How Queen B got her bubbles back
As Bonang Matheba celebrates her victory in the bruising legal battle over her sparkling wine brand, she tells Leonie Wagner how she feels now
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Insight | Bonang
It’s almost golden hour in Johannesburg and Bonang Matheba and her two photographers are taking advantage of the great lighting at the Archer Bar & Eatery in Melrose Arch. Her bodyguard sits two tables away as a waiter brings the media personality her pink drink. The only reason she’s having a Cosmopolitan cocktail and not a celebratory glass of bubbly is because her brand of sparkling wine, House of BNG, isn’t available. But Queen B, as she’s affectionately known, definitely has something to celebrate. “The past two years have been very difficult, but oh my goodness, it feels like a new dawn. It feels like a blank canvas, it really does. It feels like a breath of fresh air,” she says. It’s been more than two years since she’s done interviews and her new lease of life and willingness to speak comes after a laborious legal battle with her former management company. In 2021, Matheba relocated to New York. It was around that time she announced she’d terminated her contract with global agency and celebrity management group Celebrity Services Africa (CSA). What followed was a multimillion-rand legal battle over the ownership of her sparkling wine. The agency allegedly structured the deal in such a way that Matheba was cut out as a shareholder. The battle was also for the radio and TV personality’s trademarks. Things escalated when Matheba took to social media, telling her followers that her then manager, Davin Phillips, was a “monster” and had tried to steal her company from her. Phillips hit back, filing an urgent interdict in which he alleged her tweets had incited violence which he believed could potentially put him at risk of being physically harmed. At the time, she also tweeted: “15 years of my HARD work! You think you can swoop in and STEAL from me?! It will be a cold day in Hell my diya [dear]!” The matter went to arbitration and was settled this month. We meet on a cold day and the media darling is beaming in a caramel-and-brown leather ensemble with matching Gucci handbag. “After I terminated the contract, the arbitration started. It was a very, very long process. And we decided to settle because it was going to take another year and a half. I wasn’t supposed to be in this situation in the first place. Everything that belonged to me was given back. Everything they had taken from me was given back. And all the monies that were owed to me, are going to be paid to me,” Matheba says. But Matheba still blames herself for not asking enough questions and for being too consumed with the work and not focusing on the fine print —a mistake she’s adamant she’ll never make again. She might only be talking publicly about the settlement now, but the reality TV star got the news three weeks ago. At the time, she chose to celebrate with her family whom she says have been her support throughout the litigation. Matheba is synonymous with lavish events and extravagance and she loves the finer things, from food and travel to apparel. But the finalisation of her legal woes called for something more intimate: a glass of MCC and kwaito group TKZee’s song Fella Kae. “I just had some champagne — some BNG — and I was with my parents at home. I cried and I laughed and I put on my favourite song, Fella Kae, and then I watched a movie and I slept. I felt sad because I loved CSA and because they just did so much, and I trusted them and had so many wonderful memories with them,” she says. This Sunday, she’ll be with her parents again. It’s tradition for Matheba to have lunch with her family, and her mom cooks. At this seven-colours meal she’s not Queen B, she’s Mafunda. She laughs as she shares how she scored the nickname because of her chubby cheeks as a little girl. This year marks her 20th in the entertainment industry and she says she’s only getting started —a statement that’s hard to fathom since she’s done it all. This weekend she makes her reality television return in the second instalment of the Netflix series Young, Rich & African. She also released the teaser to the second episode of her YouTube series B’Dazzled. In November, her shoe and handbag collaboration with US fashion brand Steve Madden will be launched. The Mahikeng-born presenter made her TV debut in 2002 at the age of 15, and in 2007 she auditioned for the SABC music show LIVE. Scoring that was the start of a successful career in radio and TV. In 2013, she became the first international brand ambassador for Revlon. The following year she was the first South African to host the 2014 MTV Europe Music Awards pre-show. Then in 2015, another first, she garnered her own segment on E! Entertainment’s E! News Special Africa. She’s graced the covers of magazines such as Forbes Africa and GQ, she launched her reality show Being Bonang and her book From A to B in 2017. When she moderated panel discussions at the 2018 UN General Assembly, her talent was affirmed. But for Queen B, it was hosting the Miss South Africa pageant that boosted her confidence. “I knew that I was very talented when I was at the General Assembly in New York ... But when I hosted the 2019 Miss South Africa, the one Zozibini won, that for me was a moment of ‘I’m the best in the world’,” she says, laughing. With a love for travel, which she says is her favourite guilty pleasure, Matheba splits her time between her Park Avenue apartment in New York and South Africa. During the litigation she was in New York, which was a blessing in disguise because she could focus on work. She spent time in galleries and meeting Madden and the team to create her collection of shoes and handbags. As the saying goes, “it’s lonely at the top” and it’s no different for the award-winning TV presenter. Despite the busyness and distance from her legal battle that New York offered, she admits it was lonely. “But in New York that was peak loneliness because I lived alone in my apartment. Everything [there] is wonderful but you are just there. I love being by myself. Because I love myself. I’ve got to a point where I spend so much time alone that I’m my own best friend. But loneliness, what do you do? How do you counter loneliness, you just kind of wiggle your way through it,” Matheba says. That’s what keeps her rooted in South Africa, which she says of all the places she’s been to, is still her favourite — and it’s because of the people. Matheba says her favourite thing to do is look for fellow South Africans, just to hear “howzit” to remind her of home. Her legal battle also affected her dating life. Matheba says she hasn’t been in a relationship since 2020 because once the litigation started, it consumed her. But that has changed. In the teaser to the coming episode of her YouTube series, she hints at a new man in her life. Without giving away too much when we meet, she shares a little more about her beau. Her mystery man has a master’s degree, isn’ ta public figure and doesn’t live in South Africa. “I’ve met somebody I absolutely adore. He’s Cancerian like me, my age mate, like 37, he’s fun, young and doesn’t live in South Africa, which is good for me so he isn’t breathing down my neck. He loves God, he’s educated, he’s kind. He’s not in the limelight, he’s soft — because I’m strong I can’t have a strong man. He’s supportive and doesn’t want to shine on my shine. You might see him on my birthday ... He’s wonderful, I feel OK, he’s my buddy.” The self-proclaimed homebody says she spends most of her time at home reading or watching series. That’s partly because she loves her own company but also because in the past two years she took a step back to deal with her legal challenges. “I love being in my house. I’ve made it the most comfortable, most beautiful home, where I feel safe. I’ve grown to have a lot of anxiety and unfortunately, in the past few years, I’ve become quite jumpy with people, with relationships, with quite a few things. “But I’ll get back to being OK, to being able to trust again and being able to relax again and not want to micromanage anything and everything because that’s where I am at the moment,” she says, taking a sip of her cocktail and fixing her makeup. Now that she’s broken her silence and is ready to continue with the work she loves, she lights up when sharing her passion for hosting live events. Her happy place is the stage, but when she’s not under the lights, she’s relaxing in Kruger National Park or in the Cape, where her MCC is produced. At the mention of Cape Town, she gets excited and describes the Camps Bay sunset as “the most beautiful place”. For all the accolades and her talent, Matheba admits to being nervous ahead of our interview. “Knowing that I had an interview with the Sunday Times, I still got butterflies in my stomach. I never, ever want to get complacent. I’ve trained my brain. What I say to myself is very important, that’s that. I’ll be great once I have an Emmy for best host of a daytime show but until then, I’m a student of life. I can only really get better and better and that’s what I think I’m doing,” Matheba says.