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South Africa's first black Miss Universe uses platform to fight racism

Miss Universe Zozibini Tunzi. Picture: Instagram

Miss Universe Zozibini Tunzi. Picture: Instagram

Published Jun 16, 2020



Zozibini Tunzi marched in the Black Lives Matter protests in New

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York City, the latest Miss Universe kept thinking how young

people in her native South Africa died fighting for the same

cause 44 years ago.

"South African students were marching against systemic

racism," said Tunzi, 26, recalling the 1976 Soweto Uprising when

tens of thousands of students protested against apartheid laws

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that segregated and controlled the black majority.

"So many years later, that's still happening, not only in

South Africa, but across the world," she told the Thomson

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Reuters Foundation in an interview from New York, where she is

spending her year as Miss Universe.

View this post on Instagram

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title, Tunzi was intending to use her influence to challenge

racism, inequality and perceptions of beauty even before the

Black Lives Matter protests erupted in the United States.

More than a quarter of a century after the end of apartheid

- a system of segregation and white minority rule - South Africa

is considered one of the most unequal countries in the world,

according to the World Bank.

Tunzi grew up with four sisters in rural South Africa and

started entering church beauty pageants aged about 6 because her

mother thought it would help her make friends.

She said she was never a huge fan of the dresses and

make-up, but she did like being asked for her opinions on the


"Women don't get too many platforms to share their opinions

and I thought: this is my opportunity to speak up, to say

important things," Tunzi said.

The coronavirus pandemic has limited what she can achieve,

and she said that at times she had felt like her hands were


But she is using her own social media accounts - she has 2.7

million Instagram followers - and those of Miss Universe to

speak out.


It was a continuation of her ambitions when she first

entered Miss South Africa in 2017 in hopes of gaining a platform

for her views and because she was tired of not seeing women who

looked like her represented in fashion magazines.

She was a semi-finalist that year, and took home the crown

last year.

"I remember growing up ... opening magazines and not

recognizing myself and feeling like I'm not represented so I was

like, I'm going to kill two birds with one stone," she said.

Tunzi has won support for doing it wearing her natural hair

and not giving in to pressure to wear a wig or weave.

"People have been talking about it ever since and I'm happy

that it's happening," said Tunzi.

"But I do wish we can finally get to a place where, if a

black woman arrives with natural hair, people don't ask why.

Because it looks like this, it grows out of my head, that's


Hair might seem a relatively trivial issue, but Tunzi

recalled how in 2016, 13-year-old Zulaikha Patel led protests

against a demand by her school that black students cut their

natural afro hairstyles.

Her and her classmates' protests led to a change in school


"They weren't just marching for hair," said Tunzi. "They

were marching to dismantle the system they were put against." 

 Thomson Reuters Foundation

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