Life in New York and the year ahead: We play 10 questions with Zozibini Tunzi

Miss Universe 2019 Zozibini Tunzi.(Photo by Paras Griffin/Getty Images)
Miss Universe 2019 Zozibini Tunzi.(Photo by Paras Griffin/Getty Images)

In December 2019, Zozibini Tunzi's life changed when she became the third South African to win the Miss Universe title

The world watched as the 26-year-old passionately spoke about the things close to her heart, becoming a beacon of hope for young black girls, speaking out against gender-based violence, and encouraging women from all spheres to "take up space".  

Speaking to Channel24, Zozibini, who was in South Africa for her homecoming tour, told us about her plans for the year ahead, and what life has been like as the queen of the universe. 

1. Your life drastically changed in the blink of an eye, how did you adapt to a new life so quickly?

When I won the title, it took a while for the magnitude of it to sink in – to realise that I wasn't going to be returning home to my familiar life. At the same time, I realised how privileged I was and what a life-changing opportunity I had been given. It is one of the most exciting things I have ever done in my life, and I have no regrets.

2. What do you miss most about South Africa?

I miss the food, the great weather and our rich culture. There's something about home that you just can't find anywhere else in the world. I have also missed my family so much. And, of course, you can't get Nandos.  

3. What has been a highlight on your homecoming tour?

Since I took the crown in December, I have had such wonderful support from South Africans on social media. But it's not the same thing as walking into OR Tambo and feeling the energy – it was almost palpable. It also has to be going back to Tsolo and Dutywa where I grew up and going back to my primary school, Canaan Academy.  

4. Talk us through the experience of landing on SA soil and receiving such an emotional reception

It was almost surreal. If you look at the videos and pictures, it was almost overwhelming for me. I was so emotional. I had pictured coming home, but the reality was so much better.    

5. What are some of the issues you are hoping to highlight during your reign?

I will continue to speak out about the importance of education, the issue of gender-based violence, as well as working with Smile Train, a nonprofit organisation and charity providing corrective surgery for children with cleft lips and palates.

6. You've become a role model for many girls. Who are some women that you look up to?

I was recently lucky enough to meet Dr Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, a woman I admired growing up in South Africa as a child. She is the executive director of United Nations Women and is a United Nations Under-Secretary-General. UN Women is the UN entity dedicated to gender equality and the empowerment of women. I sat down with her and her colleagues in a meeting and told them about my passion for women and children and how I want to use my platform as Miss Universe to shed light on social issues that affect women and children.

As cliché as this may sound, my mother Philiswa Nadophu has always been a role model for me as well. She instilled the importance of education, hard work and discipline.

Now, more than ever, women are rising to take their rightful place at the forefront of greatness. A baton was passed to my generation by the women who marched in Pretoria, back on August 9 1956, to continue the work of shattering glass ceilings, kicking down closed doors and being women of great stature who rise and open doors for other women. As women, it is our responsibility to make sure that the baton never falls. We have to pass it on to the next generation of women. 

7. Do you have a motto or mantra that you live by?

To live a purposeful life.

8. What are you most looking forward to once you return to New York?

 Getting on with the job of being Miss Universe, meeting wonderful new people and hopefully making a difference.

9. What has it been like rooming with Miss USA, and what are the nights in the apartment like?

We get on really well. She may not be a New Yorker, but she is an American, so it has been helpful for me, especially moving to a city and a country that I didn't know.

10. What is your message to the South African people?

Believe in the power of dreams and capabilities.

Compiled by Graye Morkel and Nikita Coetzee