A true trailblazer

2019-12-18 06:01

ON Monday, Zozibini Tunzi made history — she won for every woman who’s ever been told she is not enough.

Tunzi is beautiful, eloquent, intelligent, and has just been crowned after winning the Miss Universe title — everything a black woman can’t and shouldn’t be. Or rather, so the world has always told us.

Tunzi’s victory is the third Miss Universe win for South Africa. However, the hurdles are more significant and tougher to overcome when you are a black woman. We cannot look at this victory in isolation, we have to talk about it being a historic moment for all women, and more so for black South African women.

Tunzi is the first black South African to win the competition, and although we’ve known that our country is capable of winning, now we know that a black South African is equally capable.

She spoke about this very issue at the pageant when she said: “I grew up in a world where a woman who looks like me, with my kind of skin and my kind of hair, was never considered to be beautiful.”

That on its own should be telling about the historical significance of this feat and just how resolute she is about her worth, and rightly so.

The moment of crowning was also poignant because although she was excited to have won, we saw a woman who knew she was capable of winning and expected to win. The world stopped and watched the woman from Tsolo in the Eastern Cape speak about the most important thing we should be teaching young girls today — Tunzi wants women to be leaders, because we have always been capable of leadership.

In her response to a question at the pageant, she said that leadership is something that has been lacking in young girls and women for a very long time, “not because we don’t want to but because of what society has labelled women to be”.

She spoke so eloquently to a notion that underlines many of our lives as women, let alone black women. Society teaches us from a young age to assume supporting roles, often to men, and to practise restraint — be intelligent, but not too intelligent, dress well but your skirt shouldn’t be too short, get your hair done and don’t wear it coarse, speak up for yourself but not when it is to question patriarchy or authority.

But on Monday, Tunzi denounced all these conceptions that have been so deeply etched in our thinking and belief systems. She reminded us of the little girls we once were, who had big dreams but soon learnt to be dutiful.

Young girls learn very early in life that they cannot (and should not) think for themselves and instead, must conform to society, try not to do the things that boys do and never be the “head”, always the neck. We are taught how to clean floors, often not using mops or vacuum cleaners, but on our knees — a position we’re systematically conditioned to assume throughout our lives. Apologetic, embarrassed, and with our heads bent in shame, because being a woman often denotes incompetence and inferiority.

And if you dare put yourself on the same platform as the rest of society, as Tunzi did when she stepped onto the Miss SA stage in her natural hair, there is always someone waiting in the wings to remind you of who and what you ought to be. Flawed. Inadequate. Black.

And so, there was some negativity surrounding Tunzi’s win at Miss SA when various people, particularly on social media, voiced their dissatisfaction. “She’s not beautiful enough, she doesn’t have the right hair,” they said. They were wrong and malicious.

These types of comments have the potential to spiral into your daily life and affect how you carry yourself and view yourself as a woman. We are not born with low-self-esteem, but when you hear enough negative perceptions about yourself, you are bound to succumb to them eventually.

On the Miss Universe website, it says research has shown that the main barrier to women reaching their full potential is a lack of self-confidence.

Many women can attest to this, but we don’t lose confidence on our own, we are reminded every day not to be too forward as it’s not ladylike.

We’re so fortunate that Tunzi didn’t pay too much attention to the negative comments and stuck to her goals.

Seven years ago, she said on her Facebook page that she’d be coming for the Miss Universe title, and she did just that. It wasn’t an overnight success; it was a woman who knew what she wanted and worked hard to achieve it.

My hope is that we can see Tunzi’s win as proof that society was always wrong about us when it labelled us incompetent, weak and second-class citizens. Tunzi did not win for South Africa or Africa alone, she won for every little girl who has a dream that’s bigger than society tells her she should dream, and every woman who has sacrificed her dreams at the altar of societal pressure.

Tunzi’s first Instagram post as Miss Universe reads: “Tonight a door was opened, and I could not be more grateful to have been the one to have walked through it.

May every little girl who witnessed this moment forever believe in the power of dreams, and may they see their faces reflected in mine.”

She affirmed the position of every woman who exists on this planet that she is an equal and competent member of society. Tunzi has left the door open for all of us to walk through.

Moreover, she took the crown in her natural hair, a detail which some have abhorred, even in her run-up to the Miss SA title.

Well, guess what, that R73 million crown sits deservingly on beautiful coarse, black hair — a historical first and hopefully the beginning of many more.

We see you, Zozi; we see our faces reflected in yours. We are Zozibini.

• Nthabi Nhlapo is editor of W24.

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