Being on television did not work out as Katleho Molai had hoped. After years of trying she had finally earned a spot on the fifth season of South Africa’s Tropika Island of Treasure series only to find herself embroiled in the aftermath of the death of fellow contestant, Reeva Steenkamp.
The broadcaster’s decision to air the first episode of the reality show that pits celebrities against ordinary South Africans was criticised in many quarters as exploitative coming before the 29-year-old model’s funeral on Tuesday.
On Saturday night as she sat in her small apartment in a middle-class housing estate in Johannesburg, Ms Molai took little joy at seeing herself on the television. “I can’t believe she’s gone,” she said of Oscar Pistorius’s girlfriend, whose killing has provoked disbelief in South Africa. “It still hasn’t sunk in.”
On the coffee table a TV listings magazine was open at a double-page spread with her face among the rappers, models and punters who took part in the show fans call “TIOT”. The 24-year-old shop assistant and media student said she had applied 2,000 times before being cast for the show.
Her phone buzzed with messages from friends and she joked about how she had worried the show would be “plebs versus celebs”. Instead she found her more famous counterparts welcoming and spoke of Ms Steenkamp as a “mom figure”. She said the athlete accused of her murder “must rot in jail”.
Ms Molai said she had felt haunted since news of the death broke on Thursday: “I haven’t really been eating or sleeping since I found out.”
Along with other contestants she felt she needed to be with “the only people who can understand” and planned to fly or drive down to Port Elizabeth for the funeral. Her brush with fame has been both more intense and more morbidly shocking than anyone could have anticipated.