Ade van Heerden, Demi-Leigh Nel-Peters and Boipelo Mabe celebrate at the crowning of Miss South Africa 2017. Picture: Yolanda van der Stoep

After a countrywide search, a rigorous judging process and public votes, Demi-Leigh Nel-Peters emerged victorious as she beat other beauties from across the country to be crowned this year’s Miss South Africa.

The final-year BCom business management and entrepreneurial studies student from the Western Cape was handed the crown of the prestige national beauty pageant by former Miss South Africa Ntandoyenkosi Kunene at a glittering Sun City ceremony on Sunday night.

#MissSA2017: 'This is for every little girl with a dream'

As part of the title, Nel-Peters will walk away with R1 million in cash from sponsors Sun International and Cell C, as well as a bouquet of other prizes valued at more than R2 million.

While the crowd at the newly refurbished Superbowl at the resort erupted into cheers when Nel-Peters was announced as the winner, she couldn’t hold back her emotions, and she shed tears of joy.

Adè van Heerden, also from the Western Cape, was crowned first princess of the competition, which seeks a young woman who encompasses the beauty, brains and upstanding character to represent the country.

Boipelo Mabe, from Alexandra in Joburg, was second princess.

Nel-Peters dominated in the question and answer session during the final leg of the pageant, which was televised live and simulcast on M-Net and Mzansi Magic.

Demi-Leigh Nel-Peters has been crowned Miss SA 2017 Pictures: Yolanda van der Stoep

She was asked the same question as the other top five contestants, chosen from submissions by the public on the Miss SA Facebook page.

The question was: “What is the greatest fear you had to overcome to be where you are today?”

The 21-year-old answered: “The fear of fear itself.”

She added: “We forget that we are only human and that everything you need to achieve greatness is already inside of you.”

But last night’s proceedings weren’t the only time that Nel-Peters had to prove herself to be crowned the winner as she had to survive several other stages of the competition over the past few months.

For the first time in the history of the Miss South Africa pageant, members of the public were invited to vote for their favourite Miss South Africa 2017 semi-finalist and propel her into the Top 12.

The public’s SMS votes had a 25% weighting of the overall voting towards the winner, with 75% resting with the official judges.

The judging panel, who were present at the live finale in their fashionable attire, are regarded as leaders and trendsetters in their respective fields.

They included TV presenter, model, actor, designer, businessman and philanthropist Maps Maponyane; singer, actress and radio personality Unathi Msengana; Olympic swimmer and record holder Cameron van der Burgh; and radio presenter, producer and one of the founding presenters of the magazine TV show All Access, Bridget Masinga.

They were joined by fellow judges Gisèle Wertheim Aymes, owner of the Longevity publishing franchise in South Africa as well as Elle and Elle Decoration; Ezra Davids, corporate lawyer and chairman of corporate/mergers and acquisitions at leading pan-African law firm Bowmans; and former Miss South Africa Claudia Henkel.

The event was hosted by musician Proverb with media personality Lalla Hirayama giving commentary during the live show.

There were also live performances by rappers DA Les and Gemini Major as well as Chianosky and Lira.

Lebo M also sang his acclaimed Circle of Life just before the winner was announced.

The Top 12 teamed up with final-year University of Johannesburg fashion students, and the contestants strutted their designs on stage as DJ Kent, Zion, Nandi Mngoma and Dominic performed.

Meanwhile, the Top 8 graced the stage in black outfits made by local designers Quiteria & George as former Idols SA contestant Thami Shobede serenaded the audience.

The Miss South Africa pageant is one of the richest in the world. Apart from the prize money, Nel-Peters also received a Nissan Juke, professional impressions image and etiquette training, and medical and insurance cover.

She also walks away with make-up and jewellery from Jack Friedman, hair treatments, dental care, clothing, dry cleaning, grooming services, luggage and fragrances.

Varsity College has also donated 12 bursaries valued at R44 000 for Miss South Africa to award to economically disadvantaged students.

Women Empowered are also donating training and workshops valued at R80 000 for the winner to empower other young women.

The Top 12 finalists also received R25 000 in cash.

The Star