PODCAST | The Story: Miss SA - when politics and pageants collide

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  • The recently crowned Miss SA, 24-year-old Lalela Mswane, will compete in the Miss Universe pageant in Israel on December 13.
  • The government withdrew its support for the Miss SA pageant after organisers refused to withdraw from the international competition.
  • The Department of Sports, Arts and Culture said the decision was because of ongoing human rights abuses against Palestinians. 

The government's withdrawal of its support for the Miss SA pageant has sparked controversy ahead of the Miss Universe contest in Israel next month.

Organisers of Miss South Africa refused to boycott the event, despite the government's advice to withdraw from the competition.

The Department of Sports, Arts and Culture said its decision was because of Israel's ongoing human rights abuses against Palestinians.

But the South African Jewish Board of Deputies has lambasted the government's decision and believes a minority is against Miss SA taking part in the competition.

Last week, Channel24 reported on the growing calls for South Africa to boycott Miss Universe.

The grandson of former president Nelson Mandela, Zwelivelile Mandla Mandela, was one such critic who said in a statement that "Israel is an apartheid state and we will continue to mobilise all freedom loving people of the world to boycott, divest and pass sanctions against the brutal apartheid regime".

READ | Miss SA: Jewish Board of Deputies slams govt decision to withdraw support for pageant in Israel

In this week's episode of The Story we speak to Channel24 reporter Graye Morkel, the national chairperson of the South African Jewish Board of Deputies, Professor Karen Milner, and Roshan Dadoo of the SA BDS (boycott, divest and sanctions) coalition.

Morkel said the Miss SA organisation maintained that it was Lalela Mswane's childhood dream to represent South Africa on an international stage "and her hope is to use the platform to create awareness for her advocacy, which focuses on creating solutions regarding the country's high unemployment rate".

Morkel added that the controversy surrounding her imminent participation in Miss Universe had "cast a dark cloud over her efforts to make a difference in the lives of South Africans".

Lalela Mswane, newly-crowned Miss South Africa
Miss South Africa, Lalela Mswane.

Between 70 and 90 countries compete at the annual Miss Universe pageant, according to Morkel. However, last year there was a significant drop in participation because of fears around the Covid-19 pandemic.

The representative from Greece, Rafaela Plastira, withdrew to show solidarity with Palestine", but the organisers and Greek government "did not comment much on the withdrawal and organised a replacement for her.

Roshan Dadoo, of the SA BDS, believes the South African government made the right decision to withdraw its support and was "pleased to see that our government is finally taking action".

PROFILE | New Miss SA Lalela Mswane: 'I had to prove to myself that I am worthy'

She believes it's "disgraceful, especially for South Africa, a country that's lived through apartheid", to send a representative to Israel which is "committing apartheid crimes".

She said Palestinian women were "at the sharp end" of Israeli aggressions, and South Africa should not be attending a pageant "which seeks only to cover up these kind of atrocities".

But, SA Jewish Board of Deputies national chairperson, Professor Karen Milner, argued that it was "completely unfair" to put that kind of pressure on the reigning Miss SA.

She said the Middle East conflict was complex one and Miss SA should not be expected to be take a position.

"I feel its throwing a citizen under the bus".

Milner added that the government had been "inconsistent".

"There seems to be a double standard as well. I don't understand why the minister has chosen to pick on Miss SA".

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