Speaking to Channel24, Sibabalwe Gcilitshana, Miss SA's first openly queer participant explains the importance of having a pageant which is a true reflection of the women of South African. "Our country has women from different walks of life whose stories all matter and need to be captured. While many women share the same struggles, each women's experience has nuance to it, and we all deserve to see ourselves represented in all industries."
A 24-year-old parliamentary officer and researcher for Equal Education, Sibabalwe decided to enter Miss South Africa after a suggestion from a colleague. "She felt like I had a story to share and that the platform would be great as a means to not only share my experience but also to further my activism and make a difference in our country."
Part of her story is advocating for the rights of the LGBTQIA+ community. She tells us about the significance of being open about her sexuality in the competition. "My queer identity forms an important part of my experience as a South African woman, and so being open about my orientation was so that women who previously have been left out or have not been visible in spaces such as this, could see themselves represented on the platform."
And the support from the LGBTQIA+ community has been amazing. "I came here to be myself and in the process, did not realise what this would mean for so many other people," she shares.
Taking a look at her past, Sibabalwe says that if she could go back in time, she would be a lot easier on herself. "I would tell her (her younger self) to be kinder to herself, to trust the process and to know that she is exactly where she is supposed to be."
But while she may not be able to turn back the clock, she can share the wisdom she has gained over the years with today's youth.
Her wish for those who have found hope in her story is that they embrace the things that make them different because those same parts also "make them powerful".
Taking a look toward the future, Sibabalwe shares what she would do should she take home the Miss SA crown in August.
"I would use the platform to focus my resources on education, activism and performance art. My work at Equal Education is close to my heart, and because it is one of the only organisations that has a learner membership driving campaigns, I would have to advocate for better education and infrastructure provision in our schools. On activism, I would bring more awareness to the LGBTQIA+ community and combine this with my interest in performance art as a means for members of this community to share their stories and have their stories touch other people's lives."
The Miss South Africa pageant takes place on Women's Day, 9 August, at the Sun Arena in Pretoria, with the winner walking away with close to R3 million in prizes and sponsorship deals.
The show will also air live on M-Net (DStv 101) and Mzansi Magic (DStv 161).