Q&A with Basetsana Kumalo

18 November 2019 - 10:01 By Carla Lever

Congratulations on Bassie: My Journey of Hope. But you're a mum, a businesswoman, a media icon ... When did you find the time to write this book?

Quite simply, I had to make the time! Any entrepreneur who is dealing with daily decisions about their work/life balance will tell you there are not enough hours in the day. The only way is to block out the hours and make it non-negotiable.

Many celebrities will hire a ghostwriter to write their autobiography, but you did it yourself. Was the writing process something that came naturally immediately or did you find it a learning curve?

Despite the fact that I have journaled for most of my life, writing a book was most definitely a learning curve for me. Putting pen to paper is one thing, publishing one’s life story for others to consume is quite another!

Through simple fact of timing, being crowned Miss SA in our new '94 democracy, you became an iconic symbol of our democratic journey. Does this tag ever feel strange or is it something you've come to own?

When I was younger I grappled with this label quite a bit, because it came with so many expectations. It was not just the fact of living a public life, it was the realisation that I was going to be held to some very high standards for the rest of my life. With time, however, I’ve come to see it as part of who I am and realised all I can do is be my most authentic self.

You've said before that writing My Journey of Hope felt like therapy. Is reflective writing, even if it's not for publication, something you would recommend everyone try?

Writing about all the things I have been through in my life was a remarkable opportunity to reconnect with myself and to give myself permission to heal. I would encourage everyone to write down their thoughts and intentions, and to use these as a tool for reflection and growth.

As a role model, it's possible that your memoir encourages more people to talk about their own experiences, good and challenging. What do you think we could learn from each other's stories in SA?

South Africans are dealing with so much negativity in general. The scourge of femicide, for example, affects us all, not just its victims. The economy is struggling and jobs are scarce. We are all facing a very uncertain future and many of us are despondent, but hope remains. This is the reason I chose My Journey of Hope as the title for the book, because I wanted to say to each reader, we cannot give in to the current negativity. The only way we move forward is by practising tolerance and embracing each other’s stories.

You discuss some deeply personal experiences in this book. Why do you think it's important to dispel the idea that celebrities only lead glamorous lives that aren't relatable to others?

I don’t refer to myself as a celebrity, because the term is very loaded. I don’t think it’s realistic for anyone to be celebrated all the time! Life is ever changing and it comes with highs and lows. It has never made sense to me that anyone could be expected to live a perfect life just because they are in the public eye. No-one is immune to tragedy and pain. Being on TV or being successful doesn’t change that fact.

Like many celebrities, you've been targeted by online gossip magazines and Twitter trolls. With this deeply personal book, have you found a power in claiming your own story and choosing what personal moments to share?

The power to frame my own narrative was always mine and no internet trolls could take it away from me. The fact that bullies exist is part of the human experience and we can all make up our minds about how to deal with them.

My Journey of Hope also allows us to talk frankly about the realities of being a woman in SA, because you speak openly about various forms of abuse you suffered. Why is it important for women to reach out and speak up where they can?

The problem with femicide, sexual harassment and domestic abuse is that they are generally shrouded in silence and shame. The victims are so ashamed that they stay silent until it is too late, but the only way to end shame is to shine a light on it. My experience with domestic violence when I was young, successful and well-known is proof that none of us are immune. That being the case, it is time that we speak up!

From the very early pageant days, you were told that a public platform in the media comes with a responsibility to use it for the good of South Africans. What do you hope that your platform will do for South Africans who read your book?

I hope every person who reads my book finds hope for their own dreams and aspirations. This part of the journey might be difficult, but it is not how the story has to end. By sharing my most intimate moments of my life I hope I am able to inspire the reader to have the courage to stand in the light of their own truth.

Reading and telling stories with your children is a powerful gift to them. It builds knowledge, language, imagination and school success. For more information about the Nal’ibali campaign or to access stories in a range of SA languages, visit www.nalibali.org