Miss SA encouraged to stand her ground
“If she goes through with it, she’s definitely a hero.”
So said former Miss Iraq, social activist Sarah Idan, who has repeatedly come out in support of Miss South Africa taking part in the Miss Universe pageant next month.
With less than three weeks to go to the glamorous pageant hosted by Israel in the coastal town of Eilat, Lalela Mswane, 24, is holding fast and standing firm. This in spite of being left out in the cold by the South African government and the ruling African National Congress, which refused to support her. A small clique of Israel haters has pulled out all the stops in a bid to scupper her dreams of representing her country and participating on the international stage.
In an interview with i24News, Idan said she understood what Mswane was going through. In 2017, she was in a similar position when she was forced to flee her country after it ostracised her for posting a selfie with former Miss Israel, Adar Gandelsman. Her caption for the snap, “Peace and love from Miss Iraq and Miss Israel” led to death threats.
“Honestly, I commend her for her stance and her strength. I think she should do this not only for her beliefs, but because this is a once in a lifetime opportunity to go and represent your country on the world stage. This is exactly the kind of ideals that we’re trying to push to the world and role models, that we’re all about peace and we’re trying to bring people together.
“We don’t care about governments. We care about the people who live in the country. If she goes through with it, she’s definitely a hero. We all need to thank her and recognise her effort in doing that because I understand how difficult it is,” said Idan.
Touring Israel ahead of the pageant, Miss Universe 2020, Andrea Meza of Mexico, said the competition shouldn’t be politicised.
“Everyone with different beliefs, with different backgrounds, with different cultures, they all come together and when you are in there, you forget about politics, about your religion,” Meza said. She told Associated Press ahead of a tour of Jerusalem’s Old City, “It’s just about embracing other women.”
There are several African beauty queens getting ready to pack their suitcases in preparation for the pageant. At least 70 countries from around the world are scheduled to participate.
In spite of what the anti-Israel lobby has portrayed in the media, Miss Greece Sofia Arapogianni is participating in Miss Universe, and Miss Barbados Hillary-Ann Williams has withdrawn due to COVID-19 concerns.
Anti-Israel lobby groups have continued to wage a relentless bullying campaign in the local media. Last Friday, less than 100 people trickled to a rally outside the Miss SA Organisation offices in Morningside, Johannesburg. The strong media presence was in stark contrast to the small protest, which was advertised extensively on social media for days.
The Al Jama-ah party asked the home affairs minister in Parliament on 24 November to clarify the government’s position when it came to issuing passports for travel to cultural events in Israel. It asked for the government’s reasons for not revoking Miss SA’s passport.
There was no response by the time of going to print.
Meanwhile, as the drama continues to unfold daily, support for the country’s reigning beauty queen remains steady.
Opinion polls show growing support for her to attend the pageant.
DearSA launched a participation campaign relating to political interference in sport, art, and culture, and has so far received more than 13 000 comments from the public.
The interim results indicate that a significant proportion of respondents wholly oppose government’s interference in sport, art, and culture. Equally, a similar number of people oppose boycotting the pageant, and don’t support the government’s decision to withdraw its support for Miss SA.
DearSA said the interim results revealed little outright support for the government’s actions pertaining to Miss SA, and less regarding the issue of government interference.
Many organisations have criticised the government’s inconsistencies regarding its trade relationship with Israel and constant negative rhetoric.
The South African Friends of Israel (SAFI) says the government is sending out conflicting messages on participation in events hosted in Israel.
It welcomed the government’s support last week of attendance in Eilat, Israel, of a South African competitor (male) at the 13th Esports World Championships 2021, but questioned why the minister of sports, arts, and culture, Nathi Mthethwa, was continuing to oppose Miss SA’s attendance at the Miss Universe pageant in the very same city in a few weeks.
“Is this hypocrisy? Sexism? Or did he just not know?” asked SAFI spokesperson Bafana Modise.
He said Esports was accredited by the South African government as a sport for which players are eligible to represent South Africa and wear national Protea colours.
“The South African government maintains an embassy in Tel Aviv and works with Israel on a number of issues, yet the government maintains a constant and hardline anti-Israel narrative, which is at odds with the commercial co-operation between the two countries.”
He called on the government to “build bridges, not boycotts” and throw its full weight behind Miss SA. “Let’s get behind one of our own. She is a credit to our country and should be claimed as such.”
Modise told the SA Jewish Report that though a week was a very long time in politics, he was “hopeful”.
“If she goes, South Africa will honour and celebrate her for taking this brave step and standing her ground. We are fully behind her. She mustn’t allow these bullies to dampen her spirit. She has every right to participate in the only democracy in the Middle East, to see the country herself, and lend her voice to peace and unity without being forced to take sides.”
Miss SA posted after her coronation, “The power and privilege of this crown extends beyond mere beauty. With this crown, I not only get to represent South Africa on a global platform but I carry the responsibilities of hope, empowerment, duty, and service to my beloved country.
“With this crown, I have the privilege of carrying the dreams and aspirations of so many South Africans, a privilege I don’t ever take for granted. With a willing heart, open mind, and an eagerness to learn and grow, I stand excited to reign as your Miss South Africa 2021.”