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
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.