'Miss Universe boycott is unconstitutional,' says civil organisation as it heads to court

01 December 2021 - 06:00
Miss SA 2021 Lalela Mswane has received backlash for her participation in the Miss Universe pageant in Israel.
Miss SA 2021 Lalela Mswane has received backlash for her participation in the Miss Universe pageant in Israel.
Image: Supplied/ Yolanda van der Stoep

A non-governmental organisation for human rights has approached the Pretoria high court to have the decision by government to withdraw its support from Miss SA participating in the Miss Universe pageant in Israel as “unconstitutional”.

Citizens for Integrity cited a violation of several human rights and laws in its case against the government, the minister of justice and correctional services and the minister of sports, arts and culture.

Numerous protests and attempts to have Miss SA Lalela Mswane withdraw from the Miss Universe pageant have been unsuccessful.

“Miss SA pageant is a franchisee of the Miss Universe pageant and selects its winner via local and national competitions. The winner of the national pageant has the right to compete in the Miss Universe competition.

“The Miss SA franchise is wholly private and receives no state funding,” said the organisation in court papers.

There were also efforts to have Miss SA withdraw from the competition by minister Nathi Mthethwa, who said: “It has proven difficult to persuade the Miss SA pageant organisers to reconsider their decision to partake in the Miss Universe event scheduled to be held in Israel during the month of December 2021.

“What during initial consultations appeared like engaging, constructive and progressive discussions, was later met with an unpleasant demeanour that is intransigent and lacking appreciation of the potential negative effect of such a decision on the reputation and future of a young black woman.”

The Palestine Solidarity Alliance has accused recently crowned Mswane of not caring about the plight of Palestinians and being “worried about her own self gains”.

The alliance claimed “after weeks of trying to engage with Mswane, with regards to the plight of the Palestinian people, she has decided to block” both bodies.

Through their lawyers, ES Kgaka Attorneys, Citizens for Integrity argues that this push for Mswane to withdraw deprives citizens of their enjoyment of their freedom of expression and right of association.

“By publicly binding itself to this wrongful conduct, the government has placed itself firmly in the position of activity including and participating in an unlawful boycott and has rendered its citizens supporting Miss SA's right to ply her trade open to infringement of their bodily integrity by violence, whether physical or by way of bullying by those supporting this unconstitutional decision,” said Citizens for Integrity.

It added that participating in the boycott activity and opened the way to potential international sanctions being imposed on SA and its trading entities.

Department of justice and correctional services spokesperson Crispin Phiri said they noted the application “and we will respond accordingly in the correct forum”.

Citizens for Integrity said the departments' conduct constitutes an unconstitutional interference in a non-political, worldwide, cultural event that does not fall within the government's legitimate objectives. Its actions further service to discriminate against its citizen's freedom of choice.

“In terms of Section 18 of the constitution, Miss SA has the right to freedom of association. Her participation in a Miss Universe pageant in a country with which SA has diplomatic relations clearly falls within this category.

“Similarly, in terms of Section 22 of the constitution, the Miss SA pageant and Miss SA have the right to choose their occupation freely and in exercising this legitimate right to participate in beauty pageants worldwide has not been regulated,” said the organisation.

They say the following constitutional rights have also been violated:

  • In terms of section 9, the right to equal protection and enjoyment of rights and freedoms of the law and the right not to have the state unfairly discriminate against Miss SA pageant and Miss SA
  • In terms of section 10, the right to have dignity respected and protected
  • In terms of section 22 the right to freedom of occupation without undue interference
  • In terms of section 23 the right to fair labour practices
  • In terms of section 30 the right to participate in the choice of their culture 
  • And other rights have been violated.

“The mere fact that agents of the government approached Miss SA and attempted to coerce her to give up a legitimate and also the hugest event of her career is unconscionable, and disgraceful by all normal standards of governance.

“It constitutes a standard of undue administrative procedure where without regard to the rule of law the government has bullied its subjects and acted as judge and jury in the matter, imposing its own irrational decision upon them,” the organisation said.

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