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The Zozibini  Tunzi (Miss Universe) effect

The Zozibini  Tunzi (Miss Universe) effect
South African Zozibini Tunzi was crowned Miss Universe 2019.

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After that grotesque and ridiculous sham Dominica elections that they claim reflected the will of the people, it ºwas good to be greeted with the news that a 26-year-old South African Zozibini Tunzi was crowned Miss Universe 2019. Why do I say that? She was not the first Black person to have captured that crown. I am, moreover, not one who is endeared by beauty pageants, but at a time when our women, young and not so young, are fixated with skin bleaching, it was good to see a South African woman proudly displaying her skin, natural hair, with tremendous confidence and pride. It is a reminder to our women, at a time when that slogan of the 60s, ‘Black is Beautiful’, no longer has currency with them and with our men, too. She exuded calm, appeared collected and very confident, even in the manner in which she reacted to the news of her victory. For a brief moment she buried her face in the palm of her hands and then faced the audience with a most engaging smile.

I saw a video of persons in her village celebrating with pride, her achievement. She grew up in that small village, Sidwadweni, Tsolo, in the Eastern Cape of South Africa, and was remembered by some as the little girl “fetching water from the stream”. Could you imagine what that means to that village and especially young girls who are already saying that they want to be like her? Her remarks after capturing the crown were testimony to the kind of conscious person she is. She said that she grew up in a world where women looking like her, with her kind of skin and hair were never considered beautiful. “It’s time it stops,” she stated. She continued, “I want children to look at me and see my face, and I want them to see their faces reflected in mine”. In answering one of the questions asked her, she felt that women should be taught leadership roles in an effort to overcome the way they are labelled by society.

For Zobini, her message and what she represented were not only geared to black women but to all women who felt that they have been misrepresented. She has been an activist speaking out about gender-based violence and has identified the issue of climate change as one she is going to put among her list of priorities as she carries out her duties as the new Miss Universe. I go back to the issue of skin bleaching which is a more serious problem than most of us imagine. I am told that pharmacists run a thriving business catering to women buying products to lighten their skins. We are nearing the end of the year 2019, some 181 years after Emancipation, but clearly this is one of the legacies that continue to plague us. But the new Miss Universe is more than image. She obviously understands her identity, is confident and proud of who she is. For those persons who seek refuge in skin bleaching, we have to understand that it reflects their personality and thinking and not being sure about their identity. Our society needs people who are confident about themselves and can contribute to rebuilding our society, but how can you if you are steeped in the images and thinking of those who enslaved and colonised you? One of Zozibini’s heroines is Harriet Tubman who was born a slave but became an American abolitionist and political activist.  She also held Winnie Mandela in high esteem. This says something about her and what she represents. By the way, who are the role models of our young women and men?

Dr Adrian Fraser is a social commentator and historian

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