Miss South Africa under fire for going to Miss Universe in Israel

BDS campaigners led by Nelson Mandela's grandson smear competition taking place next month in Eilat


The newly crowned Miss South Africa has been targeted by BDS supporters led by Nelson Mandela’s grandson for taking part in the upcoming Miss Universe in “apartheid state” Israel.
Having won the national competition last month, Lalela Mswane, 24 is due to compete in the international contest in Eilat on 12 December.
Looking forward to attending Miss Universe, last week she wrote: “There is a stirring in my soul; a restless, a wild anticipation. I am staring out into the horizon as far as I can.”
In response she was bombarded with messages bearing the hashtags "NotMyMissSouthAfrica", "freepalestine" and "boycottisrael".
One Twitter user wrote: “Shame on you Miss SA for supporting an apartheid state.” Another said: “You are not deserving of the crown, and you don’t represent South Africa.”
The campaign against Ms Mswane has been led by Nelson Mandela’s grandson, Mandla Mandela.
After she won the Miss South Africa title last month, he called for her to boycott the competition in Eilat, saying in a statement: “Israel is an apartheid state and we will continue to mobilise all freedom loving people of the world to boycott, divest and pass sanctions against the brutal apartheid regime.”
The South African government has now added its opposition to Ms Mswane going to Israel.
Stephanie Weil, chief executive of the Miss South Africa organisation, told the JC: “We were always going to take part in Miss Universe, and the information that it was happening in Israel has been out for months already.”
She explained whoever wins Miss South Africa automatically qualifies to take part in Miss Universe, this year marking its 70th anniversary with beauty queens from 70 countries.
South Africa won the Miss Universe title in 2017 and 2019 and were first runner-up in 2018.
Ms Weil said: “The Miss South Africa competition is such a big moment in this country’s history, particularly in what we have done internationally and what we have done for women’s empowerment in the last couple of years."
For Lalela Mswane, Ms Weil said, “going to Miss Universe is an opportunity to represent her country on the world stage, not about where [the contest] was being held”.
Ms Weill added: “Things have got to a point where it is quite literally harassment against Lalela. I think she’s incredibly scared of the threats that people are making against her, versus feeling supported, which at the end of the day she should feel.
“Because we as an organisation, with Lalela, are going to represent our country on the world stage and it happens to be in Israel."
At one point during the boycott campaign, Ms Weil said, there had been a “fake announcement” that Lalela had agreed to withdraw from the Miss Universe contest, prompting a swift response from the Miss South Africa company that this was completely untrue.
Undaunted, the boycotters accused Lalela and the company of “doing a U-turn” on her decision. “There was no U-turn," Ms Weil said, “because there was never a decision to withdraw in the first place. It was just baiting to get us to say something."
Ms Mswane is a former professional ballet dancer and a qualified lawyer. She has spoken of being bullied as a child and has vowed not to be bullied by the boycotters now.
Ms Weil said: “We will stand by her whatever she chooses to do. She is an incredibly strong woman. At the moment, we are going to Israel. I do believe that her intention is to go and compete. I think that this is a moment in her life that she would not want to give up.”
Stephanie Weil is a member of the South African Jewish community and she and Lalela have received strong support from the South African Jewish Board of Deputies.
The Board’s national director, Wendy Kahn, accused the boycotters of “aggressive, in-your-face-bullying and harassment” who have conducted a “relentless… campaign [against Lalela] for declining to buckle down to their demand that she withdraw from the upcoming Miss Universe pageant in Eilat”.
The boycotters, the Board statement said, had trolled and maligned [Lalela] on social media and “even threatened to protest outside her home”.
The statement added: “Preventing our Miss South Africa from participating in Miss Universe will make zero contribution to attaining a resolution to the Israeli Palestinian conflict. All it will do is deny this young woman an opportunity of participation on the international stage."
This week, the South African goverment said it does not back Ms Mswane taking part in the Miss Universe contest in Israel.
The arts and culture ministry said in a statement: “It has proven difficult to persuade the Miss SA pageant organizers to reconsider their decision to partake in the Miss Universe event,” adding that the government “withdraws its support”.
It added: “The atrocities committed by Israel against Palestinians are well documented and government, as the legitimate representative of the people of South Africa, cannot in good conscience associate itself with such."
The South African government has expressed its support for Palestinians in a series of gestures in recent years, including downgrading the embassy in Tel Aviv to a "liaison office". 

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