The stunning Pearl Jansen, a factory worker in Cape Town, seen taking part in the 1970 Miss World beauty contest in London where she was crowned first princess. File picture
The stunning Pearl Jansen, a factory worker in Cape Town, seen taking part in the 1970 Miss World beauty contest in London where she was crowned first princess. File picture

Pearl Jansen, SA heroine and trailblazing beauty queen at Miss World pageant

By Ian Landsberg Time of article published Aug 30, 2021

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Cape Town - Beauty may be skin-deep, but for forgotten trailblazer beauty queen Pearl Jansen – the first black South African contestant in the Miss World pageant – skin colour seems far more decisive.

Fifty-one years years ago the sultry Jansen, now 71, a factory worker from Bonteheuwel, made history when she was crowned first princess in the historic 1970 Miss World beauty pageant in the UK.

The contest saw Jennifer Hosten, Miss Grenada, become the first ever black Miss World.

Jansen, incidentally, was also the first black South African to enter the contest although she had to represent her country under the sash of Miss Africa South because of the colour of her skin.

Her white South African counterpart Jillian Jessup, who came fifth in the contest, entered as Miss SA.

A movie, “Misbehaviour”, was made of the historic 1970-pageant last year.

Jansen was invited to the world-premiere of the movie in London.

But, instead of receiving accolades and recognition like other international beauty title holders such as Penny Coelen, Anneline Kriel and Margaret Gardiner, Jansen was largely forgotten and ignored.

In her own words: “Being runner-up in the 1970 Miss World Contest obviously made me very proud. But it actually was disappointing. And if I should relive my life, I don’t think I would have done it again.

“It had absolutely no advantages to me – no opportunities, whatsoever. It actually destroyed my life in the Apartheid years. It ruined me in a way that I actually became a pauper. I’ve got nothing to show.”

Beauty queen Pearl Janssen, former Miss World runner-up. Family Handout.

She added: “People thought when I returned from the Miss World that I was now a rich woman. Truth is I had to find work, first at the race track and then at Edgars in Bellville just to make ends meet. Nobody cared, but I survived through God’s help.”

Ironically, the Miss World contest, which was held in the Royal Albert Hall on November 20, 1970, was marked by feminists and anti-Apartheid protests from the Women's Liberation Movement who was against the demeaning of women.

They invaded the hall and interrupted proceedings by hurling smoke grenades, flower bombs, leaflets, rotten tomatoes and even heckled the host, US comedian Bob Hope.

Asked about the protest action, Jansen recalled: “I was with the girls in one of the dressing halls of the Royal Albert Hall downstairs, watching on the monitors the protesters throwing rotten fruit and flour bombs in the auditorium.

“I was of course petrified and just wanted to go home. I did not know much of what was going on. My aim was to just focus on the reason I was there.”

She said that she was “grilled by the organisers” beforehand not to get involved with anything or talk to anyone while there.

“They showed me pictures of people such as British politician Peter Hain, whom I was told not to make contact with or talk to,” she said.

Today, Jansen receives a SASSA pension and lives in a modest semi-detached house in Bonteheuwel with her dogs.

Also a cancer survivor, she said she was totally dependent on God as her provider and sustainer.

African News Agency

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