WATCH | Bullied for being different, Miss SA now walks tall — with a crown to boot
Winning the Miss SA title has been a personal victory for the woman who was teased throughout school for being 'too dark and too skinny'
WATCH | Getting to know Miss SA 2021
On the night she was crowned Miss SA, Lalela Mswane made sure that uBuhle was tucked safely in bed with her — all 517g of the pageant's premium sterling silver and fine-cut cubic zirconia crown.
“Her name is uBuhle — ‘beautiful’ — a fitting name I think. But I can’t wear her for too long, she gets quite heavy,” said Mswane.
The 24-year-old is the latest Miss SA to wear the Bethungo Lenkosazane — meaning “the beauty of a rainbow” — a crown designed to represent the rainbow nation.
On Thursday, barely an hour after stepping into the famed Miss SA apartment suite overlooking the Sandton CBD, Mswane welcomed the Sunday Times into what will be her home for the next year.
She had just returned from her family home in KwaSokhulu near Richards Bay in KwaZulu-Natal.
“That was the last time I will sleep in my bed. I’m not really sad about it, I envisioned this for myself so I am ready for my new bed,” she said.
“We are a very tight-knit family, we all cried and celebrated the night I was crowned. We had spoken about the ‘what ifs’ for weeks before. So [on Wednesday night] we just packed and enjoyed each other's company.”
Mswane sits with a perfectly straight back that accentuates her long neck — a habit from years training as a ballet dancer. Her skin glows gold and she wears an elegant emerald cocktail dress that belongs to her mother, Hleliselwe, 57.
The two are close, especially since her father, Muntu — her “most favourite person in the whole world” — died when she was 11.
“We would have deep conversations and he’d ask me hard questions that made me think. In a way he was preparing me for this role, but on Saturday night I couldn’t help but think of how much more prepared I’d be, how much more I’d know, if he was still here.”
Mswane said that the first chance she got to make a private call after being crowned, she called her granny, Beatrice Mthiyane, 85, and for the longest time the two didn’t utter a word but just cried.
“She phoned me,” the jovial gogo told the Sunday Times this week from her family homestead, deep in the gumtrees of Zululand. “We didn’t talk, we just screamed and cried. No-one can explain in words what I was feeling.
“She was like any normal child, she loved playing outside, dancing, running around. She always had so many questions, very inquisitive, but stubborn sometimes. We would have to force her to eat her food — but look at her now, she’s this dime. She really did listen in the end,” she joked.
She said she hoped her granddaughter would use her platform to teach young girls about love and what it means to be a lady in today’s climate, that is not always kind to women.
Mswane understands what her new role is, but just four days into her reign, she’s still coming to terms with her title.
“When we practised for Miss SA we were told, ‘If you win you stand on this dot. Second, third on these dots.' This gives the photographers that perfect shot. That all goes out the window when you're on stage,” she said.
“When they called out my name I froze for 15 seconds. Shudu [Miss SA 2020 Shudufhadzo Musida] comes to me and tells me, ’You need to move now.’ I think I messed up that ‘perfect shot’ — I was paralysed. I don’t think I’ve grasped what happened yet.”
Mswane is a bachelor of law graduate from the University of Pretoria, and is looking forward to specialising in conveyancing law, but in her new role she hopes to make an impact on youth unemployment.
“I don’t want to outline the plan until we are certain on our approach,” she said, speaking of the support team that will help her try to achieve this.
What we know is that she is giving 10% of her R1m winnings to her #Be ready campaign to empower the youth and address unemployment.
She is planning to rope in President Cyril Ramaphosa to help her when she meets him next week “for tea and a chat”.
I was 19 when I found out I was pretty ... I went from being teased to being ‘the hot one’Miss SA Lalela Mswane
Winning the title has also been a personal victory for the woman who was bullied throughout school for being “too dark and too skinny”.
“I was bullied, I was an outlier, and it was because I was different,” she said. “I was 19 when I found out I was pretty. It was the beginning of university and I am sad to say it was because of the male attention I received. I went from being teased to being ‘the hot one’. It’s sad that we [women] still look for that validation.”
Her next big task is participating in the 70th Miss Universe pageant in December in Eilat, Israel, where Andrea Meza of Mexico will crown her successor at the end of the event.
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