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Storm over Miss SA Lalela Mswane’s participation in Miss Universe pageant in Israel continues

Lalela Mswane crowned Miss South Africa 202. Photograph: Ayanda Ndamane/ African News Agency (ANA)

Lalela Mswane crowned Miss South Africa 202. Photograph: Ayanda Ndamane/ African News Agency (ANA)

Published Nov 15, 2021


There’s been a lot of controversy over the Miss South Africa organisation’s decision to send the reigning queen Lalela Mswane to the Miss Universe pageant to be held in Israel in December.

Many South Africans are against Mswane going to Israel, but the Miss South Africa organisation has refused to budge on the issue.

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“Miss South Africa, Lalela Mswane, will represent South Africa at the Miss Universe competition, held this year in the picturesque Israeli resort town, Eilat, on December 13.

“This is contrary to any indication otherwise” Miss South Africa organisation CEO, Stephanie Weil, said.

She said reports indicating that Lalela had pulled out of the Miss Universe pageant were false.

Contrary to “the misinformation and fake news around,” Weil said, her organisation was thrilled to be able to make, “Lalela’s childhood dream – to wear the crown while representing her country globally – come true.”

Now, some may be wondering why it is not okay for Mswane to participate in the beauty pageant. What could be so wrong? It’s because of Israel’s treatment and policies against Palestinians. As late as May 2021, more than 200 people, including 66 children and 40 women in Gaza, were killed by the Israelis.

The anti-Israeli lobby argues that a person of Mswane’s calibre, who is "self-aware, very accountable, encourages critical thinker and innovative in action," cannot associate herself with Israel whose policies are akin to Apartheid.

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Her Lalela Mswane Foundation focuses on the needs of children, underlining her caring nature. It’s argued that as a role model and a leader, Mswane should decide whether she wants to go down in history as someone who chose the crown over human rights.

As for her childhood dream of possibly wearing the Miss Universe crown, the arguement goes: “Does that mean she would do whatever it takes to get it, including associating with an apartheid country?”

The South African government is among those opposed to Msane’s participation in the pageant in Israel.

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“The atrocities committed by Israel against Palestinians are well documented and the government, as the legitimate representative of the people of South Africa, cannot in good conscience associate itself with such,” Sport, Arts and Culture Minister Nathi Mthethwa said, in a statement withdrawing support for the pageant.

And it seems many South Africans support the government’s decision.

“Their humiliation is familiar to all black South Africans who were corralled and harassed, and insulted and assaulted by the security forces of the apartheid government,” said Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu.

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Social commentator Mpho Moalamedi also stands with the government decision.

“The government has withdrawn their support for Miss SA, so Lalela is going to Israel as an individual who only represents the MISS SA organisation. This is what happens when you put your pride above human rights and suffering. It's not too late for her to do the right thing.

“Imagine practically being disowned by your government because you're refusing to listen to reason, and fulfilling childhood dreams is more important than the potential geopolitics issues your attendance in an Apartheid state will cause. If she goes, it will be the end of her,” she said.

The Palestine National Liberation Movement pleaded with the Miss Universe organisation to withdraw from hosting the event in Israel.

“This decision by Miss Universe Organisers is out of any humanity ethics and laws, and fails to have the least respect, or even slight sympathy to the innocent Palestinian souls that were recently slaughtered on the last Israeli genocide in Gaza Strip, that killed 260 Palestinians, of whom 40 were women and 66 were children.

“We call on Miss Universe organisers to withdraw from this outrageous decision and change the location of the event immediately, as an institution that claims to promote world peace and equality, we urge you to respect human rights and stop any connections with a regime that does not care for human rights and lives,” said PNLM in a statement.

While many South Africans are against Mswane going to Israel, others think it’s unfair to expect her to give up on her dream.