Miss South Africa shamed for refusing to boycott Israel

A woman wearing a crown and sash against a backdrop of flowers

Miss South Africa Lalela Mswane insists on competing in the Miss Universe pageant in Israel despite calls from the government and solidarity groups to withdraw. (Twitter)

The South African government withdrew support on Sunday for the local Miss Universe association over the reigning Miss South Africa Lalela Mswane’s decision to compete in a pageant in Israel next month.

The decision was made due to the Miss South Africa organization’s “intransigence and disregard” towards calls to boycott the Miss Universe beauty pageant, the country’s culture ministry said.

Miss Universe has faced boycott calls from the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) since it will be held in Eilat on 12 December.

PACBI pointed out that the city of Eilat was built atop the ruins of the small Palestinian fishing town of Umm al-Rashrash on the Red Sea coast and called on participants to withdraw “to avoid complicity in Israel’s apartheid regime.”

The South African ministry said it held “unsuccessful consultations” with the Miss South Africa pageant organizers, which at first appeared “constructive and progressive,” but later deteriorated.

“It has proven difficult to persuade the Miss South Africa pageant organizers to reconsider their decision to partake in the Miss Universe event scheduled to be held in Israel,” the ministry said.

“The atrocities committed by Israel against Palestinians are well-documented,” the ministry added, saying the South African government “cannot in good conscience associate itself with such.”

The minister warned that Mswane’s participation in the event could tarnish her reputation.

“If anything, by withdrawing, Miss South Africa’s reputation and overall standing will be far more advanced in South Africa and internationally,” he said, “in comparison to a once-off event that can prove disastrous to her future and public standing as a young, black woman.”

As opposed to the former Miss South Africa, Mswane and her team will not receive diplomatic passports, the #Africa4Palestine solidarity group confirmed on Tuesday.

Decision welcome

The group welcomed the government’s decision, as did Nkosi Zwelivelile “Mandla” Mandela, grandson of former South African freedom fighter Nelson Mandela.

Mandela had previously called on Mswane to withdraw from the Eilat event.

“We welcome [culture minister Nathi Mthethwa’s] efforts to engage them and find a solution that is aligned with South Africa’s principled policy position on boycotting Apartheid Israel,” Mandela said on Sunday.

The Eilat event is “clearly aimed at fig-leafing the occupation and the daily crimes against humanity, ethnic cleansing and genocide perpetrated against the Palestinian people.”

Mandela likened the “belligerence” of Mswane and the Miss South Africa organization “to those individuals, companies and organizations that were guilty of sanctions-busting and complicit with the apartheid South Africa regime.”

Israel lobbyists are now attacking the South African government for its solidarity with Palestinians.

The South African Jewish Board of Deputies, the country’s main Israel lobby group, was outraged by the ministry’s statement, saying the minister was “placating the radical anti-Israel lobby.”

The group had been smearing and libeling the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement in recent days. BDS is a non-violent, anti-racist movement that takes inspiration from the successful global campaign to isolate apartheid South Africa in the 1980s.

It’s notable that the South African Jewish Board of Deputies maintained good relations with and defended the country’s former white supremacist government, as Sasha Polakow-Suransky detailed in his book The Unspoken Alliance on Israel’s close ties with the apartheid regime.

“South African bigotry against Israel turns into discrimination against their own beauty queen,” Israeli-American multi-millionaire and key Israel lobby donor Adam Milstein tweeted on Monday.


In a statement issued earlier this month, #Africa4Palestine said they had reliable information that Mswane was planning on withdrawing from the pageant but had not yet received official confirmation.

Stephanie Weil, CEO of the Miss South Africa organization, denied the claim in a statement from her publicist.

She went on to defend Mswane’s decision to participate in the pageant in a local podcast.

“Miss South Africa and Miss Universe are about the empowerment of women,” Weil said.

It is notable that the General Union of Palestinian Women has called on participants to withdraw from the Miss Universe pageant “to avoid being used to fig-leaf the continued crimes of the Israeli regime,” and certainly don’t consider the competition to be empowering.

“Holding the Miss Universe pageant in ‘Eilat’ is a form of complicity in deepening and whitewashing Israel’s oppression against us as Palestinian women,” the union said.

“We all know that boycotting is not necessarily going to be the way that we are going to make a substantial difference,” she said, to the interviewer’s protest that boycott was instrumental in bringing an end to the apartheid era in South Africa.

Weil boasted in a different interview of her mother’s involvement with Nelson Mandela, but the anti-apartheid leader’s lessons were clearly lost on her.




I had thought the phenomenon of "beauty contests" was dead and buried forty years ago. It's hard to believe that this sort of travesty is being exhumed. But then, the impresario of just such an enterprise was elected President of the United States not very long ago. So my personal views don't seem to tally with the times.

On a not altogether unrelated note, a pageant was just held in Israel to choose the country's "Miss Holocaust Survivor" for the coming year. That's right. One of the most horrific episodes of genocide in human history has been given a commercial makeover, into a glamorous occasion for public festivity. Will Zionists never tire of the uses to be found in mass murder? From tragedy to farce, indeed.


Tamara Nassar

Tamara Nassar is an assistant editor at The Electronic Intifada.