Bonnie Mbuli: South Africa’s Legend

Bonnie Mbuli was born in Soweto, South Africa. She was discovered by an actor’s agent when she was just thirteen years old. Her first job – shortly thereafter – was in a television series titled Viva Families. This was followed by cameo roles in various international productions: Born Free 2 and Cave Girls. Bonnie went on to present several magazine programs for television including Teleschool, Zapmag, Technics Heart of the Beat, and Limits Unlimited.

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Bonnie Mbuli
[Credit: Tegan Smith Photography]

In 2001, Bonnie Mbuli was cast as the lead role in the hit television soap opera, Backstage aimed at the South African youth market. She was later given the role of Portia in the series Gazlam and afterwards as a detective in the series Zero Tolerance.

Bonnie Mbuli hosted a talk show in South Africa on SABC 1 entitled True-Life, won a role in the mini-series Homecoming, and appeared in two Canadian television series: Charlie Jade (a sci-fi epic) and Scouts Safari (an adventure series set in the African wild). She had a starring role in Home Affairs for Penguin Films: a popular thirteen-part series about the lives of five very different women. She went on to appear in television series Soul City and Hillside (for SABC 1 and SABC 2): she played the lead in both. She was then cast in the ground-breaking series, The Philanthropist for NBC (later on SABC 3), a prime time American action drama TV series.

Bonnie Mbuli has played the role of singer Dolly Radebe in the film Drum; the lead role in the Danish film Blinded Angels, directed by the acclaimed Jon Bang Carlsen; and she starred opposite Tim Robbins and Derek Luke in the Phillip Noyce Universal Pictures blockbuster Catch a Fire. The Washington Post had this to say about Bonnie’s performance in Catch a Fire: “South Africa’s Henna Is ‘On Fire’”. She also played Zindzi Mandela in Clint Eastwood’s film Invictus about Nelson Mandela’s involvement in the 2010 Rugby World Cup which also starred Morgan Freeman and Matt Damon.

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Bonnie Mbuli starred in the Invictus

Bonnie Mbuli is more than just a household name in South Africa: she was a child star who won the hearts of South Africans across the country and continues to blaze trails as an inspiring role model. Her influence reaches beyond South Africa: she is said to possess a ‘talent reminiscent of Audrey Hepburn’ by the New York Times. Well-travelled, highly articulate and possessed of an agile mind, she carries herself with elegance, grace and élan evident to all. She is frequently on the cover of South Africa’s glossiest magazines and continues to feature on the many current and popular radio and television shows. This multi-talented performer is also a skilled MC for high-profile events, and her voice – a velvety alto – is much in demand as a voice-over artist.

Bonnie Mbuli has starred in’s Rhythm City in a recurring role, playing the intriguing, powerful, and sometimes crazy Nozipho; on Mzansi Magic’s drama series Rockville as the feisty Dudu and on Etv’s ground-breaking crime investigation series Traffic: the first of its kind to star a female on South African television.

In 2015, Bonnie Mbuli starred opposite Sir Kenneth Charles Branagh as a policewoman Grace Mthembu in the popular British series Wallander. Bonnie came third on M-Net’s popular television show, Survivor Maldives – “Celebs vs Plebs”. On Survivor, this beloved star came across as a positive and nurturing soul and with a strong mental spiritual and physical backbone. She can currently be seen daily on daytime as a presenter on the South African lifestyle show Afternoon Express, which has one of the largest viewerships in South African television.

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Bonnie Mbuli [Credit: Tegan Smith Photography]

Bonnie is also a published author: her memoir Eyebags and Dimples is a best seller in South Africa and is available in most major bookstores nationwide. Community and social development are passions very close to Bonnie’s heart. She has done extensive work with abandoned children and in South African orphanages has been influential in her has become a spokesperson for Adoption Voice S.A.

Bonnie Mbuli is one of the best-loved and most appealing stars in South Africa. She has an undisputedly august and professional reputation as one of the most multi-talented celebrities in the South African entertainment industry.

Welcome to TV Series Hub, you are internationally recognized for your roles on “Catch a Fire” (2006), “Invictus” (2009), what is something that people don’t know about you?

I always feel like people know everything there is to know about me, so this is a tough one. I’d say people don’t know that I’m actually very shy, I’ve had to work hard on being more social and open.

Having started your career at a very early age, did you ever imagine your life would turn out this way? What is the most important lesson you have learned so far?

Truly I never imagined that things would turn out this way, although I’ve had to work really hard to get here. I’ve learnt so much but also learnt that one never stops learning and that there is no such thing as having it all figured out.

What is the funniest/memorable fan experience you have had so far?

When a character on Chicago Med mentioned and called me a South African Action hero in a scene, it was so random and unexpected.

With a variety of experience on television and radio as a presenter, being a model, MC and a voice-over artist among others. How did you decide to venture on so many different paths in the industry? And Why?

I didn’t really set out to travel so many paths, but it’s really that the South African entertainment landscape is not regulated as a sector, there are many exploitative practices and actors have to wear many hats just supplement their livelihood.

You currently star on BBC One series “Noughts + Crosses” and SYFY’s “Vagrant Queens.” How would you pitch to shows to our readers? What roles do you play?

Noughts and Crosses is a candid conversation about the intersection of race and class in, told through a star crossed interracial relationship, in it I play Jasmine, Vagrant Queen is a fun space adventure in which I play space matriarch Xevelyn.

Both shows were filmed in Cape Town, South Africa. What was the feeling like for both shows? What memorable experiences did you have with the cast?

Yes, both filmed in Cape Town where I live, it’s possibly one of the most beautiful places to shoot in. I’m really blessed to have been a part of both shows which vagrant Queen shooting shortly after Noughts and Crosses, the cast and crew on both were really incredible and inspiring people to work with.

“Noughts + Crosses” takes an interesting adventure into an alternative reality. Is there any message behind the plot? What would the take away be from the show?

There is definitely a strong message behind the plot, for me it’s holding up a mirror to society and saying, true change begins with you, by challenging your own beliefs and behaviour.

“Vagrant Queens” on the other hand is a completely different genre. How did you prepare for a sci-fi role?

There isn’t much difference in prepping for a sci-fi role compared to any other, the only thing is that my role on Vagrant Queen was quite physical so I had to do quite a lot of fight training and choreography.

Can you tease anything for the next episodes for both shows?

All I can say is they just get better and better with every episode.

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Bonnie Mbuli [Credit: Tegan Smith Photography]

South African film industry is still growing with more opportunities being created for local talent. How do you vision the industry in a few years? What responsibility and role do you think you have to help the industry grow?

Our industry is certainly growing, but at a much slower rate than one expects especially when you’re in it, many creators are flooding the industry with great ideas and skill, but the growth is not being met with regulatory policies where Labour laws are concerned, there is no protection, unionization or protection of the rights of artists, which means the SA industry is always on its back foot, but I hope to set the example that with hard work and perseverance, there are no limits to what South African actors can achieve.

A very common question people ask actors/actresses is whether they watch their own shows. Do you enjoy seeing shows you star in? Do you watch it for entertainment or as a way to improve yourself for the next role?

I’ve personally never gotten used to watching my own shows without cringing, but it’s important for improving the quality of my work and being able to plot my growth and set new goals, I also watch the shows I’m in for entertainment and to enjoy the work of my colleagues.

What other projects are you working on?

I’m in a lockdown at the moment and have no idea when that will be over, this has paused the industry quite dramatically, I finished filming a film called Barakat just before the lockdown, which premieres later this year, it was shot in Cape Town and produced by Paper Jet Films.

With so much to your name already, what are you aiming for in the coming months?

I’ve got my eye on one or two projects which I’ve gone up for, which would be incredible to be a part of, I’d like to do more writing this year too.

Diving into South Africa a bit, COVID-19 has the country in lockdown and one of the industries to be affected is the film one. How are you dealing with it? What strategies are you using to cope and still continue to improve your craft?

COVID-19 has certainly put huge pressure on our industry, as tough and uncertain as it is, it has ushered in an unfurling of creativity and ideas, most creatives work well under pressure and I believe amazing things will emerge from this time. I’m working on things that I’ve put on hold for some time, dusting the cobwebs off of some stories ideas and getting to writing.

Another major concern in South Africa is Gender-based violence. How does the industry play a role in trying to bring awareness? What do artists have to do to also contribute to this cause?

I think we definitely need to play the role of raising alarm about the seriousness of the issue, educating society to help shift attitudes and behaviour which lead to GBV by telling authentic and hard-hitting stories.

Going personal, you have been a victim of cyber-bullying to a point of disabling your Twitter account. How does one combat such bullying? What can be done to minimize it as it is a growing issue in the digital world especially towards the youths?

Cyber-bullying is a tough one, it has become rife with social media becoming congested with people sharing, ideas, opinions which change faster than most people can keep up with, it’s easy for people to retain anonymity while abusing their freedoms, which gives way to crazy behaviour. It’s advisable to grow a thick skin if anyone is going to engage it but to also remember that it is not a safe space or place to seek validation.

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Bonnie Mbuli [Credit: Tegan Smith Photography]

Authoring a best seller book called “Eye Bags and Dimples” is another accomplishment in your career. What element of it do you think made it a best seller? Do you ever see it being made into a film/documentary?

I think one of the reasons it became a best seller is because I spoke out explicitly on something that most people felt was a taboo issue, perhaps people didn’t expect me to speak that openly. I definitely see it becoming a film one day.

What do you hope people think when they see you?

To be honest, I’ve worked really hard to not dwell on what people think of me and focus more on what I intend for my engagement with them, it’s better for my sanity, but I hope they experience me as authentic.

What keeps you motivated to keep going every day?

My kids, my dreams and a lot of faith.

What do you do for fun? Any hobbies?

I read, binge on series, and travel.

What is your favourite series to watch?

At the moment, I’m loving Ozark and thinking of rewatching Succession.

You can connect with Bonnie Mbuli on:

Twitter: @BonnieMbuli

Instagram: @bonniembuli