Ever since she was crowned Miss South Africa a month ago young KwaZulu Natal beauty Lalela Mswane has been at the receiving end of bullying and abuse orchestrated by anti-Israel activists demanding she boycott the Miss Universe pageant in Israel next month.
The pressure ratcheted up a notch on Sunday when the government announced its decision to “publicly distance government and the people of South Africa” from the Miss SA pageant because of the organisers’ “intransigence” in refusing to heed its advice to pull out of the event in Israel.
Minister of Sport, Arts and Culture, Nathi Mthethwa said in a statement that “atrocities committed by Israel against Palestinians” were the reason why “government, as the legitimate representative of the people of South Africa, cannot in good conscience associate itself with such”.
He said while he appreciates the likely impact of the government’s stance on the individual interest of the current Miss South Africa, he strongly believes that the reasons that require her withdrawal from Miss Universe far outweigh individual interests.
He criticised the Miss South Africa Organisation for “lacking appreciation of the potential negative impact of such a decision on the reputation and future of a young black woman”.
He said he hopes “common sense will prevail” on behalf of Lalela and assured the pageant organisers that the government is still open for discussion.
The government’s anti-Israel stance and narrative is well known, so its decision is not altogether surprising.
But it seems Minister Mthetwa may not be entirely in step with the people of South Africa whose views he claims to represent on the matter.
While Lalela has been attacked on social media by people who believe the false but ubiquitous BDS-inspired narrative that Israel is an apartheid state, several online polls published by media houses have shown majority disapproval of the government’s interference in the Miss SA matter.
Government has distanced itself from the Miss S.A. pageant organisers’ decision to participate in Miss Universe contest to be held in Israel. Do you support government’s decision? #MissSA #LalelaMswane #sabcnews
— The Agenda (@TheAgenda_SABC) November 15, 2021
And a new poll on the Dear SA platform which canvasses views on three issues: the government’s action on Miss SA, whether Lalela should boycott the pageant in Israel, and whether the state should interfere in sports, arts and culture is gaining some traction. And early indications are that most of those polled do not stand with the government on these matters.
You can participate in the poll by clicking on this link: https://dearsouthafrica.co.za/interference/
In a statement released on November 9 confirming that Lalela will be going to Israel despite the opposition of a “very, very small, but extremely vocal, group” Miss South Africa Organisation CEO Stephanie Weil said: ““We are not a political organisation and The Miss Universe pageant is not a politically inspired event.”
Lalela herself has not spoken publicly on the controversy. According to an article about her published in Conan Daily she is a ballet dancer, model and beauty queen who holds a law degree. She is also a talented vocalist. When she was young, she was bullied for being tall and thin. She is a Christian and she speaks Zulu, French and English.
According to a report by IOL published on October 17, a day after Lalela was crowned Miss SA, she comes from the remote village of KwaSokhulu in northern KwaZulu-Natal, on the outskirts of the small town of KwaMbonambi, outside Richards Bay. She is the first Miss SA from Zululand.
During the final stages of the competition, where the final three contestants state the cause most important to them, Lalela highlighted the issue of the high youth unemployment rate in the country. Delivering her first speech as Miss SA after the crowning, she said it was now her duty to start conversations and seek meaningful solutions to this crisis.
Lalela is not alone in facing social media outrage for her decision to go to “apartheid Israel”. Now Justin Bieber is facing backlash from SA Twitter users for planning to perform in Israel next year after concerts in Cape Town and Johannesburg as part of his “Justice World Tour”.
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