Milisuthando Bongela, affectionately known as Miss Milli B, has crafted a fine career for herself in the last decade. Her work can be found in established publications such as DestinyConnect, The Mail & Guardian, Elle Magazine, as well as international publications such as Dazed and Confused. Known for her formidable writing skills, sharp, curious mind and eye for fashion, this blogger-cum-writer and consultant gives us insight into developing a new niche for herself as a creative corporate in South Africa…
(Images provided by Milisuthando Bongela & Taken by Chris Saunders)
Full name: Milisuthando Bongela
Current title/company: Writer, Blogger and Professional Observer.
Educational background: BA Journalism, Rhodes University
Current city: Johannesburg
Milli, you have a pristine reputation and have established a career that has transcended many industries – from fashion, to retail consulting, to blogging and now contemporary writing. Could you take us through your journey to where you are now?
Thank you. I won’t attempt to put the last 10 years of my career in one paragraph. I think if people want to find out details, they can visit my blog or find details on the internet. I studied a BA Degree, which allowed me to access new ways of thinking about life and I have used the foundation of that knowledge to propel myself forward in fields like fashion, art, music and now life writing. While I loved my work in the fashion and retail industries, for 7 years I did not concentrate on my intellectual proclivities and I missed that. I am currently going through a fundamental life change in how I view things and writing is a form of survival to my general state of being nonplussed. I have written for newspapers and magazines and am currently trying to improve my writing by reading, thinking, conversing with interesting people so that I may have proper things to say. I am still working on the Hair Film and another series that is a representation of a 20-something black woman in contemporary South Africa – a very nuanced experience. I am still blogging and consulting to different brands to be out there but honestly, I would not mind a retreat into a quiet space and a bit of a pause to formulate my thoughts properly
Readers of your blog will be well aware that you have crafted a career in both fashion and political writing and social awareness – it is evident that you cannot be boxed into a particular category! What is the elusive trick to South African Millennial women balancing the different sides to her?
Lol, if I knew I would use that trick myself. I just think being vulnerable to changes, being open to changing your mind and being honest in your point of view ensures a transient existence. I’m never bored because I have different stimuli and as a result that influences my work – but as a writer, I am never ever happy with anything I put out there so it gives me motivation to improve. I am nowhere and that’s ok. I’m only 29 and have only recently embraced the writer in me so there is time to learn. The other stuff, the fashion and the consulting were great when I had my gaze on them but I am growing up and my gaze has shifted to more important issues regarding the black and the female condition. One’s intuition is a great guide in all aspects of life, I suggest an early acquaintance with it and regular consult.
The advent of the Creative Corporate has created both a wealth of opportunity and confusion. On the one hand you want to challenge the status quo and make a social difference – but the reality is, bills have to be paid! Could you describe the business acumen and knowledge one needs to combine with their artistry and talent?
I’m still figuring that out. On one hand the type of work I do (which I like) feeds me and on the other, because we are a generation that is pioneering new ways of being – it is still unfolding. There is no manual for decolonization (though Fanon provides a text book) so it is constantly being discovered by those who are trying to do it. If your heart and soul are fed by the non-paying stuff, sooner or later it begins to pay. Money should not be the bottom line for staying in a career that no longer feeds your soul, that is a life where you only live to work. The transition period is scary and lonely but worth it at some point. I like to plan the kind of future I want and write down all the details then a plan of the many ways I could get there. You have to be willing to make the big leap from working for someone else to choosing how your work life is structured. It’s not easy and it also does not have a manual. You need to know what you want and set up the means to achieve it.
How did you ultimately determine the type of career you were most passionate about? Has the “aha” moment taken place?
Yes the ‘’aha’’ moment has happened. I want to be a great writer. It is a combination of many things:
- Growing up – we are so hard on and impatient with ourselves. The closer I get to 30, the less anxious I am about being myself.
- It took not feeling guilty about all the things that I really like to do, all the things I do when I procrastinate: Having long conversations with friends and strangers, reading and watching very random stuff on the internet, lying in on a Sunday to read books and write for myself, spending a lot of time alone, obsessing about history, race and gender and sleeping a lot to realise that ‘hey maybe I’m supposed to be a writer!’
Are you satisfied creatively?
Yes, but not with my output. The stimulants are all over the place in South Africa and the circles I engage with so I am never short of inspiration.
As a blogger, writer, consultant & stylist what have been your biggest obstacles and how were you able to overcome them? How have you managed to merge your passions?
My biggest obstacle was being young and unconscious. Hang out with people that you admire, that you like, that you want to learn from, that you can grow with, that love you and that represent the qualities you want in your life. Don’t be so hard on yourself but constantly work to improve your state of mind. Read books that challenge the way you see things, not just books that are conclusive about a subject you already know about. Read stuff you don’t know about. Read someone like Steve Biko to begin to understand your condition as a person. You will not be the same. I have overcome the challenges placed in front of me by accepting them as life experiences instead of viewing them as problems. Once you can identify your problem, you can put it on trial and move on. Problems are good, they force us to grow and change even when we don’t want to. Find a spiritual outlet. I meditate and sometimes do Yoga because I do not possess the qualities to deal with the instances life has all on my own. Also, I view my life and my work as one – they don’t take a break from each other. I don’t leave my character or personality at the door when I enter a work space and vice versa. But in order for that to happen, one has to love their work and life.
What is a typical work day like for you?
There is no such thing in my life. Sometimes that is scary and sometimes it makes me feel free. Right now it is Tuesday and I am in bed answering emails. I have a story due at 5pm today which I have not started. I need to read and write so that I don’t feel so angry at whiteness and rather think of a clever way to deliver my feelings towards it for this particular newspaper.
Advice for aspiring creatives?
Get to know yourself and stick with that person.
Morning or night?
If you could have lunch with any woman, who would it be and what would you order?
Winnie Mandela – I would say thank you and order Mogudu and Dumplings.
I wish I knew how to…play the piano
African women are… the world’s last hope
South Africa is… complex, in need of a reality check and leadership, still going to go through the hardship we have avoided in the last 20 years, going to be okay
Worst money mistake… Not saving it [money] earlier in my life
Best investment… Books
Motivation in 3 words… Your life matters