Sophie’s Special Secret: Public Feeling, Consumption and Celebrity Activism in Post-Apartheid South Africa

Picture the scene if you can, and if you struggle you are in luck as at least two media crews were present to carefully draw together an image of love and perfection to be broadcast on national television. Sophie Ndaba, tagged “socialite”, celebrity actress, soap-opera star and entrepreneur[i] enters the screen[LR1] [DM2]  in an elaborate red gown to welcome us to her special “thanksgiving” celebration which will support her charity work with orphans in South Africa. The details—which orphans, where they are, how they benefit, how many ophans are involved—are rather vague and do not really matter for appealing to the viewer.  The scene merely establishes that Sophie has a cause, and it is important to her. We know this this is a time for her to give back because Sophie tells her story often in the national media, and she tells it well. She grew up in the foster care and orphanage system and aspired to one day be a social worker or a nurse and help others like herself, only now she’s done one better, she’s a star. 350 of South Africa’s celebrity elite sit patiently in neat rows, aisle in the middle, to receive the sudden surprise that on this very special occasion, Sophie will marry her beau, Reverend Keith Harrington.[ii] In a sweetheart neckline satin mermaid dress, our “Queen” enters and we are all privy to this very public/private moment of intimacy as they exchange their wedding vows. Sophie later explains to the crew from Top Billing[iii] that this was an important way for her to marry, she grew up poor and she wanted to share her wealth with others.

[i] See accessed 31 May 2014.

[ii] Pillay, Claudia. 2012. Sophie’s Special Secret. Drum Weddings Issue 1, Spring/Summer. 12-19.

[iii] Top Billing is a popular lifestyle magazine television show aired on the public broadcaster, SABC 3. The show features the lives of the rich and famous and Ndaba frequently appears as a guest celebrity wedding planner. The episode featuring Ndaba’s nuptials has been removed from the website’s archives, following the public fallout between Ndaba and her former partner. See accessed 31 May 2014.


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