‘It is better to die for an idea that will live, than to live for an idea that will die.” – Steve Biko, father of the black consciousness movement
Witnessing the crowning of our new Miss South Africa, Zozibini Tunzi, I could not help reflecting on these words. Here we are, four decades later, and Miss South Africa is proudly herself – short kinky hair and dark – no trace of fake hair or skin lightening creams. I thought Biko would be smiling to see us black Africans, embracing our “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, 7 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 would 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, but that what people saw first, your face, was light skinned. If you stopped using them, you’d be dark as coal: people in my generation would know. Some of us still suffer from the after-effects of skin lightening creams.
What saved some of us was the awareness-raising conducted by the black consciousness movement, which used affirming slogans such as, “dark beauty” and “Black is beautiful”. Afro-American music also played a big role, such as James Brown’s funk song I’m black and I’m Proud, say it loud! and Nina Simone’s To be young gifted and black. It was from affirmations like these that we drew love of ourselves, not to mention confidence and personal power. Plaits, specifically “osibisa” – very long and upright plaits extended by black wool, taken from the funky plait designs of some of the Osibisa band members – woyaya!
Fast forward more than four decades. Here we are, witnessing a young black woman, dark skinned with natural hair, the epitome of African beauty, winning the 2019 Miss South Africa title. We are excited and happy for her achievement and, as a result, some of us have congratulated and affirmed her through social media platforms.
While we are happy for Tunzi, we should not forget that, as South Africans, we have come a long way in this Miss South Africa project. It feels like yesterday, when Cynthia Shange won the Miss Black South Africa title 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, and it was a culture shock when Jackie Mofokeng won the Miss South Africa title during the time of transition. She was welcomed with negative criticism, starting from her features and looks. Nonetheless, I believe that Mofokeng’s winning of the title contributed to the acclaimed “rainbow nation” project, as we South Africans started to appreciate our own diversity: those who have won the title after her, have it better.
Now in 2019, we’ve been taken by surprise by Tunzi. In my eyes she is brave, beautiful, brilliant, a trend-setter, a visionary, young, gifted and black. Tunzi is a leader in her own right and nothing could shake her to change her vision of competing with her kinky short hair, in spite of being surrounded by young women with different hair styles, many of them light skinned.
Tunzi knows where the need is – her focus during her reign is on early childhood development. A felt need. An opportunity that sits well with her spirit of embracing black Africanism. She will be a role model to many baby girls, specifically black African baby girls; those who fight with their parents every morning to have their kinky hair neat before going to school. The embracing of blackness that we appreciate in Tunzi, we now need to see transferred to other women of her age. It is over four decades and Steve Biko’s idea is now really gaining momentum; Tunzi has picked up the baton and she’s running with it.
Gysman is a gender specialist currently working for the SA Development Community parliamentary forum as a gender programme manager
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