Teary Lalela tells of death threats on way to second runner-up crown

Miss South Africa during an emotional press conference at OR Tambo International Airport on Wednesday on her return from Israel where she was crowned second runner up in the 70th Miss Universe Competition (PHOTO: YouTube screenshot)

Being crowned second runner up at the Miss Universe pageant in Israel in the face of death threats from anti-Israel activists and sleepless nights was the biggest win she could ever have achieved, said an emotional Miss South Africa Lalela Mswane, on her return on Wednesday.

This was because she had very little time to prepare for the event after her decision to compete at the 70th Miss Universe pageant in Israel moved from just being about her to being about the safety of her family and her loved ones, she said at a press conference at OR Tambo Airport.

She kept breaking into tears each time she tried to explain and describe how she felt about the attacks that came her way for choosing to compete in Israel.

“I don’t know what I have done to deserve this; this is bigger than me. I never initiated any war. All I did was to pursue a dream of mine,” said the 24-year-old law graduate.

Lalela was crowned Miss South Africa on October 16 and thereafter, sadly, found herself caught in the crossfire of South Africa’s problematic foreign policy posture on Israel.

Supporters at OR Tambo Airport ready to welcome Miss SA home

On Wednesday she was welcomed by family and fans who came out to support her at the airport. But while sounds of joy and celebration for Lalela were sung on one side, there was another group that was chanting “Free Palestine” in the background.

Even though she kept breaking into tears during the briefing, Mswane clearly demonstrated that she is strong, and courageous and will stand on her convictions.

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Asked how she felt when the government withdrew support for her, “despair, disappointed and abandoned” were the words that she used to describe her emotions.

“I am a firm believer in not succumbing to pressure. I would have regretted it for the rest of my life. I feel I am being attacked because I failed to pick a side as a sign of loyalty. That’s very immature, unnecessary and won’t get us anywhere.”

‘Dove of peace’ Lalela Mswane – who is also a professional ballerina – moving across the stage en pointe during the Miss Universe national costume event. According to the Miss SA Organisation her all-white, feathered costume “represents her nation, culture and its spirit of Ubuntu”.

Mswane is not the first victim of South Africa’s foreign policy antics against Israel. In 2020 the then-Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng received a similar baptism of fire to the one Lalela received. This was after he participated in a webinar hosted by the Jerusalem Post with Chief Rabbi Warren Goldstein. Despite saying: “I love Israel, I love Palestine,” a complaint was laid against Mogoeng with the Judicial Service Commission’s Conduct Committee with the aim of removing him from office before his term ended.

Mogoeng stood his ground and refused to apologise, and has since appealed the initial judgment against him citing that he was found guilty on the basis of a non-existent government policy. The JCC is yet to conclude this matter, while Mogoeng went on to complete his term as the longest-serving chief justice of South Africa since the dawn of democracy.

While Lalela is optimistic about the remainder of her reign as Miss South Africa, she is not naïve about the repercussions of her decision to go to Israel. But she is determined to make an impact through a campaign she has yet to launch called #BeReady to deal with youth unemployment. She has pledged to give 10% of her winnings to this campaign.

Responding to my question on her experience of Israel, the land of the Bible, Lalela described how grateful she was to be part of the group that visited the Old City of Jerusalem and that Jerusalem was the highlight of her visit. 

“I was just emotional most of the time I was there.” she said and explained how, when they visited the Western Wall, she made her prayers to God and her prayers were answered.  

Sports, arts and culture minister Nathi Mthethwa, who withdrew state support for Lalela over alleged Israeli atrocities towards Palestinians, has refused to apologise to her after her crowning achievement. Approached for comment the minister’s spokesperson Masechaba Khumalo told reporters the department had issued a statement last month explaining its stance on the pageant “and we stand by that position”.

Gateway News writer Tshego Motaung with Miss SA Lalela Mswane at OR Tambo Airport

In my view there is a need for a national dialogue on SA’s position in the complex and longstanding conflict between Israel and Palestine. One would expect that a nation that was able to rise above her bitter past could bring a message of peace and reconciliation to the conflict rather than choosing sides.

Whether or not our government’s position will change remains to be seen, but what is clear is that Miss South Africa Lalela Mswane has taken her leadership role seriously by demonstrating courage over comfort, faith over fear.

As I left the airport holding a flag of South Africa and Israel, I got into a lift with a couple with small children. I wasn’t paying attention to them but could hear the father playing with the children, saying: “Look at the monkey.” It was only as the lift stopped that I realised the monkey being referred to was me, and I knew it was because of the flag of Israel.

While tempted to respond and fight I decided to choose, peace over hatred, and forgiveness over anger.  

This was a reminder to appreciate what Lalela had to overcome by choosing to compete in Israel. 

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One Comment

  1. Lalela has done the best choice. People should learn to be peacemakers rarher than to stand on one side. South Africa is supposed to act a position of being a peace making country, learning from its leader Nelson Mandela. Bitterness will never take a nation to its promised land. God blesses peacemakers