Bassie is a beauty with heart

Basetsana Kumalo is one of remarkably few successful women in business – making her a strong role model for young girls.. (Image: Basetsana Kumalo)

Top Billing
+27 11 274-2650

Romaana Naidoo

Bassie, as she is affectionately called by her friends and legions of fans, is a vivacious beauty queen who exudes more than just good looks; she is also a savvy businesswoman.

“Being a Miss South Africa had pros and cons and one of the challenges was overcoming people’s perceptions that I was nothing more than a beauty queen and had nothing to offer,” she said. “I realised that I could either allow people’s perceptions about what a Miss South Africa can and cannot do to determine my destiny, or I could use the opportunity to show that I had something real to offer.

“I worked really hard to prove myself and made sure that everything I did was done to the highest standard of excellence. My attitude was that, although I knew that I didn’t know much, I was willing to learn, so over time I did business courses and learned from others in business,” she said.

Being a responsible individual was a lesson Kumalo learned from her parents. They did a lot of smaller scale things to make extra money, such as making and selling curtains at the end of each month, as well as selling sandwiches and ice cream, among others.

Born Basetsana Julia Makgalemele on 29 March 1974 in Soweto, she has two sisters and a brother. Her bus driver father, Philip Makgalemele, died in 2003 and her school teacher mother, Beatrice Makgalemele, died in 2006. Though she started school at Thabisang Primary School, she was later transferred to a school in Lenasia when schooling became untenable in 1986.

She describes herself as being an introvert at school, but soon blossomed into a confident young woman. And at the age of 16, she was crowned Miss Soweto and Miss Black South Africa in 1990. Just four years later, she was crowned Miss South Africa. That led to the Miss World pageant, in which she was named First Princess.

During her reign, Kumalo was the beauty editor of Drum magazine and she began her career as a television presenter on Top Billing, the popular lifestyle show. Her career catapulted and she was soon a household name and the face of Revlon’s Realistic Hair Care range internationally. Since then, Kumalo has racked up an impressive list of achievements, including an honorary scholarship for overseas study in 1994 from then-president Nelson Mandela.

By 1995, she became a 50% partner in the company that produces Top Billing, Tswelopele Productions. Four years later, Tswelopele merged with Union Alliance Media and was listed on the JSE. This merger made Kumalo one of the youngest black women directors in South Africa.

Television career

The production company then branched off into other television shows, such as the Afrikaans magazine programme Pasella, and a youth TV show in SiSwati called Ses’kona. In 2000, Kumalo branched out, launching her own clothing range. This led to other ventures, including her eyewear range and her brand of cosmetics.

In 2001, Kumalo joined Travel with Flair as a director. The company was named the top travel agency in 2007, and at the World Travel Awards in 2009, it won Africa’s Leading Business Travel Agency, Africa’s Leading Travel Management Company and South Africa’s Leading Travel Management Company.

In 2004, Kumalo contributed to the book Inspirational Women at Work, which focuses on the new face of leadership in South Africa. She also features in Recipes from the Heart, with 36 of South Africa’s most-loved celebrities. She is also the editor-at-large of Top Billing magazine, the print edition of the television show.

Kumalo is the president of the Business Women’s Association of South Africa. In 2008, she became a new Tawana shareholder through a transaction with her investment company Pro Direct 189. She also sits on the boards of Unipalm Investment Holdings, Vhangana Energy Resources, Tactic Group Limited, SME Financial Holdings Limited, Morongwa Investment Holdings, Seven Falls, Q2 Petroleum and PHAB Holdings.

When asked how she manages so many projects, she says: “My biggest gripe is that there are not enough hours in the day. I prioritise things according to their level of urgency and plan at the beginning of the year, so I have diarised all the important meetings and events well in advance. I have cut down on the international travel as well and I lean on people to help me.”

Playing her part

Along with her husband, the actor Romeo Kumalo, she has established the Romeo & Basetsana Kumalo Family Foundation, which supports children’s development, especially those who have been orphaned by Aids or related diseases. She also joined Unicef in its attempts to eradicate neonatal and maternal tetanus. She was nominated by former first lady Graça Machel in 2007 to be one of five celebrities to take a public HIV test, and she helped to raise money for the Chris Hani Baragwanath Children’s Hospital.

As part of her philanthropic work, Kumalo is a volunteer for Agang Sechaba, a project started in 2007 that helps female professionals to give back to the communities into which they were born. She has received several awards, including from Operation Hunger, the Cancer Association of South Africa and the RDP (Reconstruction and Development Programme), in which she played a key role. Childline, Take a Girl Child to Work, and Reach for a Dream are some of the charities in which she is involved.

Kumalo holds a diploma in marketing from Damelin College and is currently studying towards a degree in international relations and political science.

She is one of remarkably few successful women in business – making her a strong role model for young girls. In the 2013 World Economic Forum’s Gender Equity report, women earned up to 33% less than their male peers. The current international pay gap average is 13%.

And while more than half of university graduates are women, only 44% are employed in corporate South Africa. When it comes to top management, just 19% of the country’s top managers are women and just 17.1% of board seats are held by women; in the United Kingdom this is at 17.3%, in the United States it is 16.6%.

However, women make up 5.5% of board chair roles in South Africa – double the 2% in Europe.