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20 Jan

Ms Lelo B, The Pioneer, The Maverick!

If you know anything about the South African entertainment industry you will then know about Ms Lelo B, whose real name is Nombulelo Boyana. Lelo established herself as an entertainment journalist/blogger at a time where blogging in South Africa was not popular and she inspired a number of blogs through her then baby Just Curious. Before being the head girl of local celebrity news, she was Brown Shuga on TVSA and she had the tea on everyone. Years later, Lelo, a mother, entrepreneur, traveller, student, fitness enthusiast, podcaster and all time fly girl, is still a woman of influence but in a much more impactful way through Chica. We sit down with her on all things purposeful living.

You are at the core of South African entertainment, no one mentions celebrities or even bloggers and not mention you. How did you get into the entertainment scene? Was it something you had always wanted or that found you by chance?

I loved entertainment as a kid, and knew that I would be involved in one way or the other. I would read magazines from cover to cover, watch every celebrity TV programme there was, I made it my business to know who everyone was and what they were up to. I would cut out my favorite celebrities’ pictures from the magazines and put them in these scrapbooks where I would write commentary about whatever was happening with them at the time or what I would say to them if I met them. I had their posters on the bedroom wall and had this big dream of moving from Welkom to Johannesburg where things were happening, so you can imagine what it was like finally being in the centre of it all and ‘working’ in a way, with people that used to be on my scrapbook and wall posters. It all started with me contributing writing on a TV website called TVSA and Brown Shuga was born from there and took over the South African blogosphere. 

You lived as Brown Shuga and then established Just Curious, one of the most talked-about, most loved celebrity blogs, why did you decide to shut it down?

“You lived as Brown Shuga” is hilarious Bonnie, you make it sound as if I was undercover lol. 

Yes, my life as BS was interesting, full of drama, but really exciting and fun. I am grateful to have been able to create something so powerful and influential in the entertainment space. The blog was a game changer and inspired many young people to know and see that you could use the internet to create a career for yourself, and to this day, I still get people sending me messages to tell me how they were impacted. 

The decision to shut down the blog was not an easy one given that I did it right at a time where money was starting to come in consistently, but at the core of the decision was the fact that I had lost interest in what was at the heart of why I started the blog: the love for celebrity news. I outgrew it.  Whereas blogging had been a source of energy for me, it started to drain the energy out of me and to put it bluntly, I was honestly starting to hate it… 

I remember watching Tina Turner on Oprah’s Next Chapter in 2013 and when she articulated what led her to retire in 2009, I was like.. “OMG! That’s exactly how I feel!” and I knew it was time to let go, so after five years of Just Curious, in 2014 I decided to step back. My team then were really keen to keep it going, and they did for a while, but it was not the same without my voice and we eventually decided to shut it down completely after. So to the people who now and again ask me when I am bringing Just Curious back, it fulfilled its purpose and what it needed to do for that era, it is never coming back. 

How did your work at Just Curious influence your relationships at the time?

Whew! I learned the hard way that I could not be close friends with celebrities because people took it very personally when they were written about on the blog (even by other writers or the people in the comments) and there was almost an expectation that I had a duty to protect them. So a lot of my relationships with people in entertainment were strained, but to this day I can say that it was never because of me writing untruths or negatively, it was because the comments from the readers of the blog were brutal, insensitive and hurtful at times. 

I agree, the comments were brutal. Do you still have people that do not speak to you because there were controversial stories written about them at Just Curious?

Oh yes.. and it makes me sad. Just last year at an event I met an actress that a fellow writer on JC had written about and when we did introductions and I said my name, she was like.. “Lelo? That Lelo??” I said yes because I knew exactly what she was referring to, and my heart sank listening to her tell me how she had been angry at me for so long. So as much as Just Curious was an amazing platform from a blogging culture perspective, looking back, I am not proud of the hurt that we caused to some celebrities. When you are young and feel powerful behind a screen, sometimes you forget that as much as they are your subject to talk about, they are also people with feelings and emotions. In hindsight, perhaps this is something I should have used as a reminder at the end of every blog post, to remind ourselves as bloggers and the readers commenting. But I guess some of these things we learn and see clearer through the lens of age and experience.  

You started Chica, I am a big fan of the platform. What was the thinking behind this outlet? 

After all those years and time writing about other people’s lives, I needed to put the focus back on my life and create the life I want. Through Just Curious and I guess even TVSA, I discovered that I have a gift for connecting people so CHICA was about using that gift to create a collaborative space for women and when it started out my intention was for it to be Girl Talk About Love, Life & Everything In Between but I decided to pick a niche and focus on Travel, because that is one thing I will never outgrow or get tired of. So Chica Travel was born. 

You travel a lot, when do you do your day job?

Hahah I get this question all the time and I honestly do not take as much time off from work as people seem to think. My day job is very important to me, so I respect and take it seriously. I have just mastered the art of maximizing my leave days by combining days off with weekends and public holidays. I take my required 10 consecutive days once a year but the rest of it is just me taking a day or two off once in a while and combining it with weekends or public holidays. When you have a 9-5 and love to travel, this is something that you just learn to do. 

Give us 5 places we should all visit?

Ooh…I have such a long list of countries I would still love to visit so I can only answer based on the places I’ve been to. 

  1. South Africa: Mzansi is definitely at the top, so to South Africans I’d say we have a beautiful country, and so much to explore so let’s explore our country. I’ll pick the Western Cape because I realize that there’s so much to see there beyond Cape Town. So please explore South Africa. I hope to see more of KZN. I recently went to Ballito and wanted to kick myself for not having gone there sooner. I also want to explore the Eastern Cape, e.g. Coffee Bay. 
  2. Kenya – the best thing about Kenya is that we don’t need a visa as South Africans so the Kenyan coast is a must see and affordable. Lamu, Diani and Watamu are the places I’ve traveled to in Kenya and I loved them so much, I would go back over and over again. I have Masai Mara on my bucket list though. 
  3. Namibia is one of the most amazing places I have been to, we need to visit Namibia please guys… also it’s just a 2-hour flight away and you can even use your rands to shop/pay there. I loved it and would highly recommend it. 
  4. Mozambique and Zanzibar have some of the most beautiful beaches in the continent, a must-visit for South Africans.
  5. Outside of the continent, I’m obsessed with Italy. I love everything about it, the food, it’s just beautiful! Start with Rome, of course. 

Which trip changed your life and how did it change your life?

I always talk about my birthday solo trip to Paris in 2015 because it was the trip that made me fall in love with solo travel. Everything that happened during that trip made me realize that solo travel does not equate to loneliness, and it does not mean that you spend the whole trip alone. When you travel solo you have far better chances of connecting with locals and meeting new people. It made me want to see more of the world and explore more. Experiencing a place from a local’s perspective enriches the trip so much. So I can go anywhere alone and it’ll be the most amazing trip ever because solo travel somehow brings out the adventurer in me. 

You are a mother to an adult now, how has your relationship grown and changed over the years?

My son and I have walked quite a journey to this point, I can’t believe how quickly he’s grown and also into such an attentive, kind and intelligent gentleman. I can’t believe I’m a mom to a 21 year old, yhuu ndimdala lol. We have always been close because it’s always been just us, but I love that we’ve grown closer as he gets older and that we maintain an open relationship where we can talk about anything. That he trusts me to give him advice when he’s going through challenges really warms my heart. 

In a world where women are suffering in the hands of men, raising a boy child is a huge challenge because these are the men of the future, but I’m proud of the man he has become and I am sending him out to the world with confidence and trust that he will be a good black man who will respect and treat women and I guess people in general, with respect and kindness. 

What are some of the biggest lessons Siya has taught you about yourself? 

Gosh, I learn so much from him all the time. Just the other day we were talking about personal goal setting for the year and seeing that I’m writing my goals down for the first time this year, whereas he has already been doing this for the past few years, he was giving me advice about how after writing the goals down I need to put them where I can see them every day because I need constant reminders to keep me on track. But besides these kinds of things, the one thing I appreciate is that my son accepts me for who and what I am and he encourages my passions. I’m not always good at keeping in touch with loved ones but whenever we are not together, he is constantly checking in, touching base, which reminds me to do the same with other family members… and him too, now that he doesn’t live at home anymore. 

You are a hot girl, you workout. What are some of your tips for people that want to look just as good?

To be honest, it’s all genes and I’m forever grateful to my parents so I work out to stay healthy and I guess to fight off old age because heyi, the body starts being weird when you get older so it’s important to do what you can to help it out, even if blessed with good genes. 

How often do you workout?

I aim for 2-3 times a week and minimum twice on a bad/busy week. 

Who are some of your biggest inspirations and why?

This is always a difficult question for me because I’ve been inspired by so many different people throughout my life, and it changes based on what aspect of my life we’re talking about or my life stage. I’m inspired by people who live their truth and who go after their dreams and pursue their passions. I believe that life is short, so I am all about doing what you want to do now and not waiting for tomorrow. One such person is Queen Oprah, she’s lived life on her own terms and reinvented herself to adapt to our ever-changing world. I’m also inspired by people who know that what I was yesterday is not who I need to be tomorrow so as long as you’re alive, keep shifting and changing what you need to, to make yourself happy and become a better person. 

How has social media changed your life?

Oh gosh, where do I even begin? So much, I have gotten so many opportunities throughout the years, as a result of blogging and using social media. Not only for me personally but also for the many youngsters who got their break after writing on my platform. The changes are too many to list but I’m learning every day from social media, about humanity, it keeps me in the know of what’s happening around and keeps me connected to friends around the world and of course new places to visit! 

What advice would you give to Brown Shuga/Just Curious Lelo that you know now?

I feel like Brown Shuga is the one that should be giving me advice now because that girl was a gutsy, fierce and a fearless go-getter and she made stuff happen! She was badass and did things her way. I would probably just say “keep going, you’re on the right track.” And maybe I’d add, “ask for more money, you’re worth more !” 

What’s next for Chica and Ms Lelo in 2023, what can we look forward to?

My focus this year is to work on putting structures in place to build my travel business, and I was blessed to meet someone last year who shares the same vision for making travel accessible and giving black women tools and information they need to turn their travels into memorable experiences so we will be working on this during the course of 2023, and I’m looking forward to that. I am also planning to do a few of my Chica group travels this year, so I’m super excited for those and of course, recording more exciting Chica Travel Podcast interviews. I’m also learning Italian, which is quite hard but given my obsession with Italy as a travel destination, I’m mad at myself for not having started learning earlier. So next time you see, ask me how all this is going lol… 

Food… what are some of your favorite delicacies?

Yhuu I eat any and everything and food is an important part of my travels, which is why on my podcast I always ask my guests about food in different destinations. Whether it’s Kenya, Nigeria, Italy, Moz, I want to at least try and indulge in what the local delicacies are. 

What are some of your favorite restaurants in Joburg?

Probably a boring answer but I don’t have a favorite restaurant in JHB, I’m too much of an explorer, I love to try out different places so I go wherever the people I’m dining with suggest. Places I’ve been to recently that I enjoyed include And Then There Was Fire at Nirox, the seafood pasta at Doppio Zero Rosebank, I still dream about it lol, every time I’m at Salvation Café at 44 Stanley I kick myself for not going there often, I enjoy the cheesecake at Ukko and Truffles on the Park is another whose food I enjoy. 

You have been everywhere with your travels, have you had any bad experiences in other countries? 

I had a bad experience on my last trip to Italy. I was in Sorrento and went to a restaurant to get dinner without a reservation, and as I stood at the door waiting to be helped, they completely ignored me for a good couple of minutes, a white couple came in after me also looking to have dinner and the manager walked past me to go attend to them and sit them down. Eventually a waiter came and showed me to a table inside and after sitting there for some time without anyone coming to help me, I eventually stood up and left and as I was leaving, they all just looked at me and didn’t say anything. It was a hurtful experience and I concluded it happened because I was black because … what else could have been the reason? I did not let that ruin my trip though because out of the eleven days I spent in Italy during that trip, it was the only experience that was negative, everyone else I had encountered was warm and friendly. I brushed it aside and carried on with my trip but of course, I know that generally black people often experience racism when traveling and this is something I hope we will see less and less of. 

What picks you up when you feel down?

Travel of course! It makes me so happy! The process of searching for flights, booking accommodation, that always does the trick. I’m also an obsessed TV lover and I love getting lost in a series or movie to just get me away from things that put me down. Listening to my podcast also uplifts me because when I listen to it, I realize just what a helpful and fun platform it is. I created a gem and it makes me happy. 

How important is community to you?

Oh 100% important. Everything I’ve achieved on social media, and through my blog is because there was a community around me that supported and believed in me. While time alone is important, we are not meant to live in isolation and I talked about my gift for connecting people earlier: I nurture this because I love people and creating new connections because it is how I learn. It’s also important for me to create a sense of belonging for people who don’t have a community around them, which is why group travels are an important part of my Chica travel life. I think this is something I got from my parents, they loved people and so our home was always surrounded. 

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