Miss South Africa contestant Matlala Mokoko

It’s not about looks, it’s about encouraging girls to rise above their circumstances, writes Miss South Africa contestant Matlala Mokoko.

Pretoria - It is interesting how every time I meet someone and they hear that I am doing my BCom Accounting Honours in Taxation, they soon cannot understand nor appreciate why I would be a contestant in a beauty pageant.

It is apparent that pageants are not for the brainy, or worse yet, the brainy cannot think of themselves as beautiful. I have come to realise that the perception of most is simply two-dimensional: the sash and the crown, with others taking it as far as seeing the pageant as just a frivolous reason to strut half-naked bodies on stage.

These are all fair perceptions, when you have not taken the time to understand the true purpose behind pageants.

To those participating in the pageant, this perception is patronising and somewhat prejudiced. Nothing could be further from the truth; at least as far I am concerned.

I am more than my looks. My education is neither above nor below my beauty and worth as a woman.

In fact, these are all mutually related.

I am a girl from rural Ga-Masemola in Limpopo, who grew up in a modest family, where dried and salted watermelon pips and pap for dinner were the norm.

From the minute I applied for the job as Miss South Africa, to the day I step on that stage in Sun City on March 30, I know that I will be representing every girl from every village, town and city that has dreamed what sometimes may feel like an impossible dream.

To me, the sash and crown will be just the cherry on top, not the goal.

This pageant – and I hope I speak on behalf of the women taking part – is about driving hope to millions of young girls and igniting a flame that dares them to dream and not merely be spectators of their own lives.

I am convinced that our circumstances are merely that. We have no power over them.

The decision thereon lies in what we choose to do with them; we have the choice to let them anchor us to the ground or the choice to use them to propel us forward.

After all, who would have thought a herd boy from Qunu would grow to be the greatest human being of our time?

This has been one of the themes of my life.

I have always strived for the best and rose above my circumstances.

I could have used the fact that I grew up being the odd, lanky girl who was always different from the other girls as an excuse. I could have used many circumstantial excuses to substantiate any failures in my life, but I didn’t.

Since primary school I was naturally athletic, being in the Limpopo netball team and athletics team. Later at Pretoria High School for Girls I began playing basketball, which earned me a scholarship to go to the University of Mobile in Alabama, US, after I matriculated in 2008.

I have had the privilege of participating at junior levels of South African Netball as well as South African Basketball, and today I am proud member of the netball senior squad representing my country. Concurrently, I have done exceptionally well in my studies and soon I will be completing my Honours degree.

I have been fortunate to be earmarked by one of the leading financial institutions as part of their future stars.

Why would I need a sash or a crown to complete me?

I don’t, but participating in the pageant has driven me beyond daring to dream, and hopefully as I continue to do so, many young girls, especially when they understand where I come from, will also dream big and dream more and try their hand at athletics, chess, money markets or river rafting.

In the end, the true test is not about winning or losing, it’s about knowing that in that moment, you left everything you had on the field in the game of life.

South Africa is a beautiful country with an incredible democracy that guarantees all those who live in it the freedom of choice.

If South Africans can’t embrace pageants for any other reason, I hope they can accommodate those who aspire to pageantry to inspire them to dream and exercise the freedom of expression.

* For profiles of all the Miss South Africa contestants see tomorrow’s Pretoria News Weekend.

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