Black isn't beautiful, S. African callers complain Outrage greets winner of pageant

August 10, 1993|By Michael Hill | Michael Hill,Johannesburg Bureau

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa -- The magic of the moment didn't last long for the first black Miss South Africa.

On Sunday morning, the country woke up to headlines congratulating itself on Saturday night's naming of Jacqui Mofokeng to the title.

The Sunday paper pictures of Miss Mofokeng's bright smile and brown skin surrounded by the two beaming white runners-up seemed to sum up the hope for a nonracial future.

By yesterday, though, all that had changed.

The lines on Radio 702, the AM station whose call-in talk shows consistently take the pulse of the Johannesburg region, were filled with outraged people claiming the Saturday night contest must have been fixed, that Miss Mofokeng's win was politically correct but aesthetically flawed.

The middle-of-the-road newspaper, the Star, showed a picture of Miss Mofokeng with the reigning Miss World above a straightforward story that acknowledged the racial aspect only in its last paragraph.

But the headline in the conservative paper, the Citizen, declared, "Controvery as Miss S Africa starts her reign." The text claimed that there was an inundation of calls "from television viewers upset at the outcome of the pageant."

Many of the radio callers felt that Miss Mofokeng was not as beautiful as the four whites who joined her as finalists in the nationally televised pageant.

Moreover, it was charged that when the finalists were asked questions, the winner was given a hanging curve that she knocked out of the park, while the rest faced tougher pitches.

Miss Mofokeng was asked how, if she won, her reign would fit in with the new South Africa. This allowed her to make an articulate plea for peace. Most of the other contestants faced queries about the pitfalls of being beautiful.

Yesterday morning, when Miss Mofokeng was on the radio, a caller challenged her to say that she was as beautiful as the other contestants. Then the caller took a few shots at the condition of her teeth and other portions of her anatomy.

In the afternoon, one caller gave an extensive analysis of the way in which the contestants reacted at various stages of the competition, proving, he claimed, that Miss Mofokeng knew she was pre-selected as the winner.

"Look, it's what we're going to have to face in South Africa now," the caller said. "Blacks are going to be given the preference."

Indeed, the specter of affirmative action -- fighting words in much dTC of South Africa -- hung over the results of the contest in Sun City, the glittering gambling resort in Boputhatswana, an independent homeland for blacks of the Tswana tribe.

To be fair, many callers, white and black, defended Miss Mofokeng and were particularly complimentary of her intelligence and poise. Those attributes were immediately put to the test as the first questioners she faced in a news conference after winning the title asked how she managed to keep her hair so straight.

Speaking in a perfect South African Afrikaans-accented English that she learned in eight years at boarding school, she simply responded that she took care of her hair. And to the many callers while she was on the radio, she replied that she had worked hard to win the contest and hoped to represent the country well.

The Miss South Africa contest is the equivalent of Miss America, although the spotlight shines even more brightly in this relatively small country. One winner, Anneline Kriel, went on to win the Miss World title in 1979. She remains a major celebrity in this country, and her bitter divorce case is being widely followed by the news media.

It was considered a breakthrough last year when the first nonwhite, Amy Kleinhans, who is classified as a mixed-race colored, was crowned Miss South Africa. Many of those who see a conspiracy regard Miss Mofokeng's victory in the 38-year-old contest as nothing more than the preordained next step.

There was no equivalent outcry when the 12 women who participated in the televised pageant were announced. Two were black, two were colored, and eight were white, although 90 percent of South Africa's population is nonwhite.

Saturday's 21-year-old winner grew up and still lives with her mother in Soweto, the black township southeast of Johannesburg whose name became a symbol of the country's apartheid system of forced racial separation. In 1976, Soweto erupted in riots against the requirement that school be taught in the Afrikaans language. Most date that as the beginning of a newly militant struggle against apartheid.

Miss Mofokeng is now a second-year student at Johannesburg's University of the Witswatersrand. She plans to return to finish her degree after her reign.

In interviews after her victory, the beauty queen pointed out that she knew what life was like in the black townships. "I love my country, and I know as I sit here with a crown on my head that people are dying in the townships," she said. "I have not forgotten them.

"In my own small way, I would like to help the people in our country to stop the violence and learn to live with each other in a peaceful way. I just want the killing to stop."

She also said that she was not surprised that some thought she won because of the color of her skin.

"From the minute I won, I expected this and thought about it all night," she told the Star. "But I worked very hard for the crown and will show people that I am capable of doing what I am supposed to do as Miss South Africa."

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