Nhlanhla Mafu, Brinnette Seopela, and Zizo Tshwete are just a few faces Bonolo Tshabalala’s makeup brushes have touched, he tells The Fuse his story.

BY Nkosazana Ngwadla

When Sibongile Tshabalala gave birth to her bouncing baby boy in October 1993, she didn’t know she was birthing someone who would play a huge role in the beauty industry. 29 years later, Bonolo Tshabalala is one of the most respected and sought-after makeup artists in the country.

It all started when Bonolo was growing up in the West of Johannesburg, raised by his mother, and grandparents, Violet and Mpho, who is now late. “Bonolo was a very active child who started growing teeth at six months, he never crawled, always stood up with chairs and tables, started walking at eight months, and hardly ever sick. He was constantly the life of every party, loved people, even strangers!” Violet says about her grandson.

Sibongile also only has fond memories of her only child when he was younger, “Bonolo always wore my doeks or fabric seat covers pretending it was his hair, what an entertaining child!” For her, raising her son was easy, calm, and soft, just like his name suggests.

Bonolo in school

At the age of 3, Bonolo’s family sent him to Betsie Verwoed Day Care, then later to Laerskool Betsie Verwoed Primary, which is now known as Westgold Primary. Being active never left him, in school he played cricket, sang, and did poems for the eisteddfods, and even became school prefect.

In 2011, he completed his Grade 12 studies at Ahmed Timol Secondary in Azaadville, a school in the center of a predominantly Indian community, rooted in its beliefs, and strongly adhered to culture.
“I’m so grateful because that was a community that never judged my sexuality and never condoned bullying or undermined the diverse cultures and people who walked its streets. High school was the best years of my life,” Bonolo tells The Fuse.

After matric, Bonolo furthered his education with Central Johannesburg College, Alex Campus, studying Cosmetology. He’s even worked as a defaulter tracer at Glenanda Clinic, Johannesburg South, contractually.

After being rejected by Wits University, and AFDA for Dramatic Arts, a gap year just wasn’t an option for Bonolo. “I met a group of ladies dressed in uniform, with their hair and makeup done and I wondered about who they were and what they did. I asked and one answered with ‘we study beauty’,” Bonolo reminisces.

That same day, he went back home to his grandmother to tell her he would like to take a different path and study beauty until he can eventually get into an acting/ presenting school. Violet then spoke to Sibongile who was happy to have her son study anything that would give him ample opportunities to succeed in whatever field he chose.
Booked and busy!

A few years later, Bonolo’s first client was Andrika Magano Sebobiso, a family friend who trusted that Bonolo was good enough to make her look amazing on her wedding day. Talk about being thrown in the deep end, but boy did he swim!

After some time and experience, Bonolo is so sought after that even some of the most loved and celebrated personalities request his services in advance. Although Bonolo’s humility wouldn’t let it out easily, we asked him about some of the famous faces his brushes have touched.
“Haha, Zanele Mncube; a very well-known fashionista who introduced me to Nhlanhla Mafu from the singing group, Mafikizolo…who then introduced me to award-winning entrepreneur, Gugu Khathi, and she showed me off to the world!”

The Future

For Bonolo, the most satisfying thing about his work is being part of the making of an inspirational history. In a world full of makeup artists, he believes what sets him apart is his never-ending appetite for more knowledge. “It makes me a better makeup artist than I was seven years ago when I first started on this journey – it improves my craft and service,” he adds.

Going forward, Bonolo wants to play a role in making makeup a luxury that is part of our daily lives. He also wants to own a makeup brand or cosmetic line that will be responsible for creating jobs.
With his brush in his hand and love for people, Bonolo is bound to make even bigger waves!

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