Teen spirit keeps girls going

2011-12-11 07:38

A new Miss SA Teen was announced last night – will her reign be clean or controversial?

Some of her predecessors have had secret pregnancies, some have been arrested or became drug addicts. And certainly haven’t lived happily ever after.

These are some of the young women who have worn the seemingly doomed Miss SA Teen tiara: Charnelle Dennis, Gina Athanassiuo, Sally-Ann Kopa and Masechaba Dlengezele are some of the former teen queens dogged by bad publicity since winning the beauty pageant.

The competition, now in its 13th year, is the ugly stepchild compared with the more glamorous Miss South Africa pageant; most people can’t even recall last year’s winner.

Debut queen Dennis got the ball rolling by falling pregnant during her reign. The then 18-year-old from the Western Cape managed to hang on to her crown. According to media reports from August 2000, the teen – the daughter of a church minister – gave birth on the bathroom floor at home just three weeks after handing over the crown to Athanassiuo.

At least things looked up for the leggy Athanassiuo, who became a successful model. In 2004, she wed Jordanian billionaire Eyhab Jumean. The lavish wedding was attended by about 1 000 guests including the likes of 50Cent. But that fairytale ended in a bitter divorce that forced her to move back to South Africa after living large in New York.

The next Miss SA Teen was Sally-Ann Kopa in 2001 – and she became tabloid fodder almost immediately.

During her reign, she dated the late Selimathunzi presenter Brown Ntsime, who was almost 20 years her senior. After her time as a beauty queen was up, she was down and out, with media reports claiming she was using drugs and was wanted by salon and property owners for unpaid bills.

City Press tried to track down Kopa, Dennis and Athanassiuo but could not find them.

Masechaba Dlengezele, the 2003 winner, gave Kopa a run for her money as the most controversial teenage beauty queen. Shortly after donning the crown, newspaper reports emerged that she came from a criminally enterprising family. Dlengezele spent the rest of her reign dodging questions regarding her mother and bother. In 2008, she and her mother were arrested for being in possession of a stolen vehicle.

Despite all the drama, she said if she could, she would do it all over again.

“Miss Teen was a great opportunity. Looking back, there are things I think I could have handled better. But the older I grow the more I learn that I shouldn’t live with regrets because things happened as they did for a reason,” said Dlengezele, who now holds an honours degree in corporate communication from the University of Johannesburg and works for a telecommunications company.

But many Miss SA Teen winners have worn the sash and lived a headline-free life. Beauty pageant entrant Raelene Rorke won in 2004, two years after first entering. She has also been named Miss City Press and walked the ramp in Miss South Africa. The 25-year-old has since traded swim suits for youth activism. “I think I have given up modelling permanently. I still get offers to do work, but I always seem to be engaged in other projects. Modelling is not a priority at the moment but opportunities are always welcome,” Rorke said.

Dlengezele said young girls should “definitely” be better prepared for a life in the spotlight. “When we were given that title we were young, naïve and had no idea how to handle anything, especially public life. It gets so overwhelming so a little direction would definitely go a long way.”

But pageant executive for Miss SA and Miss SA Teen, Wendy Futcher, said the teenagers do not go through extensive training “because we don’t want to disturb their school lives”.

“Unlike Miss SA, there are no workshops on preparation for Miss Teen. The pageant encourages the girls to focus on their school work, extra-curricular activities and on community work,” she said.

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