Miss South Africa is still stunning at 60

Miss South Africa has crowned beauty queens since 1958

06 May 2018 - 00:00 By LEONIE WAGNER

Whether their reign was marred by politics or allegations of favouritism, you'd be hard-pressed to find a former Miss South Africa with any regrets.
This month's finale, when 12 hopefuls will vie for the coveted title, marks the 60th anniversary of the Miss South Africa pageant - prompting a walk down memory lane for some previous winners.
One landmark winner was Amy Kleinhans-Curd, who in 1992 became the first woman of colour to wear the Miss South Africa sash. While still taking in the "magical" moment and what it meant to win the competition, she found herself on the receiving end of a strong backlash."My year was very political. It was also an exciting year, but a lot of people struggled with the concept of a non-white girl on the cover of newspapers," Kleinhans-Curd said.
"I never could have predicted it, it was the most incredible and magical moment in South Africa's history.
"I had some interesting challenges. I was Miss South Africa but I couldn't vote. It was such juxtaposition, it was strange.
"At the Miss World pageant I didn't carry the old flag. People asked me how dare I not, I just said no, I refused. We were a country in transition and we don't stand by the old flag."
While some South African beauty queens faced political backlash, other pageant winners, like Margaret Gardiner, who as "Miss RSA" in 1978 was the first South African crowned Miss Universe, had costume crises.
During the Miss Universe competition, Gardiner's national costume did not arrive in time, which meant she could not compete in that section. Despite this, she went on to win the title. It would be another 39 years until it was bestowed on another South African: Demi-Leigh Nel-Peters, who won last year.
"Really every form of life involves competition. A beauty pageant is just one of the most honest forms," Gardiner told the Sunday Times this week.
"A pageant isn't rocket science - but it allows a person to utilise a skill to create a platform for their ambitions."
Some winners deliberately opted for a more private life after their reign ended.
Michelle Mountain (née Bruce), the 1989 winner famous for her wild mane of brown hair, hasn't kept up to date with the competition, which she believes has lost "its sparkle".
Dwindling media coverage and the rise of social media have meant that Miss South Africa is no longer the country's hottest event. Mountain would have welcomed this shift at the time."I did not like being recognised. All I wanted after my year as Miss South Africa was to become 'invisible' and get my privacy back," said Mountain, who runs a cosmetic company in Cape Town.
Odette Scrooby-Joubert was just 18 years old when she was crowned in 1982. She said she regretted entering at such a young age.
"I felt that I should have waited a year or two before I entered. From a maturity point of view I felt very isolated," said Scrooby-Joubert, who struggled during the Miss Universe competition when she was asked about South Africa's political climate.
Heather Hamilton, the 1999 winner, also opted for a private life.
"I personally struggled with a sense of loneliness and isolation as I was moved to Johannesburg where I had very few friends who knew, or were interested in, the real me. I also struggled to be happy or friendly on command - some days you're just not up to it," she recalled.
After her reign she returned to show-jumping and the financial sector in KwaZulu-Natal. "It's a big decision - to return to your dreams of old or to make the most of the new opportunities that present themselves. You effectively reach a fork in the road, but the reality is that you're yesterday's news, so you come down with a bump."
The 2018 Miss South Africa, dubbed the Diamond Jubilee spectacular in honour of the anniversary, will be hosted by TV and radio personality Bonang Matheba on May 27 at the Sun Arena at Time Square, Pretoria.
HITS AND MISSES
• 1971Miss South Africa Monica Fairall made the top 15 in the Miss Universe contest before she was disqualified for her bare-backed dress, which organisers said was too revealing.
• 1975Miss South Africa Vera Johns was disqualified shortly before the Miss World pageant after it was revealed she was actually Rhodesian.
• 1991Diana Tilden-Davis was second runner-up at Miss World in the first year South Africa was readmitted to the pageant after being banned between 1978 and 1990 due to international sanctions against apartheid.
• 2017Last year, 10 finalists and semi-finalists claimed the pageant was rigged in favour of winner Demi-Leigh Nel-Peters. Organisers dismissed the allegations
wagnerle@tisoblackstar.co.za

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