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Khanyi Mbau’s ability to reconstruct her image has lead to her longevity

Young, Famous and African. Khanyi Mbau in Young, Famous and African. Cr. Mosa Hlophe/Netflix © 2022

Young, Famous and African. Khanyi Mbau in Young, Famous and African. Cr. Mosa Hlophe/Netflix © 2022

Published May 7, 2022

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IT WOULDN’T be far-fetched to think that Khanyi Mbau will one day be a case study or the subject of a doctoral thesis. You might be rolling your eyes, wondering why anyone would think that. However, her longevity and the manner she has managed to reinvent herself over the nearly two decades of her fame is no small feat.

We are a country that while we do love the arts and fame, we are also quick to bash and ultimately destroy the people we were obsessed with just five years ago.

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The culture of celebrity in South Africa is short-lived. Few people in the public eye have the staying power that is needed to have a successful career that comes with the financial perks.

While we do love the arts and fame, we are also a country that is quick to bash and ultimately destroy the people we were obsessed with just five years ago.

And yet, Khanyi Mbau has managed to not only survive in the public eye, but she has reinvented herself, her image and what her talent offering is so many times, it’s no wonder she still remains an enigma to many.

On Wednesday, Mbau had an Instagram live conversation with the star of “Bling Empire” Christine Chiu. They conversed like two friends catching up after not seeing each other in a while.

They both remarked how beautiful the other was, how similar they looked, and how being reality TV stars was so difficult, especially since only a portion of the hours you have shot is shown to the world.

They ended the conversation by setting up a tea date in Beverly Hills.

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Young, Famous and African. Khanyi Mbau in Young, Famous and African. Cr. Mosa Hlophe/Netflix © 2022

Their conversation was so easy like it was two friends catching up after having not seen each other in a while. And that is what I believe is Mbau’s trick – to be what is required of her at that time. To make you feel at ease with her. Like she only cares about you at that moment.

My first interaction with Mbau was in 2017, and I was still fairly new in the business. So you can imagine my shock when my then editor gave me this assignment.

My nerves were on the edge, but who could blame me? I was about to meet, for the first time, one of South Africa’s A-listers.

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We met at an event in Houghton, where she was announced as the brand ambassador for a women’s lifestyle brand which develops a range of wellness products.

As she walked to the stage, I (perhaps other guests too) thought she had a bun in the oven as she had a rather unusual bulge around her stomach and the first thing she said was: “I’m not feeling well today. I’m in a lot of pain”, stopping us from gossiping about whether she was pregnant.

When we sat down moments later, it was like two old friends catching up; she started telling me about multiple surgeries she had had a few days prior.

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“I’m still wearing bandages. I did liposuction, a tummy tuck, and breast lift and I made my waist smaller so that my bum may seem bigger. It’s painful but worth it,” she said.

It was at that moment that I realised that it’s her humility (and transparency really) that elevates her, compared to her industry peers.

From the moment she burst into the limelight in the early 2000s, when she played the role of Doobsie on SABC 2’s Muvhango, South Africa knew a superstar was born.

And Mbau continued to grow in the industry. Nearly two decades later, she is now a celebrated performer, actress, musician, reality star, author, television and radio host, businesswoman and socialite.

And this year alone has shown how much of a drawcard she still, having two shows on different streaming platforms.

Mbau currently plays Zandile on Showmax’s wildly popular “The Wife”, and she’s living her best life on Netflix’s “Young, Famous & African”, which introduced her to a global audience. Talk about owning the year 2022.

But what is it about Mbau that the world can’t get enough of? And some may ask what the secret to her longevity in this cut-throat industry is.

Khanyi Mbau plays lead actress Zandile in 'The Wife'. Picture: Supplied

I wanted to ask her all these questions, but unfortunately, being the globetrotter that Khanyi is, I reached out to her, and she was unable to take the interview at this time, as she is currently in Dubai with her partner, Kudzai Mashongo.

So, I went back to some of the notes I took five years ago when we had our interview and asked her what her secret to staying power was. She replied: “My secret is reinvention, reinvention, reinvention. Everyone is scared to go to the line. We all stay in the box, and we’re afraid to really go close to the line.

“And it’s always been my thing to find what the line is and actually go beyond it. It has always come as a shock to the country. People don’t understand it, but once they've acclimatised to it, then it becomes a culture, and that’s what I do. I think my job is just to bring in the next step.”

She revealed that she gets bored easily, has ADD and is never able to stay in the same environment for a very long time.

“I need things to stay new to keep them interesting for me, and that’s just been the story of my life.”

When she replaced the late Lindiwe Chibi, who originally played the role of Doobsie on Muvhango but had to quit the show after she was shot in the face by her boyfriend, Mbau already had everyone against her.

Chibi was a star performer, a fan favourite. Nothing that Mbau did, would be enough to impress the audience. Soon, she was written out of the show. But not without making sure that South Africans could not get enough of her.Her success was never without scandal. Mbau was labelled a gold digger when she married then millionaire,Mandla Mthembu in 2006. It was her lavish lifestyle which grabbed the headlines but even after her divorce in 2009, Khanyi continued living her posh life. We all know the drama with her ex-husband, her antics at Sandton hotels, and only eating blue cheese and croissants.

body.copy...: She rode on that fame wave for many years, not actively working in the industry but still a mainstay in the tabloids.

Besides the lavish lifestyle, it was her obsession with skin lightening and cosmetic surgeries that sparked heated debates on social media, but Khanyi lives her life and unapologetically so.

Khanyi Mbau. Picture: Instagram

All that attention has led to her starring in several local shows and films, including “Abomama”, “Ashes to Ashes”, “Red Room” and the “Happiness Is a Four-Letter Word” franchise.

In her recent Instagram chat with Chiu, Mbau revealed that Young, Famous & African was renewed for the second season.

Young, Famous and African. (L to R) Zari Hassan (Zari The Boss Lady), Jeremiah Ogbodo (Swanky Jerry), Andile Ncube, Quinton Masina (Naked DJ), Khanyi Mbau in Young, Famous and African. Cr. Mosa Hlophe/Netflix © 2022

“I love watching you on your show. I love every aspect of it because you are a strong woman, who speaks her mind but is kind…you are rooted in kindness and heart with fabulous style and I’m inspired by you,” said Chiu.

Mbau’s been called a gold digger, but now she reigns as queen of bling, proving to the world that she’s a gem, after all.

It goes without saying she has constructed her own form of celebrity and has fought fiercely for its legitimacy. And as she expands her brands internationally, we all wonder what the next chapter is for her. I guess we will just have to wait and see.

This article was first published on the Saturday Insider on May 07, 2022.

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