Photography by Minenhle Nene & Jabu Nkosi | Styling by Dumi Gwebu | Makeup by Tammi Mbambo | Hair by Khomotso Moloto | Production by Big & Simple/ Baby Mogul |
It's a Wednesday morning and we are two weeks into what appears to be some kind of faux winter in what would ordinarily be summer in Johannesburg. It's cool and cloudy while the set remains collected until the star of the show arrives. I'm walking around the garden and getting acquainted with my surroundings over a cup of coffee, and the house is situated in a Joburg suburb known for its luxury and affluence.
While in my own head I rehearse my questions and refine my angle for my conversation with Africa’s first-ever Bachelorette, I hear some chatter and introductions happening behind me. Although she announces her arrival in the most nonchalant of outfits – hair tied up, mask, black denim jacket, blue jeans and a pair of white AF1s – her presence has the opposite effect.
The set comes alive and it is a presence that is felt throughout the day.
Qiniso Van Damme later sits in the hair and makeup room halfway through her first look, when I assume my position to film our first set of rapid-fire questions.
We haven't had a conversation extending our greetings, so I'm admittedly nervous through this part, but there's something about her aura and energy that gradually makes me feel like we are the only two people in the room. By the second take, I know a few fun facts about her. She flew in from Cape Town that morning (where she is currently based), she prefers texting over calling and Solange Knowles is one of her favourite artists.
During the second season of The Bachelor SA, Van Damme became a fan favourite as the first contestant to share a kiss with Marc Buckner, as well as the first to secure the sought-after home date. While she did not leave that competition as Buckner's leading lady, the universe certainly had other plans for the 27-year-old model, actor and anthropologist.
Just in time for the season of love, Thursday nights now bring us something to celebrate with the series debut of The Bachelorette SA. As we follow Qiniso on her quest to find love on our screens with her suitors, some of whom have been revealed (Ten Naidu, Ruan Meyer, Kganya Rapoo, Bradley Newton, Dylan Heneck) – we are in for one hell of an unpredictable ride.
WATCH: Qiniso Van Damme in conversation with Naledi Sibisi
Qiniso tells me that she couldn't get all of her date ideas out on account of the global pandemic, however, our Bachelorette, who enjoys a good outing and outdoor activities made sure to bring the fun to our screens nonetheless.
On what it was like on her quest for love and sifting through a number of suitors, she says something profound that sticks with me to the point where, gun to my head, I can repeat every word verbatim.
"Black women deserve to be chased as well. We deserve our stories to be central."
As she accounts for the kind of pressure she initially felt based on the intersectional aspects of being a woman of colour, she is finding herself more empowered by the role she will undertake for mass consumption, starting tonight.
"I know that being a woman with multiple suitors while being a woman of colour will be scrutinised. It makes me the spokesperson for all of us if I get angry or react, for instance," she says.
Van Damme goes on to explain why it's important that she was aware of those factors during the shooting of the show and why she chooses to stand firm in herself and represent a complete picture of who she is at her core. "I fought for my hair," she exclaims.
Talking me through her background, she speaks of her mother's influence at many points. In acknowledging the fact that she was born during a time when racial oppression was at the cusp of being dismantled, she grew up very aware of her identities and privileges as a biracial woman. "As women, we automatically suffer at the hands of oppression," she says.
As a woman of colour, she finds it important that she constantly checks her privileges because she understands where she is situated in relation to society and its standards. At this point we are talking colourism, from 1990s Destiny's Child to 2020s Brown Skin Girl, and just how much further we still have to go where media representation is concerned. All this to say van Damme feels as though her role as Africa's first Bachelorette is crucial in contributing to changing the narrative and challenging existing media landscapes.
Frequently breaking out into isiZulu while offering up insights and being the loudest and funniest person on set, she assures us that this is the personality we can expect on screen. I confess to her that prior to the few hours I have spent getting to know her, it's unlikely I would've watched the series but she effortlessly changed my mind by simply being herself.
"You guys, you don't know what's coming for you! Ha! You're gonna see flames lapho. I'm coming for y'all when you didn't send for me," she jokes into her IG camera as she posts herself dolled up looking like a modern-day Josephine Baker.
"My weird quirk is myself! I am a weird quirk," she jokes while performing a Star Trek gesture shortly after. The self-proclaimed tomboy and nerd is a well-rounded personality and you will absolutely adore seeing on your screens.
- The Bachelorette SA starts on M-Net tonight at 7.30pm
Producer Binwe Adebayo Production Manager Roger Sivuyile Lupuwana Director Mthandeni Khambule DOP Mthandeni Khambule 1st AC Reezo Haasen Photographer Minenhle Nene Photographer Jabu Nkosi Art Director Roger Sivuyile Lupuwana/ Big & Simple Art Assist Kgotlelelo Sekiti Sound Fika Mdanda Wardrobe Dumi Gwebu Make Up Artist Khomotso Moloto/ K-Kolab Hair Tammi Mbambo Production Assistant 1 (Video) Retang Sebaka Production Assistant 2 (Photo) Dash Scout