Red carpet rolls over Miss Soweto

2009-08-18 17:10

Local beauty pageantshave lost their shine and have become a side show plugged into a downward spiral, writes LESLEY MOFOKENG.

I WAS shocked a few weeks ago when I learned that the once glorious and coveted Miss Soweto beauty pageant still exists. I made this discovery through a flimsy radio commercial inviting people to send in their predictions of the winner.

It all felt so strange as the last time I checked Lerato Kganyago was Miss Soweto in 2005, or was she?

Where did it all go wrong?

The escapist voyeurism into the magical world of beauty queens and princesses with tiras, sashes and wands now fail to ignite excitement.

This could be because there are so many other avenues at our disposal with which to kill boredom. Or is it because we have many worries and burdens – from the recession to the planet in crisis?

A bit of history. The biggest pageant, Miss World, which attracts entrants from more than 100 countries, was founded by Eric Morley, a British impresario whose aim was to lift the spirits and instill a sense of national pride following the second world war.

The timing was perfect as a woman’s figure was celebrated then and comparing them (in a cattle parade, as the feminists put it) was great entertainment.

Feminists raised their fists in protest and took offence at this sexist adjudication, fuelled by the politically incorrect and pervert paradise of bikini contests.

These days the bikini section is either axed or the contestants wear one-piece swimsuits.

The jury is out on whether Miss World is still the third-most-watched event after the Olympics and the soccer World Cup. Many argue that the purpose of a pageant is to celebrate the beauty of a nation’s girls or, even soppier, “to find the prettiest flower in the garden” and give her life, profile and career a dramatic boost and overnight celebrity status.

There are a few successful career women who have Miss SA to thank for being in the spotlight.

Back to Miss Soweto. In the days of Motlalepule Hlabatau, Augustine Masilela, Julia Makgalemele (now Basetsana Kumalo), Charity Mofokeng and Michelle Molatlou, black folk had little to celebrate or with which to entertain themselves. There were music festivals and then Miss Soweto and Miss Black South Africa.

Marketing was on point. There was a buzz, excitement and anticipation in the air at the time of the coronation of Black Miss South Africa as young girls represented their regions in Joburg in the hopes of winning the national title.

And then the amalgamation of contests to form one Miss SA brought with it its own excitement that was to be shortlived.

No one can forget the wholesale jubilation, criticism and the progressive stance it represented when Jacqui Mofokeng won the crown in 1993. From then onwards it was always a question of: will it be a white girl or a black girl?

Basetsana won the following year, Peggy-Sue Khumalo charmed many hearts in 1996 and then came Kerishnie Naicker in 1997, the first Indian to win.

And that spelt the end of an era.

Don’t blame it on Naicker; the dynamics just changed. A string of blue-eyed blondes won the title – killing the excitement and anticipation in the majority black community that had supported the pageant.

Let’s face it, there’s nothing as boring as a squeaky clean beauty queen being photographed kissing patients at a children’s home or cleaning the streets.

A bit of scandal: a shoplifting incident here or an unplanned pregnancy there, would have helped keep the audience interested.

I’m not saying we should have had bad girls as Miss SA, but a bit of controversy does sell, and gives the pageant some weight, thereby ensuring a longevity of sorts.

Instead, continuity presenters on Simunye became fashionable, Generations rose to be the biggest show on TV, the monstrosity that is reality TV was in full throttle. Frankly, who gave a damn who won Miss Lovely Legs at Club 707 in Orlando West when you could sit in front of the telly and see which couple would have sex first in the Big Brother house?

The sparkle was gone as TV and more entertainment platforms ran with our imagination. TV stations refused to show international pageants where SA was represented, citing lack of revenue, contributing to the fading interest.

The first Miss Soweto pageant I attended was in 1998 where Arthur Mafokate and Mdu Masilela, among others, were billed to perform. Already the signs were there for all to see that this was a dying horse.

I remember the organisers having to plead for a picture of the finalists to be published in newspapers. The media was not playing along.

The new millennium presented a greater challenge.

Youngsters would rather have a booze-up at the local tavern than watch a pathetic bunch of goody-two shoes girls vying for some silly crown for the best smile or legs.

Our attention has been absorbed by other interests, the SA Music Awards and Metro FM Awards telecasts draw bigger audiences than Miss SA. Gone is the femininity and celebration of diamonds and pearls. People are more interested in the red carpet.

There is no denying that beauty pageants are still a popular form of fundraising. But the lack of innovation in presenting this age-old tradition sees it failing to adapt to the demands of today’s audience, which has so many options and a different mindset.

So please remind me again, who won Miss Soweto last weekend?


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