all our dif­fer­ences, to a point where if I’m strug­gling with a con­ver­sa­tion be­tween one of our sons, then I can eas­ily call him and ask him to take over. It all boils down to be­ing hum­ble enough to ask the other per­son for help. What coun­sel would you give a cou­ple that’s con­sid­er­ing go­ing the co-par­ent­ing route?

I’d share what’s work­ing in my sit­u­a­tion. Ob­vi­ously, when a cou­ple starts talk­ing about co-par­ent­ing, it means that they’ve thought or spo­ken about mak­ing it work or stick­ing it out in the mar­riage — it’s not a de­ci­sion you make lightly. I’ve seen co-par­ent­ing work and I’ve seen it flop dis­mally, too, so my ad­vice is to be a grown up about the sit­u­a­tion and put yourself last. You can’t want to win be­cause ev­ery­body has al­ready lost.

As a mom rais­ing two sons at a time where we see head­lines, al­most daily, about how men are vi­o­lat­ing women, how are you con­sciously rais­ing your boys to be dif­fer­ent and to defy stereo­types?

Firstly, I think par­ent­ing needs to change dras­ti­cally in our so­ci­ety. I think that rais­ing boys should not be too dif­fer­ent from rais­ing girls in terms of the val­ues we in­still in them. I’ve taken to spend­ing a lot of time ex­plain­ing things to my boys. I’m con­stantly hav­ing con­ver­sa­tions with them about how to treat women, how to treat them­selves and how women are al­lowed to treat them in re­turn. I teach them about be­ing re­spon­si­ble and their con­tri­bu­tion to the world, and urge them to start think­ing about the kind of peo­ple they want to be. I’ve also raised my chil­dren to de­bate and rea­son with me — I don’t mind them ne­go­ti­at­ing their way through sit­u­a­tions but, of course, there are bound­aries.

Hair and make-up artist, as well as Bon­nie’s long-time friend, Nthato Mashishi starts ex­per­i­ment­ing with our cover star’s hair for the shoot. She swiftly in­structs Nthato on how she’d like to wear her hair for the shoot and they play­fully ar­gue about the per­fect end re­sult. It’s great to see how de­ci­sive and in tune she is with her per­sonal style.

What are your views on peo­ple call­ing you a sell-out for dat­ing a white guy or ques­tion­ing your “black­ness”, espe­cially given how opin­ion­ated you are about the state of af­fairs in our coun­try?

Okay, I won’t go deep into my re­la­tion­ship be­cause that’s my per­sonal life. For me, it has al­ways been about dat­ing a good man — a man that I can fully be an equal with, and that man in my life hap­pens to be white. I’ve learnt not to sweat the drama! We meet peo­ple, we fall in love with them and buy into who they are. If any­one thinks I’m a sell-out, they clearly don’t know me at all. And I’m com­pletely fine with peo­ple not know­ing me be­cause not ev­ery­one de­serves to know me. If I was just an or­di­nary per­son that no­body knew from a bar of soap, then no one would care about who I’m dat­ing. I feel like the is­sue has been given un­necce­sary promi­nence be­cause of who

I am and what I do.

You men­tion that it’s okay for peo­ple not to un­der­stand you. To some, this might make you seem stand-off­ish or un­ap­proach­able, even. Are you com­fort­able with this? Yes, I’m to­tally com­fort­able with it. Per­for­mance is a lot of work and it took me years to get to a place of ac­cept­ing who I re­ally am. I do give off a vibe of se­ri­ous­ness so I sup­pose that’s why peo­ple think I look un­ap­proach­able. Peo­ple usu­ally change their minds, though, soon af­ter hav­ing a con­ver­sa­tion with me. I have yet to see some­one walk down the street with a ran­dom smile on their face.

Just be­fore Bon­nie takes her place in front of the cam­era, her man­ager ar­rives bear­ing her sig­na­ture green juice and straight away, the pair starts chat­ting busi­ness — from how the day’s go­ing to un­fold to ho­tel book­ings and flights.

Your In­sta­gram se­ries Let’s Talk About It, is a spin-off from your book, Eye­bags & Dim­ples. What was the mo­ti­va­tion be­hind this se­ries and what are you hop­ing to achieve?

I started hear­ing more and more sui­cide sto­ries, espe­cially of young Univer­sity of Cape Town (UCT) stu­dents. Then when UCT’s pro­fes­sor Bongani Mayosi com­mit­ted sui­cide due to de­pres­sion, I im­me­di­ately knew that some­thing was wrong and thought it ridicu­lous that we were not talk­ing about this very press­ing mat­ter. We can no longer wait for psy­chol­o­gists, the govern­ment or whomever we can pay, to come fix this prob­lem. I’m not a doc­tor, psy­chol­o­gist or psy­chi­a­trist, but I can use my plat­form to bring the right at­ten­tion to the is­sue. My hope is to start a con­ver­sa­tion about de­pres­sion that will be re­flec­tive of ex­actly what is hap­pen­ing. The gen­er­a­tion be­fore us helped bring apartheid to its knees, so what plight are we go­ing to take on that will stand out in cen­turies to come? I feel like we are still strug­gling to de­fine our plight and it could be that our rev­o­lu­tion is of the in­ter­nal kind. For us black peo­ple, for in­stance, sur­vival was our aim for the long­est time. Our par­ents were try­ing to put food on the ta­ble, pay our school fees and sim­ply get through this thing called life. Men­tal health is a real is­sue – but we need re­sources in or­der to seek the right in­ter­ven­tion. Much un­der­stand­ing and knowl­edge is also re­quired be­cause not ev­ery­one can af­ford to throw money at de­pres­sion.

You’ve been talk­ing about self-care dur­ing the shoot. How do you take care of yourself, prac­ti­cally?

At the be­gin­ning of my self-care jour­ney, I had a con­ver­sa­tion with my­self and vowed to give my­self a beau­ti­ful life. My morn­ing rit­ual is a 15-minute med­i­ta­tion ses­sion, fol­lowed by a green juice with a lot of cel­ery or any­thing green, and I also drink lemon wa­ter. Following this morn­ing rou­tine makes me feel like there’s or­der in my life. Some of the other small things I do for my­self in­clude tak­ing time to oil my body af­ter yoga and set­ting time aside to base my scalp with co­conut oil. Whether I’m driv­ing some­where, meet­ing friends or pre­par­ing to spend time with my boys, I al­ways ut­ter the words, ‘Let It Be Great!’ It’s a mantra that helps change my at­ti­tude be­fore ap­proach­ing all sit­u­a­tions and ex­pe­ri­ences in my life. I also love buy­ing my­self flow­ers and play­ing mu­sic — and be­fore I knew it, this was a way of life. All these ac­tiv­i­ties are a beau­ti­ful procla­ma­tion of self-care — It’s ba­si­cally me say­ing ‘I’m worth all this time!’

Our sec­ond shot gets a lit­tle bit shaky as we try to fig­ure out a great po­si­tion for Bon­nie. Af­ter a brief dis­cus­sion, she sums up what she’d like in a sim­ple sen­tence: “I want to show soft­ness and vul­ner­a­bil­ity but in an edgy way. I’m def­i­nitely not one to sit back — I con­front is­sues.”

What does cel­e­brat­ing 25 years in the in­dus­try mean to you?

I love what I do. I’ve learnt that the only rea­son one can do some­thing for 25 years is if they love their craft and the craft loves them back. I’m now able to con­fi­dently own the things that I’m good at — I’m fi­nally com­fort­able to say I was born to do this, and no one can ar­gue me out of it. That’s what I’m cel­e­brat­ing.

The in­dus­try is al­ways abuzz with new “it” girls. How do you fit into the in­dus­try cur­rently?

I’m a rock, a doer and have al­ways been con­sis­tent. My ca­reer vi­sion has al­ways been to help com­mu­ni­cate South African sto­ries — and I aim to do this with great com­mit­ment and ex­cel­lence no mat­ter the medium I’m on.

Just be­fore our fi­nal shot, Bon­nie’s mom and younger sis­ter ar­rive. Her sis­ter, Koketso Mbuli, was fea­tured in our Black Love fash­ion ed­i­to­rial in the Fe­bru­ary 2018 is­sue.

How’s your re­la­tion­ship with your fam­ily? I’m the first-born but my sis­ter refers to her­self as the first last-born — we’re vy­ing for my first-born spot [chuck­les]. We’re all com­mit­ted to tak­ing care of our mom, she’s quite a fierce woman. My mom has given us an amaz­ing les­son in hu­mil­ity. My fam­ily’s love and sup­port means every­thing to me.

The set­ting Joburg sun has painted the en­tire set a beau­ti­ful golden shade. It’s fi­nally a wrap but I sneak in one last ques­tion be­fore Bon­nie leaves.

What does the fu­ture hold for you? The good news is that I’m slowly work­ing my way back into act­ing, but I can’t elab­o­rate on it just yet. I’m col­lab­o­rat­ing with Yard­ley on my own make-up range, which I’m re­ally ex­cited about. The range is for real women who just want to make them­selves look beau­ti­ful, no mat­ter what life throws at them. It’s all about a cel­e­bra­tion of self.

Any ad­vice you’d give to a young fan? Self-knowl­edge is the great­est gift you can give to yourself. Know why you do, say or like cer­tain things. Be your own best friend. Show up for yourself every day. Ask yourself: ‘What would I do?’, in­stead of what would so-and-so do. Al­ways be yourself and don’t al­low any­one tell you oth­er­wise.

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