South Africa withdraws support for beauty queen over refusal to boycott Israel's Miss Universe pageant

South Africa withdraws support for beauty queen over refusal to boycott Israel's Miss Universe pageant
The South African government has distanced itself from Miss South Africa Lalela Mswane and the Miss South Africa organisation over a decision to attend the upcoming Miss Universe pageant in Israel in December.
3 min read
15 November, 2021
Lalela Mswane, a model, ballerina and bachelor of law, was crowned Miss South Africa on October 16 [Getty]

The South African government said Sunday it will distance itself from a decision by Miss South Africa to attend the Miss Universe pageant in Israel this December over Israeli abuses against Palestinians. 

Beauty queen Lalela Mswane confirmed she would represent her country at the international event last week, fulfilling a life-long dream according to the Miss South Africa organisation. 

However, the South African government has urged Mswane not to take part given Israel's policies against Palestinians - considered "apartheid" by leading NGOs - piling pressure on the 24-year-old to boycott the pageant. 

"It has proven difficult to persuade the Miss SA Pageant organisers to reconsider their decision to partake in the Miss Universe event," the South African arts and culture ministry said in a statement on Sunday. 

"The atrocities committed by Israel against Palestinians are well documented and Government...cannot in good conscience associate itself with such. 

"The South African government withdraws its support and that of South Africa for the Miss South Africa pageant" following the organisation's "intransigence". 

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Speaking to local news organisation Newsroom Afrika, a spokesperson for the South African minister of arts and culture later clarified that while withdrawing support wouldn't stop Mswane from representing her country, it was still an important act of solidarity by the government for Palestinians. 

"As South Africans we know and understand the significance of cultural boycotts. We know the significance of taking a stand because of where we come from and the history of who we are," said spokesperson Masechaba Khumalo. 

South Africa has been a long-time ally to the Palestinian people, establishing diplomatic relations in 1995. The African country also downgraded its embassy in Tel Aviv in 2019 and removed its ambassador. 

South Africans, including Archbishop Desmond Tutu, have often compared the experiences of Palestinians to the ill-treatment of black South Africans under the country’s apartheid regime from 1948 to 1994.

Apartheid created a racial hierarchy between whites and blacks and led to the systematic oppression of black communities. 

"It is not in our best interest as a submit to this type of event, especially knowing how oppressed the people of Palestine have been by Israel," said spokesperson Khumalo.

"[We] hope that sense prevails," she added. 

Yet, despite growing political and public pressure, the Miss South Africa organisation has staunchly defended Mswane's planned attendance at Miss Universe in Israel. 

"We all know that boycotting is not necessarily going to be the way that we are going to make a substantial difference," said chief executive of the Miss South Africa organisation, Stephaine Weil. 

"I truly don't believe not attending and not being able to showcase or use one's voice and being in that country is going to be the right thing," said Weil. 

"The truth is she does want to go and represent her country." added Weil. 

Mswane, a model, ballerina, and bachelor of law, was crowned Miss South Africa on 16 October. 

She is "hoping to follow in the footsteps of Zozihibi Tunzi", a South African model and beauty queen crowned Miss Universe in 2019, according to the Miss South Africa organisation. 

Israel will host the 70th edition of the Miss Universe competition on 12 December in Eilat. 

Israeli organisers said they want the event to promote their country as a tourist destination.