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How 702’s Breakfast Show host, Bongani Bingwa, found the courage to live his own authentic life

I used to do public speaking and debating at school. I won a competition, and I was interviewed on the old Good Morning, South Africa.

Bongani Bingwa was just a wide-eyed 12-year-old when he moved with his parents from Mthatha in the Transkei to the City of Gold. Awed by the skyscrapers, the freeways, and the hustle and bustle of Joburg life, he felt like Harry Potter arriving at Hogwarts.  And just like that famous wizard-in-training, Bongani would soon be weaving a spell of his own, not with a wand and incantations, but with his natural charisma and his prowess as a public speaker.  As the winner of a school debating contest, Bongani was invited onto the set of the SABC breakfast show, Good Morning, South Africa, where a producer watching from the sidelines saw something special in his articulacy and his on-camera presence.  In true Hollywood fashion, Bongani was invited to audition for a role as presenter on a children’s TV show. That was just the start of a TV and radio career that has earned Bongani prime slots on Carte Blanche and 702, where he currently hosts the Breakfast Show, interviewing newsmakers, movers, and shakers, and sharing his outspoken views with his growing legion of listeners.  But Bongani has a moving and powerful story of his own to tell, about transformation, revolution, love, learning, marriage, the joys of fatherhood, coping with tragedy, and discovering his true self as an out-and-proud gay man. Bongani sat down with Ruda for a candid chat about his professional and personal life, and what he has learned about the healing power of change.

Transcription of Ruda Talks Change with Bongani Bingwa.

Ruda: Hello, and welcome to another session of the Change Exchange. Where we talk to people about the changes in their lives, the decisions they made, the decisions life made for them, and, uh … how they negotiated that. And it’s always, it’s always a fascinating journey to take someone basically on a, on a walk down memory lane, often. To just step through what made the difference, when. And today my guest is my friend, Bongani Bingwa. Bongani, I’m very happy to, to have you with me. You are a radio, TV presenter, sometimes an actor, which I didn’t even know. Uhm … Look, looking forward to talking to you.

Bongani: Uhm … Thank you for asking me, I’m, I’m honoured that you did, and I’m looking forward to a conversation about change. 

Ruda: Uhm … The first thing I noticed when I was reading your story and which has also come up when, when, uh, we’ve presented things together, you moved from Mthatha to Johannesburg when you were, what? 11 or 12?

Bongani: That’s correct.

Ruda: That itself must make, it must have made a huge difference to the direction of your life. 

Bongani: Oh, absolutely. Uhm … One of the reasons I was pleased to have this conversation is that change is something that’s never far away from my life. And I think it’s been possibly the most, uh … Predictable part of, uh … My story theme, in my story. Uhm … So, we arrived in 1986, in Johannesburg. Uh, it was, it was really the most interesting time because, in many senses, it was the height of apartheid, in terms of, uh, you know, the strength of the state, of the apartheid state. But it was also very much the demise period as well because it was after the Rubicon speech. Um, and so, there were all these tugs at the system, testing the strength of the system. Now, why, or how would I have been aware of that as a 12-year-old? Uh, firstly, I was always a news junkie. I was that kid who followed stories about the terrorists. Uhm, we had a word in IsiXhosa, uh, ‘Abanqolobi,’ which meant, uh, ‘the rebels’ or you could interpret it as ‘the terrorist’. And I remember in my 12-year-old mind, I almost had this idea of the aliens, these invaders that were coming, uh, to take over. So, I was very much aware of the Bush War, I was aware of who Savimbi was, Sam Nujoma was, all these stories about, uh, revolution fired up my mind. But coming to Johannesburg, from Mthatha, where the tallest building had been, uh, the Botha Sigcau building, which was a 12-story building in Mthatha, and seeing the highways, and seeing these buildings that never ended. I remember doing this in the car and just looking up, it was, I, I always say that it was almost, it was almost as if I had stepped in, into Hogwarts. Uhm … you know, this, it, it really was a complete culture shock, a complete change. And part of how … 

Ruda: You, you lived in Berea, which was, uh, almost like a kind of mixed area, which also must have been, I mean, very different.

Bongani: Not at the time, it wasn’t entirely mixed at the time. So, as I say, there were all these tests at the party system. So, my mother had friends at the Transkei Consulate, um, and the absurdity of Apartheid was that if you were a black person South African, you couldn’t live in a place like Berea, at the time. But if you were a foreign diplomat, if you were part of some diplomatic mission, you could. And so, because of the absurdity of the system, Transkei was considered an independent state. And so, uh, she had friends at the consulate. We said we worked there and Mrs Pickering, I remember was the superintendent of this particular building and she was a Scottish woman. And she said, as long as we could prove that we were foreign diplomats, wink, wink, we could stay in the building. And that’s how we stayed in the building. It was called the [inaudible], next to the Johannesburg fire station and the only other people, uhm … within, gosh, five, 10 square kilometres who lived in those buildings were the workers who would stay at the very top, uhm … in the workers’ quarters. So that’s how we wangled that. 

Ruda: And where did you go to school?

Bongani: So, when we arrived in Johannesburg, I went to school at St. John’s, uh, which was just down the road, which again was a complete culture shock. The grounds, um, the, just everything, the traditions, and it was completely unfamiliar. It was a world of magic … 

Ruda: It might have been, it might have been down the road, but it would’ve been a completely different world. 

Bongani: Oh, completely. Um, and, and we, we were, there were only three of us in what was then our standard 4 class. Um, um, and I remain in touch with the one guy, uh, the other one was Owen Nkumane, who became the first black Springbok, uh, who played rugby for South Africa years later. So, we were all mostly just trying to survive.

Ruda: Yeah.

Bongani: Mostly trying to keep up. Uhm, and there were things that happened at school that we wouldn’t even have thought to mention at home because we understood just what a lucky break we were being given. 

But it’s always, it is so difficult to be so far in the minority. I mean, and in this case, race with all its, its uhm, class distinctions and whatever, but, uh, that, it must have been really hard. 

Bongani: Look, I think it’s, it’s, it’s a very, [inaudible] conversation, that I have from time to time with many black friends of my generation, just how there’s … There is at times almost a sense of betrayal, uhm, that our children are still confronted by the same issues we were. Particularly at elite schools. Uhm, and often the younger folks tend to look at us and almost question why we didn’t do more to make the path easier for them. But at the same time, it would’ve been unthinkable for me to go to my mother and say, what? A white teacher was racist? In 1986? What else could they be? Uhm, and so, we were definitely aware that we were, um, we were just, we had to make it work. We had to survive in the system, we had to assimilate, we had to learn the rules. We had to play according to the rules and we, we were not there to make trouble. Uhm, the township schools were on fire. The townships were on fire. And so, if you didn’t make it in, in that environment, well, bye-bye education. 

Well only, it’s always, always difficult to be in a minority in, you know, as a woman, I know that in a, in a male environment. You were three black boys among what, more than a hundred, probably over in your class. Um, it must have been really, really are hard. 

Bongani: Look, it was difficult in the sense that what makes those spaces hard to navigate as an outsider is, you’re at a disadvantage, from a language. You’re at a disadvantage from the culture. You’re at a disadvantage from even just the stories that you are told. Nobody ever read to me about Greek mythology, for example, which was completely foreign, but those are the references that are made. Uhm, and so you have to catch up. Uhm, in the way that you speak. I remember we had, we had a period where we would read, um, you know, you would read aloud whatever book. Uh, we were reading a and I, I came across the word, um, skeleton, cause that’s what my, my, my, my eyes saw. And then it was Tortoise, uhm, to peels of laughter in the classroom, uh, cause, “no, it’s a tortoise and, no, it’s a skeleton. You don’t say it that way.” Uhm, some of the teachers who taught us were themselves, you know, [inaudible], um, in the apartheid army. And so, even their framing of what was happening. So, when we did subjects like history, for example, their framing of what was unfolding in the country was very much influenced by that perspective. Uhm, and we often had to explain things as kids, which were beyond our understanding, but the only reason, you know, we were appointed spokespeople for the revolution was the colour of our skin. Now those were things you couldn’t go home and quite explain to, to, you know, to parents who had sacrificed everything to put you in an environment like that. I was raised by a single mother who was doing her damnedest, um, selling golden product vitamins and skincare creams. That direct selling, um, sort of model very much like Amway products. That’s what, that’s what it took to, to, to put me in that environment. How then could I come home? 

Ruda: And, and if you, if you were to not make it? What was, what if you fell off that bridge, what was below you?

Bongani: It wasn’t an option, it was not an option. People … My father and his generation, my father, um, was a lawyer in Mthatha. his friends were doctors, their kids went to Michael House, um, St. Andrews in Grahamstown, they played golf at the local golf course. They lived in this bubble of, of, you know, the Bantustans. Um, and their attitude was you joined the struggle if you didn’t have any education. When of course many people who skipped the country, um, you know, got their degrees at universities in Europe, in Russia. Uh, but they genuinely had a disdain. They knew the system wasn’t working, but they thought the only way to get out of this mess was through making sure every black child was educated. And so, even when my mother’s relationship with my father didn’t work out – that was from the time I was a, a baby – education, education, education. 

Ruda: And then, after school, um, you started with your BA at Wits, but it must have been just about the same time you were on a kids’ show on TV One, ’93? Shoo! Early days. 

Bongani: So, I won. I used to do public speaking and debating at school. I won a competition, and I was interviewed on the old Good Morning, South Africa. Uhm, and that’s where I met Chante [inaudible], if you may remember her. And she and I, years later would present a, a TV show together. Uhm and TV One was responding to M-Net that had, uh, KTV. And so, they were starting their own kiddie’s channel. Um, and they were gonna call it Mini TV and they were looking for presenters. And one of the producers saw me being interviewed on Good Morning, South Africa. And that’s how that happened. 

Ruda: And what was it like? That first time in front of a camera? And did it just come naturally? 

Bongani: Uhm, I think you know it, uh, well for me, at least I was young. Uhm, just even walking into the SABC in those days was quite something. As you came up those escalators and you would see all the stars, uh, all the politicians coming in for live interviews. You must remember this is in the build-up towards the elections. So, whenever we had to film there, you could bump into anybody from a soap star to a, a famous musician too, uhm, an ANC leader or a National Party. I mean, I remember bumping into P Botha, uh, in the toilet. Uhm, it was just this high [inaudible], and it felt like it was the most important place, uh, in the country, uh, the, the old TV building at the SABC and so, to work there and, you know, to read autocue for the first time, it was just, it was quite something. 

Ruda: And then after university, what did you, where did you go? Where did you start your career? 

Bongani: So, this is a conversation about change and constant change. Uhm, at university, I got involved in a campus religious organisation. And remember I said earlier that even as a child, I was very conscious of revolution and movements and the idea of completely rewriting the rules. And so, we were watching Mandela and his colleagues reap the rewards of their fight, uhm, that against the odds, their struggle had born fruit, right? And so, on campus, we were part of a radical Christian group that was very evangelical. And so, we were going to change the world, uh, for Jesus and in much the same way we had seen, uhm, the struggle here, bear fruits, so would ours, and I got caught up in this thing. And uhm, and that’s what I did for, uhm, yeah, for a number of years, I went to go and try to be an evangelist.

Ruda: In South Africa? [inaudible] that? 

Bongani: Um, no, no, no, no. In, in, in South Africa. Uhm, so … 

Ruda: What did you? What did you learn out of those years? 

Bongani: Well, for the first time I lived in a township. I’d never lived in a township, uhm, before, you know? Obviously having come from rural, uh, you know, Eastern Cape, but I’d never lived in Soweto. Uhm, I was given a, a mission in Soshanguve and I think I got a, I got a real insight into what South Africa really is about. Uhm, and what it’s like to live in a township and what it’s like to take a train from Pretoria, uh, Bosman Station to get off at Mabopane. I went to places like Winterveldt, uh, which was an informal settlement that almost looked like a, a rural area on the outskirts of, uh, Pretoria. Uhm, so I got a taste of that life I got to, um, you, yeah, I got to experience township life in a way that I’d never been, uh, exposed to before.

Ruda: You also at one point started acting. Did, did you enjoy that? And how do you, how do you reconcile the news person and the teller of stories?

Bongani: One of the things I studied at, uh, the university was drama and film. And so, uhm, a lot of the young actors who’ve gone on to make names for themselves, uh, we’re all at school with me. People like Hlomla Dandala, for example. Uhm, uh, uh, uh, uh, uh, Moshidi Motshegwa, a well-known actress. Uh, she and I used to sit next to each other in history and everybody was joining agencies and you had to have an agent and you’d go to auditions. Uh, and so that’s how that unfolded. It was part of the excitement. I mean, I participated in, uh, student productions on campus, uhm, and, you know, acted in one or two of those. Uhm, and, you know, we were studying, uh, you know, [inaudible], uh, all those plays. Uhm, and, and yeah, that’s how that came about. 

Ruda: And did you enjoy it? 

Bongani: I did. I did. I did. I don’t know if I was good at it, but I did. 

Ruda: And how did you get back into … because I came across you, of course, when you joined Carte Blanche, and that was 10 years later, that was 2000 and what, 6, 7?

Bongani: Yeah, that was, uh, that was quite a bit. So, obviously I, I, the, the evangelical thing didn’t work out. I mean, questions arose very quickly, uhm, in my head about what it was meant to be and whether or not it was working. And I had to sort of reimagine myself, uh, and what I really wanted to do, uhm, and journalism was something that had always appealed to me. And in fact, if I’d had the money, I would’ve gone to Rhodes, uh, and studied there. Uhm, and so I started, I remember going to a studio and recording a CD, as one did in those days, uh, um, conducting interviews, reading a news bulletin. I sent it to a number of radio stations, and I was invited for an interview at 702. And I started there as an overnight newsreader, uh, and quickly worked to programming and I was doing the 9 to 12 show. So, I did that for a while and then through the grapevine, I heard Carte Blanche might be looking for people and I sent a CV and they invited me for an audition. And that’s how that started.

Ruda: And if I may, this might be, you know, my own past speaking, but Carte Blanche played such an enormous role in, in my view of the world. And it shifted and changed my view of the world. Uhm, did that happen with you? What, what, what did the experience mean to you? You were there for what? 11 years? 

Yeah, I was there. I was there for 11 years, that’s correct. So, you have to remember, uhm, I was watching Carte Blanche in high school, you know, I remember the episode, when was it in Alexandra that you spent a night? Uhm, so, you know, of course, who doesn’t know the Tuli Elephants. So, Carte Blanche had that sort of, um, imprint, but also, you know, you guys travelled a lot, uh, in the early days. You interviewed Boris Elson, um, you know, you had Mandela, you had, uh, Charlize Theron, you name it. So, it, it, it had this, there was a glamour about Carte Blanche. There was the sense that, uh, really that was the place to work at if you wanted to be at the forefront of storytelling on television. Uhm, and so, it was a fantastic opportunity. I, I grew tremendously, um, and, and I, and I’ll tell it to anybody who will hear it. Uh, the boss, the executive producer, George Mazarakis was a real mentor to me. Uhm, he believed in me in a way I don’t think anybody ever has. Uhm, he saw potential and he gave me the space, uh, to grow. Uhm, he was exacting, I wanted to please him at every step. Uhm, but, but I think towards the end, the conversation and the country had shifted somewhat. Uh, uhm, and, and, and I think when the end came, I felt, I felt I wanted to broaden my horizons in terms of reflecting South Africa in a different way. 

Ruda: So, you chose to go to the public broadcaster?

Bongani: So, so what happened was, um, so at, so I, I got the opportunity to go back to radio, firstly. Uhm, so 702 invited me back and I was doing the afternoon drive show. Uhm, and that meant I couldn’t do Carte Blanche. Uhm, but with, within, uh, a space of about six months, I was off with the breakfast show, uh, at 702, which of course I was delighted, uh, to be asked to do. And then there was an interview. I think it was probably his last interview as head of state, Jacob Zuma was being interviewed by a journalist at the SABC. And he gave a rambling three-hour interview that [inaudible], he didn’t want to resign, because he needed to introduce Ramaphosa to his friends, uh, around the world, et cetera, et cetera. And I remember I knew the COO at the time, I’d interviewed him on Carte Blanche. And I sent him a message, and I said, “Surely it can’t be this bad, surely things at the SABC cannot be this bad”. And he said to me, “Oh, what do you wanna do about it?” And I thought, “uh, oh gosh, okay.” And yeah, that’s how I went to the SABC, to try and be part of what he was trying to do, uh, to rebuild an institution that the likes of Hlaudi Motsoeneng others, uh, had torn to shreds.

Ruda: But you, you tried to balance the, the uhm, television, you in the evenings and radio in the morning, but after nine months, it sounds as if you realise that this was just more than one person could do.

Bongani: Yeah, no, I was working myself, uh, to an early death and early grave. Uh, because my mornings would start at three in the morning and there were times, I didn’t get home before half past 10 in the evening, and that was completely unsustainable. Uhm …

Ruda: But that kind of, that kind of decision is hard because, uhm, you know, you were really flying high and of course, giving up the, the television would’ve half your income. So, it’s, it’s hard.

Bongani: Look. I, I very. For years on Carte Blanche, people, you know, uh, you will know this, the story wasn’t about us, the story wasn’t about, uh, the presenter. Uhm, quite often it was the people that we were speaking to, particularly those that hadn’t seen hadn’t been heard. It was the first time anybody had taken an interest in them. And they were telling the whole country what they had been through. And so, people knew us from that angle, from that perspective, but we weren’t trying to be controversial. People didn’t know our politics. People didn’t know our views on, on so many different things. And on the radio, the radio show, suddenly people knew what I think, uhm, about politics, about, uhm, the culture wars that happen in this country and elsewhere. Um, people knew what I thought of the president. People knew what I thought of opposition parties, et cetera, et cetera. And, and, and that’s an incredible position, uh, to be in, to be able to be part influencing the conversation and perception. And although I love TV, um, very much, but it, it was a no brainer, um, as to which would win. 

Ruda: How do you see your, your role? It struck me reading stuff that you’ve written, that, but you really feel a responsibility to your audience, a responsibility to inform and to help them make sensible choices about the world, yes?

Bongani: Absolutely. People, people want to know anybody who tunes to talk radio, especially at that time of the morning, they want to know what’s going on. They want to make sense of the world, but most importantly, they want to know, are they going to be, okay? So, if they’re listening to a news bulletin, they want to know about their investment decisions. They want to know about where they bought the property. They want to know about the state of education, the state of the health system, the state of the infrastructure, all of those things matter in a time of crisis, such as we’ve been living under for the past year and a half. Uh, they want to know when will the world return to normal again? Uhm, they want somebody to make it make sense. Uhm, they may like a particular leader of any persuasion, but when they hear something in the news, that this person may have said or done. They’re shattered and they want somebody to, they want, sometimes they want somebody to confirm their worldview, or they say I’m open to learning. I’m open to seeing it differently. Uhm, but also, they want a space where they can talk about themselves, uh, where they can feel validated, where they can feel seen, where they can feel heard. Uhm, and, and talk radio is typically a format that is about angry people. That is about people who remember a time that was kinder, that was gentler. And South Africa is a very, very interesting space, because whilst of course there are those, a lot of the people in our audience are progressive and they want to see change and they embrace change, and they look forward to things being different.

Uhm, and, and, and it’s about the possibility as well. 

Ruda: So, how do you, um, keep centred, in the middle of this constant toing and froing with people? Very intelligent people, very persuasive people, constantly arguing, arguing their case. 

Bongani: Oh, it’s, it’s great. The best description I’ve given for my job, for a very long time is, I get paid to learn every day. Somebody sits there and they think, “Okay, we’ll let you learn about vaccines. We’ll let you learn about virology. We’ll let you learn scientific breakthroughs will get you to learn about the law and constitutionalism”. Uhm, I mean, whatever the topic may be, uhm, as you know, most journalists tend to be general. So, you come in, uhm, not knowing something and you are going to be speaking to people at the very top of their game, experts on the subject matter, and you have to be able to talk at a level, uhm, that makes sense to them and your audience. So, I love it. I don’t feel the pressure to get it right all the time. Obviously, one does one’s best to do so and where I’ve been wrong, and I’ve been persuaded to think otherwise I’m very happy to declare it. And that always makes, I think, the audience feel that they’re growing with you. 

Ruda: Uhm, I read somewhere that you’re studying again. What and why? 

Bongani: So, uhm, yes, I have decided to, I always thought about, about expanding my horizons. Right. Um, and so one of the things I want to do is I want to do an MBA and I thought what’s the one area, um, that I don’t feel is my wheelhouse. That would really be a stretch. And that for me is the world of business, I, and the world of business news. And so, this is something I want to do, I’ve set myself a goal. I’m turning 50 in three years’ time. Uhm, I want to, you know, to tick that box when I turned 50, because I’ve got very clear ideas of what I’d like my 50s to be about, and that was something, I decided to bite the bullet and do this year. 

Ruda: And the picture of what you want to be and do in your 50s? Your plans? Your dreams?

Bongani: So, I want to write, uhm, you know, I, I very much like broadcasting. I, I wanted to do. I wanted to do that, but I, I also felt it was important for me that I had something to say. I think that often in South Africa, we are too easily seduced by youth. Uhm, although there’s obviously a place for that, but I think that there is something to be said about experience and just having done, uh, the hours and having done the miles. And so …

Ruda: What do you want to write about?

Bongani: Primarily, I want to tell the story of my life and particularly of my mother and the women that went before her. My mother is one of the most incredible people I’ve ever met. Uhm, she got her first pair of shoes when she would’ve been in standard 4, and they were hand me downs and she didn’t wear them for very long, because all the other village kids were teasing her. Firstly, because the shoes didn’t fit very well, so they made her uncomfortable. And then secondly, obviously because she couldn’t walk in them, but none of them had shoes. And so, they saw this as, uh, some kind of, you know, softness. She was, she was, she was too soft. How does a woman like that from that background under Apartheid, as a single mom, end up being able to send a child to a school like St John’s? 

Ruda: Yeah. That’s a wonderful story. Wonderful story. And, um, while we are talking about mothers and children, you have, uh, a son of 26 and a daughter of 12, do you remember the first time you held them? 

Bongani: Uhm … So, my son, I met when he was five years old. So, uhm, I adopted him, uhm, I, I married their mother. Uhm, so, so that’s how that relationship is. Uhm, so he’s not mine biologically, but in every other sense, he’s, he’s, my child. Uh, he works with me.

Ruda: Let me stop there. How, how did you do that? You know, to, to meet a little person of five years old and have to now step into the role of father? That’s not easy. 

Bongani: Oh, he made it, he made it easy. He was looking for a father figure. Uhm, uh, you know, uh, we often joke that in fact, maybe I married him and not his mother because, um, he even would visit and spend the night at my house, uh, long before his mother ever did so. Uhm, so, so he made it easy. He was looking for a father figure, uhm, to the extent that he now works as a video editor. Uh, he graduated from AFDA, uh, we were laughing the other day because he’s done stories on Carte Blanche. And he was telling me he’s now on his 30th, I think it is, uh, stories that he’s done for Carte Blanche. Uhm, and he works in the industry. Uh, I couldn’t be prouder of him. Uhm, so yeah. 

Ruda: And how did it, how did it change you to have this little boy adopt you? 

Bongani: Uhm, it was … shoo! That’s a that’s a very interesting question. How did it change me? I think that it humbles you more than anything. Uhm, being, it’s one thing to have your own child that you may have planned for, but to step into someone’s idea of something they want and then have to measure up, I think is incredibly, incredibly humbling, because you have to be yourself, but you’re also meeting an ideal in some, in a kid’s head, you know, and kids, imaginations are big. Uhm, and so his mom had him when she was relatively young. So, the age gap between us isn’t that big. Uhm, I would’ve been 21 when he was born. So that also helped, in terms of being able to relate to each other. 

And your daughter?

Bongani: Aahh!

Ruda: When did you meet her for the first time? 

Bongani: Uhm, I, so, we have this thing where I will say to her, “Uhm, I love you.” And she says, “I love you more”. Uhm, and then, you know, she might, I get lost in it, but how it ends is she normally says, “I love you most”. And then I say to her, “But I loved, I loved you first”. Uhm, because one of the things is I, I saw her first. I was there in the birthing room. Uhm, and, and, you know, she’s, she’s the apple of my eye. Uhm, she is my second chance. A lot of the things that I got wrong with her brother, I’d like to believe I’m trying to get right with her. Uhm, just, I think as a first-time parent, you’re a lot stricter and a lot more stern, on yourself and the child. And by the time the second, it’s not that deep. 

Ruda: It’s also, you’re older, you know, we are so sure of ourselves in our twenties. 

Bongani: Yes. And so, isn’t, isn’t it strange? I would’ve thought one becomes a lot more inflexible as you get older. Uh, but it, it seems to be the other way around. That’s, that’s something that’s surprised me. Yes!

Ruda: And, uh, you’ve managed always to keep your personal life very quiet, but there are some photographs on Instagram that tells me that you have a really warm relationship with, I guess, the kids’ mother, then? 

Bongani: Yes, we do. We do.

Ruda: What, what attracted you? What made the connection? 

Bongani: The kids’ mother?

Ruda: Hmm.

Bongani: Well, this was in the church space. This was in my evangelical days. Uhm, uh, I mean, I’m, I’m an out and proud gay man now. Uh, but in those days the idea was to pray, pray it away. Uhm, uh, and, and that was that – that’s what that was about. Uhm, I mean, obviously, you know, divorce is, is possibly the worst thing any human being can experience. I really, I really do mean that uhm, because how do you lose someone when they’re still alive? Uhm, but it’s, it’s taken us, it’s taken us some time, but we’ve worked through it. And, and I think one of the things that I’m blessed, uhm, to have, is an ex-wife who doesn’t have a homophobic bone in her body. And so, that has made things, uh, a lot easier. Uhm, and she and I remained very good friends. Uh, she has remarried happily. Uhm, and so, uh, you know, uh, in fact, I introduced her to her new husband. So, that’s worked out quite well for both of us. 

Ruda: How did you come to the point where you accepted you are, you’re being gay? That must have been, I mean, it’s a big step from being a married father and, and in, in the church. 

Bongani: We had a life-altering event. Uhm, gosh, 11, 12 years ago, 12 years ago, uhm, in 2009, uhm, on the 1st of February. So, uhm, my wife then as she was, was, uh, gosh, 30 days from delivering our daughter, but we already had a child, uh, together and he died. Uhm, he fell into our swimming pool, and he drowned. And, I mean, gosh, how many times had I reported on stories like that? But it happened to me. 

Ruda: How old was he, Bongani? 

Bongani: He was 22 months old. Uh, and through that life-altering event, when, when you’ve lost a child, there’s not much you’re afraid to lose, uhm, after that. Uhm, and, and I think the grief and everything that came with that, uhm, just made things a lot more clear perhaps, than they had been previously. And, and it was just the sense of making the most of what life you have because it ends, it ends much faster, much sooner than you think it might. Um, and so that’s, that’s what probably gave me the courage to live authentically. 

Ruda: How did you start the conversation with your wife?

Bongani: So, she’d always known, uhm, ‘cause we met … Remember we’d met in the context of church, and we were praying the gay away. Uhm, so she’d always known, uh, so, so that wasn’t a surprise. Uhm, and obviously when you are married to somebody, who may love you but would really rather be in a different situation, that’s probably not going to be, you know, breaking news to you. Uhm, however difficult that may be to, to unbundle. Uhm, so it was, it was hard. I mean, obviously, it would be, um, you know, we were bereaved parents. Uhm, we had a new-born baby and there was this man suddenly saying he wants to be his authentic self, whatever the hell that meant. So, obviously, there were hard feelings for a little while, but I think we worked through it in the end. You see, there is a …

Ruda: Sorry?

Bongani: You see, there is a book there. 

Ruda: Absolutely. Oh, absolutely. You must start writing. Ja! And what do you look for now in a partner? What is the … yeah, companionship? What is it that, that, that you want in a partnership? 

Bongani: I think, I think companionship certainly, uhm, counts. Uhm, but I think somebody who’s in their fullness, you know, somebody who lives in their own fullness, they’re, the … Who’s, who’s able to know who they are and where they’re grounded. Uhm, I live in a world where I’m perceived to be one thing and, and I, I can’t be that in the home. Does that make sense? I can’t be, I want to be a normal guy. Uhm, you know, COVID permitting, I want to go to the rugby game. I want to go to the cricket stadium. Uhm, I wanna, you know, my friends, my friends are people who are not in, in our industry. I don’t have celebrity friends. My friends are lawyers, doctors, bankers. Uhm, I’m often lucky to be in the room, I feel. Uhm, and, and, and I want that kind of thing at home 

Ruda: And the physical home. What, what, what is it that makes a house a home for you?

Bongani: Oh, the kitchen. Oh, the kitchen. Uhm, I love cooking. And so, the kitchen has to be the centre of the home. Uhm, you have to have a kitchen that is, that is open. That is an open space where people can watch you cook, where people can take over the cooking, where you can cook, uh, together. Uh, music is a big part of my house. Uhm, my 12-year-old daughter, uh, uh, has just discovered Nina Simone. Uhm, you know, my son, just this morning, in fact, he, he sent me a video of Michael Jackson and Diana Ross on stage in the eighties. And he said to me, I can’t explain to my friends why I love this music, it’s your fault. So, so that’s a big part of, of my family set up. Food music, um, just, you know, that sense of your home. 

And do you have a, a favourite spot, which has travelled with you wherever you’ve been?

Uhm … 

Ruda: Or a favourite implement of some kind? 

Bongani: Gosh, let me, I, I’ve just discovered the air fryer. Uhm, and the things that you can do there, uh, you can do with that, but no, I would … 

Ruda: I am the, I’m the last holdout against an air fryer. I said to my husband, I don’t need another gadget. 

Bongani: Trust me. If you get one, you will never look back. 

Ruda: Bongani, on that happy note. Thank you very much. It was so nice to see you and to, to talk to you and thank you for being so open and sharing it all. Uhm, yeah, this was really good, thank you.

Bongani: Thank you very much, I hope it was useful. 

Ruda: Absolutely. And to the audience, thank you for listening, watching. Until the next time, go well, be safe.

Ruda Landman

Ruda Landman

Ruda Landman is known to many South Africans as one of the original co-anchors of Carte Blanche on M-Net, a role she fulfilled for 19 years and for which the University of Stellenbosch awarded her an honorary doctorate in 2011.

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