Miss Universe Zozibini Tunzi. Picture: Yolanda van der Stoep
The reigning Miss Universe Zozibini Tunzi's arrival at OR Tambo International, this past Saturday, sent the entire country into a buzz of excitement despite the inclement weather. Zozi, as Tunzi is affectionately known, also received a grand homecoming celebration held in the Mthatha Stadium, in the Eastern Cape, her home province. 

The 26-year-old beauty queen won the hearts of many when she was crowned Miss South Africa, but she won the hearts and minds of many around the world last December when she won the Miss Universe title rocking her dark skin, her natural hair and intelligence. 

How do you feel about your triumphant homecoming tour?

The support from South Africans came way before I won Miss Universe. The minute I stepped on that flight to Atlanta I knew I was taking South Africa with me. I took that flight as a single person but stood on that stage representing millions back home. Their undying support and love have never stopped. Coming home I get to finally touch and feel that love in person and celebrate it together. I cannot think of a better emotion.
 
You were at OR Tambo to meet Siya Kolisi and the rest of the squad when they arrived home after winning the Rugby World Cup last year. How do you now feel being given this same honour?

I feel absolutely privileged. I remember standing in the airport when the Springboks arrived after their win. The energy and the atmosphere are still indescribable. I don’t think I had ever seen so much joy in one place. It extended way beyond the airport into the whole country for days. If I can be responsible for bringing joy and pride into people’s lives like that, I will feel extremely honoured.
 
What has your life been like since your win in December? Has it lived up to expectations?

My life since the Miss Universe win has changed completely, in fact I do not think my life will ever be the same again. I have been to places I never thought I would go and have met people I never imagined I would meet. The platform Miss Universe has given me has exceeded my wildest expectations.
 
What have been some of the highlights?

I had never had the opportunity to travel before and I recently went to Indonesia. It was such a beautiful experience. I met Dr Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, a woman I admired growing up in South Africa as a girl child. She is the executive director of the United Nations Women. Being a part of that UN Women meeting and having the opportunity to work with them was something I had always dreamt of and that dream has now been realised.
 
What has the last few months been like in the US?

I have been settling in very well. I try to walk around whenever I can to familiarise myself with the city so it doesn’t feel so strange. Most of the time I am working and doing a lot of media interviews which is a big part of my job as the spokesperson for the Miss Universe Organization. I also think that being a South African has held me in good stead – we are so diverse and that has really helped.
 
You were on a few big US talk shows. Tell us about that?

They were great experiences. I think my most powerful tool as Miss Universe is my voice and my platform and making sure that I use the platform responsibly to speak about issues that are closest to my heart and issues that matter in the world. Being on these shows gave me the ability to send my message to an even bigger audience and that has truly been a blessing.
 
What have you missed most about South Africa?

I have missed my family so much. I miss the food, the music and our rich culture. There’s something about home that you just can’t find anywhere else in the world.
 
What is the first meal you’re going to have when you are back home?

Definitely Nandos. They don’t have one around where I live in New York and I am dying for some Nandos.

How important is it to visit your hometown?

It is extremely important. I especially want to connect with the youth from where I come from because it is important for them to see that they can become so much more than they imagine.
 
What message do you have for those thinking of entering Miss South Africa 2020?

I say, do it! You have absolutely nothing to lose. All you have to do is fill in a form and arrive as you are. I never compromised who I was and what I stood for in that competition. I believed in my truth. I lived it and I spoke it. I also want to point out that it’s not an easy ride which is why it is important to be strong - both mentally and emotionally.
 
How do you feel about meeting President Ramaphosa at SONA?

He is the leader of our country. I feel privileged to get the chance to meet him and to be invited to such an important South African event.
 
You want to build a school in the Eastern Cape. Can you give us more details?

I want to help build a school in my hometown. I grew up there and have seen the struggles learners go through to get a decent education. Every year the Eastern Cape is seen as one of the worst performing provinces and this is due to a number of factors, infrastructure being one of them. Buildings and classrooms are crucial elements of learning environments. If learners do not have a roof under which they can learn we are already setting them up for failure. Every child deserves a chance at a brighter future and that is why building this school is so important to me.