Cape Town - Miss SA, Lalela Mswana, will, despite winning second runner-up in the Miss Universe pageant in Israel, return to a country still deeply divided over her participation in a country often derided for its treatment of Palestinians.
Miss India, Harnaaz Sandhu, took the crown as Miss Universe and Miss Paraguay, Nadia Ferreira, was first runner-up.
Twenty-four-year-old Mswane competed against contestants from 80 other countries at the 70th edition of the annual beauty pageant, drawing in the audience and judges with her final speech, in which she urged young women to choose courage over comfort.
Speaking on her accomplishment, Mswane said: “I am overwhelmed to have made it into the top three of the competition.
“The whole experience has been beyond my wildest expectations. I am deeply thankful to all the amazing people who have supported and uplifted me.”
After news of her second runner-up win broke on Monday morning, the SA Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD) congratulated Mswane, stating that they were proud of her “remarkable achievement, perseverance and bravery”.
SAJBD spokesperson Charisse Zeifert said: “We join fellow South Africans in celebrating this outcome. Lalela’s perseverance and bravery are truly inspirational.
“She is a true ambassador of peace and a role model for young women in our country, and globally. We know that she will make a huge difference to the lives of ordinary South Africans through her foundation, and will continue to raise our profile in the international sphere.”
Non-profit organisation Citizens for Integrity (CFI) welcomed Mswane’s accomplishment, saying that, against the odds, she had done well.
Your @MissUniverse journey has been one for the books. Your persistence and commitment to representing your nation and fulfilling your childhood dream has been absolutely inspiring. 🇿🇦— Miss South Africa (@Official_MissSA) December 13, 2021
We're looking forward to seeing all the great things that you will achieve in the future. 👑 pic.twitter.com/rAaVpxO11H
Currently, CFI is pursuing legal action against the South African government over the Department of Sport Arts and Culture’s public withdrawal of support for Mswane.
CFI director Mark Hyman said that despite Mswane’s success, the organisation would go ahead with its application to hold the government accountable for its decision not to support her.
“The government cannot be allowed to trample over the rights of people and expect nothing to happen. We have a Constitution, and it has the Bill of Rights in it. We launched the application this (yesterday) morning against minister (Nathi) Mthethwa,” Hyman said.
Human rights organisation #Africa4Palestine, however, had no words of comfort for or congratulations for Mswane, branding her a failure for placing third in the pageant.
Board member Braam Hanekom said: “She lost. From our side, she left as a person who was not representing South Africa, and she comes back as someone who is not Miss Universe, so it’s a complete failure on her part to have proceeded to go without the support of the government and South Africa.
“We are not being harsh on her because she is a very wealthy person. She is a child of privilege, the daughter of a former minister from Swaziland. She claims to have studied law, so she understands international laws; she is motivated by greed, and feeling any sympathy for her would be like sympathising with a corrupt politician.
“We don’t expect her to tell us when she’s coming back, the same way she smuggled herself out of the county when she left,” said Hanekom.
The Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) also offered its congratulations to Mswane, and applauded her costume choice in the national costume segment of the competition.
Meanwhile, here are some social reactions to Mswane’s participation:
It was never a question of her ability, but her presence.— Refilwe Moloto (@RefilWest) December 13, 2021
They may well congratulate her still - she is a citizen after all - and I think, perhaps they should.
But to demand an apology or retraction from a government whose diplomatic stance has been TLEEYEH for decades…? pic.twitter.com/GOuiZiP7cJ
I am trying hard to not be petty about Lalela’s achievement. Please know that I am trying 😏. Well done you beautiful girl. I cannot wait to hug you for long @Lalela_lali @Official_MissSA pic.twitter.com/42ujF318gw— Anele Mdoda (@Anele) December 13, 2021
South Africa is anti-Apartheid and Lalela went there for herself despite SA's values and history. She is not our Miss SA. She's representing herself. Congrats on ger accomplishment as an Individual NOT as a representative of SA <3 https://t.co/tjjixKLphJ— WALKING.RED.FLAG (@_esona_) December 14, 2021
Congrats to Miss SA who was crown as the second prinses at the Miss Universe in Israel… we are proud of you … and that after our beloved country “boycott” her and the event… #MissSA pic.twitter.com/tEVnT38fxW— PhillipX20 (@Xtreme20X) December 13, 2021