In December, Zozibini Tunzi made South Africa – still euphoric after the rugby world cup win – proud again by winning the Miss Universe pageant in Atlanta. She also campaigns against gender-based violence and believes the world is ready to embrace a different narrative of beauty.
From the quiet village of Tsolo in the Eastern Cape province of South Africa to the catwalks of the world, Zozibini Tunzi is the newly-minted Miss Universe, the first black South African to win the global pageant. In this interview FORBES AFRICA conducted with her before her historic win, while she was still Miss South Africa, she conveys the struggles of being a woman in her home country.
What does it mean for you to carry the title of Miss South Africa?
South Africa is a democratic country; that means it [must] not discriminate against anyone, it should give everyone living in it equal opportunity. The reality is that being a woman in South Africa is still a struggle. We have come so far from the Stone Age and a lot has changed but more can still be done. We find that women are still trying to shatter the glass ceiling and I hope one day we won’t have to do that.
It means that I am a representation of South African women. I want women and young girls to look at me and see their faces reflected in mine.
What is the one thing you would like to change about the beauty industry?
For the longest time, the assumption of beauty has been one-dimensional and westernized. There hadn’t been a wide range of representation in the beauty industry for women. It has taken a while for the world to recognize being African as beautiful. We are now slowly moving into a space where black and being curvy is also beautiful just at it has always been. It needs to change at a faster pace. I’m hopeful that we will soon get there.
Any anecdotes from the New York Fashion Week you attended ?
It was one of the greatest highlights of my Miss South Africa journey. What people may not know is that I have no background in modeling, so for me to do a fashion show at that level, was mind-blowing. I remember seeing the models I knew from America’s Next Top Model and thinking, ‘geez, Zozi, you’re really here doing this’. I am forever grateful to have been able to experience that, especially with South African designers.
Who are some of your role models?
Mama Winnie Madikizela-Mandela and Harriet Tubman. What these women have in common is their ability to be very firm in what they believe in. They are fighters and they are fearless.
What are some of the values you live by?
Humility, kindness and respect. They are the core of everything I live by.
What message would you like to leave young African women inspired by you?
My message to them is to never compromise on who they are and what they believe in. They should not be afraid to bend the rules even if just a little. All the greats in the world have had to fight for what they believe in so we shouldn’t be scared to do it too.