Miss South Africa, Lalela Mswane (Screen grab/YouTube) (Screen grab/YouTube)
Lalela Mswane

Lalewa Mswane will travel to Israel for the Miss Universe competition as the South African government disassociates itself from the beauty queen.

By Pesach Benson, United With Israel

The South African government announced on Sunday that it was disassociating itself with Lalewa Mswane’s plans to compete in the Miss Universe contest, which is being hosted in Israel in December.

“The atrocities committed by Israel against Palestinians are well documented, and [the] government, as the legitimate representative of the people of South Africa, cannot in good conscience associate itself with such,” a government statement said.

The statement went on to castigate the organizers of the Miss South Africa competition for their “intransigence” and “disregard of advice.”

But pageant organizers argue that the competition has nothing to do with politics. Miss South Africa CEO Stephanie Weil said, “Mswane will be a role model to young women, not just across the country, but across the African continent. Anyone who wants to rob Mswane of her moment in the spotlight is unkind and short-sighted. She is a shining beacon for young women everywhere, showing them that being beautiful while being clever and educated is very possible.”

“We are not a political organisation and the Miss Universe pageant is not a politically-inspired event,” Weil added.

Mswane, who was crowned Miss South Africa in October, hasn’t publicly commented on the matter. A 24-year-old former ballerina, Mswane’s views on the Mideast conflict are not known.

Pressure from the ruling African National Congress and the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions campaign (BDS) has piled on.

“The ANC continues to call upon Nine-Squared, which owns the Miss South Africa organisation, to hear and listen to the overwhelming call for the Miss South Africa team to boycott the upcoming apartheid Israel hosted Miss Universe,” said ANC spokesperson Pule Mabe. “The racism, human rights violations, illegal settlements, ongoing unlawful occupation and the apartheid laws of Israel are well documented and should be compelling enough for your withdrawal.”

While South Africans overwhelmingly support the Palestinians, some key activists, such as Kenneth Meshoe, bristle at the apartheid analogy. The comparison, they say, is dishonest and cheapens the suffering of blacks who lived under strict racial segregation.

The Palestine Solidarity Alliance Youth League appealed to Mswane to back out. A statement posted on Instagram played the feminist card.

“We appeal to Lalela Mswane and will continue campaigning to ensure that Stephanie Weil, CEO of the Miss South Africa Organisation, does not use a young black South African woman to whitewash the crime of apartheid,” the youth group said.

“We are confident that Mswane will go down in history as the Miss South Africa who truly represented South African women and our country by boycotting apartheid Israel, expressing her solidarity with the women of Palestine, standing against all forms of racism and for the just Palestinian struggle.”

That argument was demolished in October by a former Miss Iraq in response to lawmaker Mandla Mandela, who also called on Mswane to boycott Israel. Mandla Mandela is the grandson of Nelson Mandela, who fought South African apartheid and became the country’s first black president.

In a scathing video posted on Twitter, Sara Idan, who was Miss Iraq 2017, told Mandela, “How dare you as a man try to tell an organization for women and women empowerment what to do? This is an opportunity that millions of women dream of having — to go on world stage and represent their people, their nation, their culture. Not governments, not politics, and definitely not your political agenda.”

“The term you used to attack Israel, in calling it apartheid, is a term only being used by radical Islamists, terrorist organizations, such as Hamas, Taliban and the Iranian regime — all of them who hate women and women’s rights. Please allow Miss South Africa to go and experience Israel up close on the ground and let her be the judge for herself.”

Idan was labeled a traitor by Iraqis for posting a selfie with her new friend, Miss Israel Adar Gandelsman. Idan, went on to visit the Jewish state and speak up for Israel at the UN. She currently lives in Los Angeles.

Eilat hosts the beauty pageant on December 13. This year’s competition comes on the heels of the 2020 pageant, which was delayed by COVID-19 restrictions and held instead in May 2021. Paula Shugart, president of the Miss Universe Organization, told the Jerusalem Post that Israel’s successful response to the coronavirus pandemic was the primary reason it was selected to host the event.

More than 60 countries, including the United Arab Emirates and Morocco, have already confirmed their participation. The UAE had never participated in the pageant, while Morocco will be competing for the first time in 43 years. Organizers expect women from 90 countries to participate.

Israel will be represented in the competition by Noa Cochva, a 22-year-old former IDF medics commander and aspiring pediatrician.

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