The rise of Yaya Mavundla, one of SA’s most influential trans women

Itumeleng Mokwatlo with Yaya Mavundla. Picture: Instagram.

Itumeleng Mokwatlo with Yaya Mavundla. Picture: Instagram.

Published Oct 26, 2023


I’ve known Yaya Mavundla for over five years and every time I see her, she’s always her bubbly self.

For those who don’t know her, Mavundla is a transgender woman who has led several campaigns in making sure trans women are seen and she is finally reaping the fruits of her labour.

I bumped into her at the recently-held South African Fashion Week at Mall of Africa and used the opportunity to unpack her giant strides in the industry.

The KwaZulu-Natal-born star was recently confirmed as one of the Miss World South Africa Red Carpet hosts, which is a big deal for the trans-community because it means that the world is noticing trans women, who are now allowed to participate in beauty pageants.

Looking stunning in a white suit by Lindani Styling, Mavundla’s face lit up when she spoke about her current achievements.

As a fashionista of note, she was ecstatic to be chosen as a co-host alongside Lunga Shabalala and Zareef Minty.

“When Carol reached out, I was literally in shock because it’s something I’ve been wanting to do. I’ve sent a few proposals to different big events to do red carpet, and they never got back to me.

“To get a person like Carol Bouwer to reach out without even me asking was an affirmation, and I was super excited. I remember when I called my friend, I was so happy.

“At first, I was scared, but I’ve come to understand that when something is meant for you, when you’re the chosen one, it will get to you, no matter how long it takes and lucky for me, it hasn’t really been long,” she said.

Yaya Mavundla. Picture: Supplied.

Mavundla says although she is not happy with the term “inclusivity”, she is glad that the world is opening up to transgender women, as there are two of them who will be participating at Miss Universe this year.

“The world is opening up. Everybody is opening their eyes and minds and starting to think carefully. The fact that we have a term called ‘inclusivity’ means that all these things were not meant for us.

“The fact that there are two transgender women entering Miss Universe after so many years shows that it was never meant for us.

“Every time we go to spaces where they mention ‘inclusivity’ I’m never comfortable with that term because they’re basically saying, ‘We are just getting you in’, but I’m glad that it’s there because it means the conversation can happen.

“It’s important for the conversation to happen, and trans-women deserve to be in these spaces,” said Mavundla.

Besides hosting the red carpet, Mavundla also bagged two award nominations, the Africa Choice Awards for the Viewer’s Choice category and the Feather Awards for the Best Styled Individual category.

She says she never expected to be nominated for the Africa Choice Awards but the fact that she is, is a step in the right direction because it shows that her work is recognised outside of South Africa.

“The Viewer’s Choice Awards nomination from Nigeria was truly a big shock because I would have never thought that a country like Nigeria, which is not that open about trans people, would see me as a trans woman, from South Africa even.

“So for me, that was really shocking, but also, I was happy to know that there are so many people seeing what I’m trying to do.”

Yaya Mavundla.

The Feather Awards nomination was not much of a shocker because she’d won it before. However, it is a big deal because of the category she’s been nominated in as she is a fashionista, after all.

“I’ve always wanted this. In my mind, I want a lot of Feathers because, for me, it feels like I’ve won a SAMAs. Of course, I’m not a musician, but they are that big to me because we don’t have something that celebrates us as queer people in SA so the Feathers are that important to me.

“I looked at the journey of the Feathers from when I started until now and it’s been 10 years. From when I was still a judge and when I won my first award for ‘Socialite of The Year’ in 2016.

“I thought to myself, ‘I need to redefine what a socialite is’ because it wasn’t just about going to events, it was about trans women being seen in those spaces, and now getting this nomination is an affirmation that God has been listening to me,” said the "Becoming“ reality star.

The Miss World South Africa 2023 will take place on October 28 at The South African State Theatre, Pretoria, and tickets are available through Webtickets.