Biko would have been proud

2019-08-28 06:00
Nomkhitha Gyson

Nomkhitha Gyson

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Our new Miss South Africa, Zozibini Tunzi, wears her crown the way nature made her.

“It is better to die for an idea that will live, than to live for an idea that will die,” as Steve Biko, father of the Black Consciousness Movement, said.

Witnessing Tunzi’s crowning, I could not help reflecting on these words.

Here we are, four decades later, and Miss South Africa is proudly herself – dark, with short, natural hair – no trace of fake hair or skin lightening creams.

I think Biko would be smiling to see black Africans embracing their “blackness” and the power that goes with it.

People in my generation (baby boomers), who grew up at the time of the Black Consciousness Movement, will remember how we threw away our skin-lightening creams – Ambi Special, Ambi for men, Seven Days, Super Rose – and embraced our blackness.

I remember how, as teenagers and young women, we and some of our male counterparts valued such products.

Within a few days of using them, we could see a difference to our skin, not to mention the positive accolades that would come our way: “Wow! You are beautiful!”

It didn’t matter that you were two-toned, your face light and your hands dark. What mattered most was what people saw first: Your face was light.

If you stopped using them, you’d be dark as coal. People in my generation will know.

Some of us still suffer from the after-effects of skin-lightening creams.

What saved some of us, was the awareness raised by the Black Consciousness Movement.

Affirming slogans such as “dark beauty” and “black is beautiful” grabbed our attention.

Afro-American music also played a big role, such as James Brown’s funk song “Say it Loud – I’m Black and I’m Proud” and Nina Simone’s “To be young, gifted and black”.

Affirmations like these helped us to love ourselves, gave us confidence and personal power.

Plaits, specifically “ooSibisa” – very long and upright plaits extended by black wool, as seen in the funky plait designs of some of the Osibisa band members – became popular.

More than four decades later, we are witnessing a young black woman, dark-skinned with natural hair – the epitome of African beauty – winning the title of Miss South Africa.

While we are happy for Tunzi, we should not forget that South Africans have come a long way in this Miss SA project.

It feels like yesterday when Cynthia Shange won the title of Miss Black South Africa in 1972.

While the title allowed her to compete in the Miss World contest, she couldn’t be Miss South Africa, only Miss Black South Africa. Come 1993, it was a culture shock when Jacqui Mofokeng was crowned as Miss South Africa during the transition period.

She was welcomed with negative criticism, starting with her features and looks.

Nonetheless, I believe that Jacqui’s winning of the title contributed to the acclaimed “Rainbow Nation” project as we started to appreciate our own diversity.

Those who came after her, have had it easier.

Now, in 2019, Tunzi has taken us by surprise.

In my eyes, she is brave, beautiful, brilliant. She is a trend-setter, a visionary. She is young, gifted and black.

Tunzi is a leader in her own right, and, despite being surrounded by young women with different hairstyles, nothing changed her vision of competing with her natural short hair.

Tunzi knows where the need is. During her reign, she will focus on early childhood development. An opportunity that sits well with her spirit of embracing black Africanism.

She will be a role model to many young girls, specifically black African girls – those who fight with their parents every morning to have their hair neat before going to school.

Tunzi’s ability to embrace her blackness needs to be transferred to other women of her age.

Biko’s idea is now gaining momentum – Tunzi has picked up the baton, and she’s running with it!


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