There’s a new queen in town and her name is Sasha-Lee Laurel Olivier – Miss SA 2019.
Olivier was handed the title after Zozibini Tunzi was crowned Miss Universe in Atlanta, Georgia, US, last month. But Olivier says she is not here to fill anyone’s shoes – she has her own.
City Press meets Olivier – crowned first princess to Tunzi at the Miss SA pageant in August last year – at the glitzy Maslow Hotel in Sandton, where she politely greets us with a smile.
The bubbly 26-year-old from Alberton says that, sometimes, it’s not a matter of opportunity denied, but opportunity delayed: “This came at the right time. Being Miss SA is not about recognition, but rather the responsibility to serve. When they told me that I had to take on the duties of Miss SA, I was nervous and excited. I even asked Zozi how it felt to be Miss SA. She said she felt the same way.
“We are both incredible women. What we have in common is that we are both advocates against gender-based violence,” she says.
She adds that she doesn’t think we need government to govern for us to make firm decisions and a difference in our society: “We need to take it upon ourselves to be active citizens.”
Speaking from New York, Tunzi congratulated Olivier and said she was delighted Olivier was taking over from her.
“I cannot think of anyone who is more suitable to be Miss SA. Sasha has it all – beauty, brains and, above all, a commitment to help others. I have no doubt that she will use her reign to help improve the lot of those in need.”
Olivier, who is studying for a double major in marketing and psychology at the University of the Witwatersrand, has a campaign called Beauty with a Purpose, which supports those who have survived rape and sexual assault.
“I want to use my slogan #ItsNotYourFault to show women and men that they are in no way to blame for what has been done to them,” she says.
Her tone and expression immediately change when she shares how she was sexually abused from the age of seven by a close relative.
“Nobody believed me when I told them. It took me a long time to speak about it. But I knew that, with this platform, it was something I could change for the vast majority of people, not only in South Africa, but for everyone all over the world.”
She says it took her 18 years to speak about her abuse.
“There’s a time in your life when you are vulnerable and someone takes advantage of you. Afterwards, you go about your life thinking it was your fault.”
Speaking about the country’s justice system, Olivier says it has failed women: “Our system doesn’t focus on the survivors enough as it should be. Women always have to prove beyond reasonable doubt that they were sexually assaulted. Although there are many initiatives focusing on sexual assault and the nature of it, not many focus on the aftermath of trauma, and that’s where we come in as #ItsNotYourFault.”
Olivier says breaking the chains of silence, shame and fear is the right step towards healing for survivors. When asked if she has healed, she says: “It’s an ongoing process. I am still in the process of healing.”
Olivier believes she has a responsibility “to continue the fight against the injustices women face, whether they be self-acceptance, inequality or gender-based violence”.
On December 14, she joined contestants from around the world in London to compete for the Miss World crown, finishing in the top 40.
“I’ve grown so much from that experience. I am now at a place where I am comfortable enough to step into my sash and step into the next phase of this journey.”
* Michelle Obama inspires her
* Her favourite sitcom is The Big Bang Theory
* Her favourite meals are pizza and cheesecake
* The craziest thing she has ever done was flying in an old Czech fighter jet doing barrel rolls in the sky
* She enjoys fishing and loves nothing more than quiet time with a rod and reel.