the matte project


Beauty Journey: Milisuthando Bongela

Name: Milisuthando Bongela

Age: 30s

Occupation: Mail & Guardian Arts and Culture Editor, Blogger ( 


I was born in Mthatha but grew up eGcuwa (Butterworth) when it was still the Transkei, until 1993 when we moved to East London.  I’m the second of 4 sisters and had a really pleasant childhood both in Butterworth and East London.  My parents loved music.  My mother was a teacher who started 4 schools and a church or two in East London in the 1990s.  She retired in 2015 at the age of 60.  She’s quite a fancy lady who likes to dress up so that’s where I get my love for fashion from.  She was very strict and allowed very little room for stepping out of line. My father was an educator who also founded and taught at a number of schools.  He was a lecturer at the University of Transkei and a well known author of Xhosa novels, short stories and setwork books, some of which we read in High School.  He was also a pianist and a trumpeter and had a penchant for films and history so we grew up with a home library of both films and books.  He taught us piano and I remember listening a lot of iintsomi (stories) on a black tape recorder / player he used to have.  I really got along with him because we both loved reading and writing and were interested in the world.  The strange thing is that I was very much sheltered from the realities that black people faced from an early age. When we lived eGcuwa, we lived in a decent black neighbourhood where people were professionals and we attended decent black schools.  I didn’t know about Apartheid to be honest until 1993 when we moved to East London and I learned that I’m black. We lived in the suburbs and I was one of those annoying black kids who always told everyone ‘’we have a pool at our house’’.  We didn’t grow up in a nuclear setup. There were always cousins, aunts and children from my mother’s school living with us and it was wonderful. I spent a lot of my holidays visiting relatives in villages across the Eastern Cape, namely eBawa, eTyeni and KuZangwa so I have a close relationship to rural life. I still go there quite regularly.  

Our belief systems as a family are traditional Xhosa religion but most of my family members are also Christian.  We do ancestral rituals at least twice a year on both sides of my family. 


I don’t really remember my mother’s beauty products but I do know that she used to use skin lighteners at the time, products from Ambi, like everyone else.  She would use base (foundation) for make up, do her brows and eyelashes and always wore some kind of pink blushy shade of lipstick. She had great skin so the focus was usually the hair and the outfit.  The only way I can describe her style is that with each outfit she wore, people always commented. There were a lot of shoulder padded dress jackets in the 80s in bold colours like yellow and green.  Actually she really indulged in anything that would enhance the shoulders. I have many of her dresses in my own wardrobe and I always have to trick the shoulder areas into suiting my small frame.

 The first time I remember seeing someone that was breathtakingly beautiful was at one of my aunts’ weddings in 1992.  She got married in a sleek body hugging white dress that had an extreme bell-shape around the lower calves and a white top hat. She had these big round brown eyes that were piercing behind a fishnet veil and pink lipstick.  That look was iconic. I was 7.


I have such a bad skin history, having had recurring acne since I was 13 right up until last year so I have a lot of shame when it comes to the skin on my face. The skin on my body is a flawless dark brown. It’s all an even tone and I don’t have any scars or marks from childhood and like zero stretchmarks.  My face is another story, endless scarring from years of acne was finally helped with treatment from a doctor who specializes in skin care (after many dermatologists who failed) helped.  The treatment period is over and my skin is fine for now. I wash it twice a day with Cetaphil Cleanser. I don’t really tone much but I usually put on bentonite clay mask every 10 or so days on the weekend.  I moisturize with the Cetaphil moisturizer and don’t really exfoliate except for my lips every week. When I’m going to be out in the sun, I apply a Nimue spf 40 sunscreen.  I can’t fall asleep if there isn’t a liter of water next to me, which I wake up to drink every couple of hours. For my lips I use the Ingrams Tissue Oil Gel and it’s amazing.


I’m quite a simple make up girl and am actually too shy to experiment with it. I used to wear liquid foundation but these days, I use a MAC Primer, Clarins concealer, a Dis-Chem brow pencilLancôme mascara and Mac Powder Foundation and I’m out. I’m obsessed with the Matte Retro Range from Mac so I’m collecting those lip colours.  For special occasions, I tried contouring and just had this voice in my head ‘’your face is the shape of an orange, what are you contouring?’’ I thread my brows once a month so they aren’t much of an effort.  


Perfumes currently on my dresser are the following: Marc Jacobs Daisy (some weekends), Tom Ford Violet Blonde (almost finished from 2 years ago), Tom Ford Jasmin Rouge (special occasions from 2 years ago), Carolina Herrera (the pink one for breast cancer which lives in my handbag), Givenchy (not my fave, so it’s still full), Fendi (not sure of the name but it’s not that bad, got it in a goodie bag), and fragrance stick from Malee which I always use when I’m feeling all grounded and spiritual.

My signature scent is the Carolina Herrera but actually, I need to go back to my ultimate favourite which I’m a little shy to share because I don’t actually like the brand anymore, but my original favourite perfume was Michael Kors. That’s going to be my next purchase.

My 3 most repurchased beauty purchases are my face cleanser, face moisturizer and wet wipes.

I beauty trend I can’t stand has to be the manicure where the ring finger nail is a different colour to the rest. I can’t.
A beauty tip I would share is washing your face at night is akin to brushing your teeth in the morning.

My ultimate beauty crush is Freddie Harrell @freddieharrell and I am judging myself for my newfound interest in the Kylie Jenner lip kit. Please don’t judge me.


Leave A Comment

Your email address will not be published.