Government Urges Miss South Africa to Boycott Miss Universe Pageant in Israel

Ofir Hovav
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Miss South Africa, Lalela Mswane.
Miss South Africa, Lalela Mswane.Credit: Mark Lennihan/AP
Ofir Hovav

The South African government is calling on Lalela Mswane, the reigning Miss South Africa, to boycott the Miss Universe contest scheduled to be held in Israel next month, saying that it couldn’t “in good conscience" associate itself with “the atrocities committed by Israel.”

In a statement Sunday, the South African Sport, Arts and Culture Department said it would not support Mswane if she chose to compete in the event, which is scheduled to take place in Eilat on December 12.

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

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The department said that in discussions it had held with the South African pageant’s organizers to convince them to withdraw from the event in Israel, they cited remarks made by South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu in 2014 that “the humiliation [of Palestinians] is familiar to all Black South Africans who were corralled and harassed and insulted and assaulted by the security forces of the apartheid government.”

Despite the government's appeals, the organizers refused to back out of the competition, the department noted.

The Sport, Arts and Culture Department had preferred to come to a joint announcement with the pageant's South African organizers, the department said. "This has regrettably been unsuccessful, hence the decision now to publicly distance the government and the people of South Africa from Miss SA pageant organizer’s stance on this matter,” Sport, Arts and Culture Minister Nathi Mthethwa said.

“But even so, we still hope some common sense will prevail in the interest of the reigning queen, Lalela Mswane; and we remain open for discussions in that regard,” it was added.

The current Miss South Africa, Mswane, has not responded to the government's request.

The contest, the first ever held in Israel, will feature a contestant from the United Arab Emirates for the first time, and a contestant from Morocco for the first time in decades. Both of those countries signed diplomatic normalization agreements with Israel for the first time in 2020.

Organizers of the Miss South Africa pageant have said the Miss Universe pageant is not a “politically inspired event.”

“We all know that boycotting is not necessarily going to be the way that we are going to make a substantial difference, I truly don’t believe not attending and not being able to showcase or use one’s voice and being in that country is going to be the right thing,” Stephanie Weil, CEO of the Miss South Africa pageant, told South African radio host Clement Manyathela, according to the country’s Eye Witness News.

A grandson of Nelson Mandela, Nkosi Zwelivelile, who called last month for a boycott of the Miss Universe competition in Israel due to the Israeli occupation and the purported oppression of the Palestinian people, posted another statement Sunday on his Instagram account saying, "We welcome Minister Nathi Mthethwa’s announcement of the South African government’s withdrawal of its support of Miss South Africa organization.”

“The Miss Universe Pageant being held in Apartheid Israel in December 2021 is clearly aimed at fig-leafing the occupation and the daily crimes against humanity, ethnic cleansing and genocide perpetrated against the Palestinian people,” the post said. 

Organizations including South African Jews for a Free Palestine, the Palestinian Student Association and the Palestine Solidarity Campaign signed onto a statement issued by the South African BDS Coalition supporting the South African government’s position.

JTA contributed to this report.

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