Pretoria - Zanele Victoria Ratshefola, 18, of Mabopane, has come a long way from the days when she gained weight and struggled to accept that her body had changed while in high school.
“I then lost my fit, flexible body. Throughout my high school career I struggled to accept my body and height. While in Grade 12 I told myself to accept and love myself because no one would if I didn’t.
“I loved art and fashion. I started dancing when I was 8 and at 14 years old, I got the opportunity to represent South Africa in acrogymnastics at the American Dance Awards in Boston, US, and won five gold medals.
“However, I had to stop because my mother faced financial difficulties to fund my dreams of always travelling to competitions around the world.”
Today, Ratshefola is a semifinalist in Empress South Africa, the online women empowerment contest using beauty with brains - the competition is about empowering young women to grow and develop themselves by making a positive impact in their communities.
“I entered it because I met all the requirements - aged 18 to 29, not married, matriculated. I wanted to begin with my passion of modelling and inspire girls and women to learn to be confident and love their own bodies,” she said.
“With this competition, there is no discrimination based on height, body type, weight, race and background.”
Contestants have to progress through various levels to win the title, she said.
“Everything is based on a points system, and we have different aspects that we score points on.
“I have made it to the semifinals and looking forward to chasing the title at the finals that will be held on December 16 at Suncoast Casino’s Barnyard Theatre.”
The reigning Empress South Africa is Tshepo Makupu. Ratshefola said of her: “I have met her and she’s a very intelligent and inspiring woman who has a degree in Consumer Science and manages a large team of staff in her company. “She’s an author and owns a beauty spa business. I look up to her and do believe I have the potential to be like her and own my empire one day just because the platform has empowered us to reach our dreams and visions.”
She has created a project called Giving Grace, through which people can donate food, old clothes and dog food to those in need. “I’m involved in charities in the Eastern Cape and Gauteng. Like all contestants, I have become the brand ambassador for Motofind.co.za.”
While at school, Ratshefola participated in a pageant, but did not win. “I allowed that experience to take me down and made me feel that I was not good enough. In the end, I used it as an inspiration to participate in a national pageant. It was with newly found courage that I decided to enter for Empress South Africa after seeing their poster on Facebook.”
Ratshefola matriculated last year from Langenhoven High School and is studying for a BCom in Accounting at Nelson Mandela University.
Vote for her by texting Zanele Ratshefola to 35334. An SMS costs R3.