Basetsana Makgalemele, former Miss Soweto and Miss Black South Africa, was crowned Miss SA in 1994. The event is memorable as it coincided with the first democratic elections. Kumalo was the second Black woman to have won the title after Jacqui Mofokeng paved way for black beauty queens in the country.
Kumalo was born in Soweto and went to Thabiseng Primary School in Orlando West. When Soweto was engulfed by student unrest in 1986 she was sent to school in Lenasia, an Indian suburb south of Johannesburg. It was while she was a student at the University of Venda that her mother entered her for the Miss South Africa pageant.
The title, Miss South Africa, created a number of opportunities for Kumalo. Before she was crowned she was already romantically involved with World Lightweight Boxing champion Dingaan Thobela. Kumalo’s relationship with Thobela was extremely taxing for her. There were allegations of abuse in their relationship – which became public. This she confirmed in her interviews with several magazines and publications. Kumalo became a household name during the 1990s. She received support from Dr Nelson Mandela, who offered her an honorary scholarship for studies overseas.
Kumalo became a presenter of Top Billing, a TV magazine programme on SABC 3. During her time with Top Billing, she formed a close relationship with Patience Stevens, the show’s producer. The duo formed a company, Tswelopele Productions, with Kumalo owning 50 percent of its equity.
In 1999 Tswelopele Productions merged with Union Alliance Media (UIM) and listed on the Johannesburg Securities Exchange (JSE). This made Kumalo one of the youngest black women directors in the country’s entertainment industry. Top Billing brought more projects to the Tswelopele brand. This included an Afrikaans magazine programme on SABC2, Pasella, a youth television show in Siswati on SABC1, Seskhona, and a morning breakfast show on SABC3, Expresso.
Her exposure on television and glossy magazine covers led to a wealth of endorsements. Kumalo became the face of Revlon’s Realistic Hair Care range for both Sub-Saharan Africa and the international market, serving as spokesperson for five years. She then owned an eyewear range distributed through Torga Optical eye care named ‘Bassie’.
Her sense of fashion was daring but very sophisticated. She then saw a gap in the fashion market and started a clothing range through the Ackerman’s brand. ‘Stature Ladies’ wear by Bassie’ was distributed in over 240 outlets in Sub-Saharan Africa. The brand has since been discontinued.
At the peak of her business career, she dated Romeo Kumalo, former SABC broadcaster and Vodacom executive. The two had met in her time as Miss Soweto and started dating in 1997. Romeo and Basetsana were married in 2000. The highly publicised wedding was attended by the A-list of South African celebrities. This included Dr Nelson Mandela and his wife Graca Machel. Three years later she gave birth to their first born son, Nkosinathi Gabriel Kumalo.
Kumalo’s influence in business and media was impressive. She was on the board of five major organisations including being the president of the Business Women’s Association of South Africa (BWASA) and director of Union Alliance Media Ltd (UAM).