It’s less than two months before the reigning Miss South Africa, Shudufhadzo Musida, crowns her successor.
A few weeks ago she met the woman she will crown. It’s just that she doesn’t know who it is yet. At the announcement of the Miss South Africa 2021 finalists, Musida stood as the women vying for her crown paraded, and waited for her to sash them, officially welcoming them to the Miss South Africa sisterhood.
She had a smile on her face the whole time, oozing confidence. Even with another bevy of beauties next to her and a former Miss World, Rolene Strauss, who was the MC, she still stood out. And that’s what makes her even more beautiful.
The past few years have seen a reset in the world of pageants. Long gone is the prerequisite that you have to be a stick-thin waif, with curly, long hair to qualify as a beauty queen. Here is Musida, who rocks a bald head and has curves that many Instagram models have to pay a plastic surgeon for. She is not your typical beauty queen.
The worst thing about Covid-19 is not being able to meet people in person and yet, even with us meeting through the screen, she was still delightful to speak to. Before she hands over the crown to the next Miss South Africa, Musida spoke to Insider about her experience as Miss South Africa, her expectations, achievements, mental health and how it changed her life.
When they announced her as the winner at the finale held in Cape Town in October last year, Musida says she felt like someone pressed a switch that changed her life forever.
But what she loved most about her reign, has been the people she has interacted with.
“The people are everything. I have met so many different people from different backgrounds, and it’s almost like it’s a chance to grow and learn more about yourself. And I like how I have fun with every single person I meet. I never used to dance much before, but now I dance. I find myself celebrating life,” says Musida.
However, being a titleholder comes with its responsibilities, and to deal with the pressure, she has to stay grounded.
“I will never forget who I am and how I got here. I believe that I am a product of so many prayers and blessings and dreams by my ancestors. I find myself in a position where I keep myself grounded knowing that the person that I am and the person that I present to the world is someone that my grandmother needs to be proud of, even though she’s not here any more. That’s how I dealt with the pressure - by remembering who my grandmother raised,” she says.
What was possibly the most important aspect of her reign was her Mindful Mondays campaign. During the competition, she highlighted why our society needs to focus more on mental health, which is another pandemic on its own. Now add Covid-19 and the trauma it inflicted on many, then you realise that mental health is not only a talking point, but something that needs to be addressed.
With Mindful Mondays, Musida helped tackle the issues faced by the youth of South Africa, like suicide, bullying and unemployment, while also contributing to remove the stigma associated with mental health.
Was it impactful? Well, she says the feedback she has received so far has shown that it has been.
“It’s had an amazing impact because you get to realise how important the conversation has been waiting to happen. You find that we never really discuss anything with regards to mental health. We sweep everything under the carpet. And we need to get to the point as a society where we openly discuss mental issues and tell people that it’s okay not to be okay. I remember there was a lady who contacted me after the session we had on suicide. She sent me a text saying she contacted the suicide helpline and will be receiving help. Then you get to realise how many lives can be saved through information and knowledge.”
Herself a victim of bullying, as a child and as an adult, she understood why this was important. She was even bullied after being crowned, with some people going as far as saying they didn’t think she was deserving and comparing her to previous title holders. However, she didn’t let any of the trolls get to her. To stay motivated, she reminded herself of who she is.
“I am deserving of where I am, and whatever people say about me is a reflection of them, not me. So I constantly need to remember that."
That experience has led to her write a children’s book – Shudu Finds Her Magic – inspired by her childhood and the bullying she suffered when she moved to a new province and a new school in her childhood.
Has public opinion changed about pageants? Have modern beauty queens managed to change perceptions of what they are? It appears so. Today’s queens are vocal about what’s really happening in the world.
Musida believes so too. That pageants aren’t just about beautiful women parading in designer gowns, but about empowering women.
“Stephanie Weil (Miss SA chief executive), taught us when we were still finalists that she wants an army of powerful women, and that is what the platform is about.
“Of course, women are quite beautiful, but if we move beyond beauty and aesthetics, it's more about the substance and the role that women have to play in society. Women can create their seats at the table and change the narratives that exist in our society.
“As women, we have the power to change the narrative that exists in our societies. The power to change nations, the power to change lives. I ask women to be kind to themselves and remember that they are worthy of good things and joy.”
Ahead of her competing at the 70th edition of the Miss World pageant to be held on December 16, 2021, in San Juan, Puerto Rico, Musida is ready to represent South Africa on the global stage. Asked if she feels the pressure of bringing the crown home considering that South Africa is now a global pageant powerhouse, she said: “Not really, because I’ve always been a firm believer in competing with myself. I’m a bald girl, and they’ve never had anyone like that sent overseas. For me, it’s more about competing with myself in my lane and just taking it from there, because I am my biggest competition.”
“I’m honoured to be representing our country on the global stage, to be representing so many young women that look like me, that sound like me, that are bald like me. I’m representing people who felt like their dreams were not attainable because of where they come from. So I’m just going to the global stage to represent our country and make sure that I represent myself so I don’t feel the pressure of the international winnings of South Africa, which are great. I think they encourage me to know that we are capable of anything that we put our minds to.”
This article was first published in Saturday Insider, August 14, 2021.