Written by Motlatsi Motseoile
Tale as old as time is how their love story ought to be described: one which began in friendship and blossomed into a life partnership. Buhlebendalo Mda (35) is famous as one of the soulful voices behind award-winning acapella group The Soil. She has since taken a break from The Soil and delved into her own solo career, launching the widely popular and successful debut album Chosi. Botshelo Mondi (34) is a multimedia practitioner and visual artist, who works across the TV and creative communications sectors – so it is no surprise that these two artists have found love with one another.
The pair met thirteen years ago, while Botshelo was a fine art student and Buhlebendalo would visit their campus to take part in what was known back then as “cyphers”, as part of The Soil. Luphindo Ngxanga aka Master P, who is a member of The Soil, introduced them. For Botshelo, the attraction was instant, but Buhlebendalo admits that for her it was just purely platonic. “I didn’t know B had the biggest crush on me,” she says with a giggle. It would take years before it became evident that Botshelo wanted more. “We went on double dates, with our previous partners and spent time together.” Buhlebendalo adds.
When both of their relationships ended, and they were single, they started spending more time together, comforting one another over their break-ups and reconnecting as friends. “Things started very slow because we didn’t want to destroy the friendship we had. During lockdown B confessed their love for me. The transition was easy, especially because B was everything I would want for in a friend and as a partner, they wanted me fortunately.” Buhlebendalo continues amidst giggles.
Once they were comfortable with being more than just friends, they fell deeper in love, not caring for labels or what people outside their relationship thought of this development in their friendship. Botshelo says, “We are just two beings madly in love with each other, labelling couldn’t really hold any significance to our love. As for my family, they fell in love with her immediately. What’s there not to love though? And they are the only people that matter”. Since then the couple have enjoyed a wide popularity on social media as an idolised couple among the LGBTQIA+ community. They have been nominated for Feather Awards twice, as parents and a couple, respectively.
For years, Buhlebendalo has been guarded about her private life but she credits going through Iphehlo – the process of initiation into practices of traditional healing – with her wisdom, which has allowed her to know what’s good for her and what she can let the public into. She admits that details about her private life would eventually come out into the public, so she has learnt to protect herself and her loved ones from the malicious and knows when to let go. Despite this, she maintains that people will only know as far as she allows, although “there are always people looking and lurking, wanting to know what is happening in your life” – and in the case of her relationship with Botshelo, it is something that makes her happy that she would not want to hide.
Botshelo’s stance is that while they have no issue with people knowing about the relationship, people tend to “think they can dictate who or how I should love” which takes a toll on them. The couple admits that being in the entertainment industry there will be concessions made, but they are not going out of their way to become a famous couple. It is this congruence in love and thought that led the friends and lovers to extend their relationship to business, seeing them establish Bees On The Couch – a creative production company.
Bees On The Couch is an artist hub that Botshelo and Buhlebendalo founded to “create safe spaces for creatives and queer people that have to deal with gate-keeping” explains Botshelo. “We need more healing spaces, for people like us – black, women and queer people. And this business is about that. It’s about telling their stories. The black and queer experience is still overlooked and we want those people to occupy space.” Buhlebendalo adds. Although they are still working from their home, they have desires to find a work space that can enable them to grow.
The couple worked together on Buhlebendalo’s music video for her single ‘Mdali’, which was shot at the Constitutional Hill. Buhlebendalo says it was a blissful experience, as Botshelo was able to translate her thoughts and ideas into something visual that people could see and identify with. It is this art that they also rely on to further their love. “I think the art pours into our love,” says Buhlebendalo, on the influence of art into their relationship. They wish to build an empire that uplifts and empowers, but they both admit that the lines between the personal and professional are blurred. The pair admits to being workaholics, and even when they are supposed to be off work, they always end up working. “We were on a trip in Mpumalanga and had left our laptops at home, but we still ended up working. It’s hard to separate!” Buhlebendalo says amidst laughs.
While they work hard, they love hard, admitting to having similar love languages – bum rubs coming atop the list, followed by quality time spent together. Their special moments shared between them include their first date: “We went to Basha Uhuru Festival, she looked beautiful and she danced the whole night whilst I was checking her out from a distance. We went home together… What happened when we got to her place was nothing short of magic.” Botshelo recalls. For Buhlebendalo, her most precious moment is when Botshelo proposed, which happened when they were recording her music video. “I had already told them not to do it in public, because I would embarrass them and they listened to me. But on the day of the shoot, my people were there; my friends, my family, my child and they all had a note of special words. And at the end Botshelo was there, holding a note saying, “Will you be my pantsula forever?” Buhlebendalo remembers the moment as she blushes.
It’s a love that looks and feels idyllic, and what holds it together are the simple things. Botshelo says they are friends before anything else, and that helps them get through the difficult moments. For Buhlebendalo, it’s that they work and play together, they meditate and pray together. They phahla together and this keeps them grounded and whole. As a couple that works, prays and plays together, the future looks filled with more moments of pure bliss for the pair. “We are building an empire for our daughter together. Individually I would love to get an opportunity to exhibit my work this year.” Botshelo asserts as they look to the future.
Buhlebendalo hopes that the future for them will include creating more spaces that celebrate blackness, womanhood and queerness for more people. As an individual, she is “working on creating visual work that widens her music, developing content that empowers the youth, because I am passionate about the youth.” She also wants to work with other artists in different ways but cautions, “I will not be recording a second album anytime soon”. As we wrap up, Buhlebendalo says there is nothing to learn from her and Botshelo’s love story, and that people must create their own love story that works for them, which is what they did with Botshelo. They created something beautiful, and it makes them happy.