JOHANNESBURG - When
Zozibini Tunzi marched in the Black Lives Matter protests in New
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
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
Reuters Foundation in an interview from New York, where she is
spending her year as Miss Universe.
View this post on Instagram
What an emotionally taxing week it has been. From #BlackLivesMatter peaceful protesting, to ongoing news of GBV and femicide. That even during a pandemic, women do not only fear for getting ill but also getting killed. Murdered by strangers and by their partners. Murdered in their own homes and in the streets. The world is not safe for women. A shift needs to happen..It’s been way too long. Personally I am tired. This has to stop💔
A post shared by Zozibini Tunzi(@zozitunzi) on Jun 13, 2020 at 8:08am PDT
As one of only a handful of black women to have won the
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
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
"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."