Wheelchair beauty’s big ambition
Lebohang Monyatsi has made a triumphant return from a global beauty pageant and she has big plans for the future
GROOMED hair, perfect teeth, high cheekbones and a dazzling smile – it’s easy to see why she’s been named first princess in a global beauty pageant.
But there’s a lot more to Lebohang Monyatsi than good looks: she also has a degree in psychology and is an accomplished athlete. And there’s one other thing that sets her apart from the pack – the wheelchair parked in the corner of the room while she sits chatting across from us on a couch.
The striking 31-year-old has been disabled since she was three but she’s never allowed this to define her. “If you think I have more willpower than most ablebodied people it’s because I don’t see a difference between them and myself.”
Lebohang is still buzzing with excitement after being named first princess in the inaugural Miss Wheelchair World pageant – which aims to demonstrate that disabilities aren’t limitations – held in Warsaw, Poland, last month. “Warsaw was great,” she says. “It’s very wheelchair-friendly and the transport system is geared towards people with disabilities.”
Although she’s thrilled by the outcome of the trip, it came with a hefty price tag. The foundation doesn’t sponsor participants so Lebohang realised she’d need help. “I had enough money saved to get to Poland but there was no way I was going without Thandi Ntseane, my helper. I had to take a loan and even that wasn’t enough. It was only after an interview on Power FM that I received assistance. I told my story and a listener reached out and helped.”
LEBOHANG, who was born in Vryburg in North West, developed polio at the age of three. Growing up with a disability wasn’t easy and she couldn’t keep up with the other children, she recalls. “Sometimes those kids would tease me but the biggest challenge was the inability to attend a mainstream school.” When she was nine she lost her mom but, tough as that was, her grandmother, Elizabeth (80), stepped into the role and has been Lebohang’s rock ever since. Lebohang battled wi t h her heal t h throughout early childhood and was 11 when she was able to go to school for the first time. Her gran sent her to Tlamelang Special School in Gelukspan near Mahikeng.
At school she took a keen interest in sport, particularly wheelchair basketball, and fell in love with the idea of becoming a model. “I realised there was no one like me in showbiz and the media industry,” she says. “That’s when I told myself I have to get out of my comfort zone and be an inspiration to others.”
Lebohang aced her matric exams and went on to study psychology at NorthWest University, where she continued to play wheelchair basketball so successfully she represented South Africa in Mexico in the qualifying rounds of the 2012 Summer Paralympic Games. She also renewed her interest in modelling and appeared on the runway in her wheelchair at Soweto Fashion Week this year.
Making the finals of Miss Wheelchair World was a huge deal for her, she says. As first princess she’s expected to market the event and do charity work.
And the future? “I’ll be starting the pageant Miss Wheelchair SA,” she says. “I have my work cut out to raise awareness regarding people with disabilities.”
Lebohang keeps fit and enjoys taking part in sport and spending time outdoors.