New Miss SA Zozibini Tunzi is turning heads
New Miss SA Zozi Tunzi shares her joy at winning, and tells us why she’s proud of her natural hair
WHAT a difference a day makes. When she woke up on Women’s Day it was with butterflies in her stomach and a dream in her heart. Fast forward 24 hours and Zozibini Tunzi finds herself in a luxury hotel suite, the woman of the moment, her beautiful face plastered all over newspapers and news sites.
She’s also become an overnight social media sensation.
“Waking up as Miss South Africa meant waking up to 44 000 [new] Instagram followers, which is insane, but I guess it shows just how big a platform this is,” the newly crowned beauty queen tells DRUM from her suite in The Maslow hotel at Time Square, Pretoria. “I think that was when it first dawned on me how much my life has changed.”
The 25-year-old is wearing a crisp white robe after having her makeup done. Zozi, as she’s affectionately known, has been up since 5am with her team, including pageant coach Werner Wessels, preparing for a full day of engagements.
Her shoes from last night’s pageant lie strewn on the floor as she sips a cup of tea, Pretoria spread out through the windows behind her.
It’s a long way from the tiny village of Tsolo where she grew up, she admits.
“It’s very strange. I’m just a girl from the Eastern Cape. I really didn’t think I’d make it, but I somehow always knew my life would be better. Everything is finally coming together.”
It was a case of second time lucky for Zozi, who entered Miss South Africa in 2017, the year Demi-Leigh Nel-Peters took the crown. Zozi only made it as far as the top 26 but instead of being discouraged she saw it as a stepping stone to try again.
And this time there was no stopping her. Outgoing Miss SA Tamaryn Green placed the crown on Zozi’s head as she shimmered and dazzled in a silver gown by local designer Anel Botha.
But one aspect of Zozi’s look was dramatically different to her first Miss SA outing: instead of a weave she came out loud and proud with her short, natural hair.
This is part of who she is, she says, and isn’t going to change for anyone.
“When I entered this time, the first thing some of my friends asked me was if I was going to wear a weave. But this is my hair. It’s been this way for the past two years and I plan to keep it this way.
“I came into this competition with my natural hair as a symbol of my firm belief in being yourself,” she adds. “When I jumped off my flight to meet the first group of finalists, I saw two girls – one had a chiskop, one had dreadlocks.
“I thought I was going to be the strange one, with my short, curly hair, but it wasn’t like that at all. Everyone was celebrating who they were. That’s when I knew this platform had changed – and for the better. We’re called the rainbow nation because of how different we are.”
ZOZI’S love for the stage started when she was a little girl. She was just seven when she took part in her first pageant at a Methodist church in Tsolo. Zozi says she was timid as a child but venturing on stage allowed her to open up and be herself. “When I say I was shy, I don’t mean it in a cute way. I had no friends, I didn’t want to play sport. I was scared of people. Then there was a pageant in church and my mom took me there. That’s when I started making friends and coming out of my shell.”
Her confidence grew and at Butterworth High School she joined the public-speaking and debating teams. After school she entered pageants and in 2013 she won the titles of Miss Cape Peninsula University of Technology (CPUT) and Miss Mamelodi Sundowns.
Her biggest supporters are her parents, mom Philiswa, a school principal from Idutywa in the Eastern Cape, and dad Lungisa, who works for the department of higher education and training in Pretoria.
The pair split up in 2011 but were right by their daughter’s side at the pageant along with Zozi’s sisters, Yanga (30), Sibabalwe (24) and Ayakha (13).
“I have no words. It’s unbelievable,” Lungisa said backstage after his daughter’s crowning. “A rural boy like me having a child as Miss SA . . . It’s so amazing. We’ve been praying for this moment and here it is.”
“It’s awesome,” Philiswa added. “I thank God because we didn’t do this on our own. It’s by God’s grace.”
NOT only has Zozi earned a glittering title, but she’s also R1 million richer and will rake in a further R2m worth of sponsorships and prizes, including the use of a luxury Sandton apartment and a Mercedes-Benz cabriolet for a year.
“Funny thing is I now have a car but I don’t have a driver’s licence yet so I definitely need to sort that out.”
She plans to put some of her winnings
towards paying her student debt. Before the run-up to the pageant began, Zozi was studying part-time towards a BTech in public relations at CPUT while working as an intern at a PR firm.
Back in 2016 she was forced to drop out of her undergrad PR studies after being financially excluded. She managed to secure a bursary and completed her degree – now her win means she can afford to pay her debt.
Zozi is excited for the year ahead. She’s especially looking forward to representing SA at the Miss Universe pageant later this year.
“I feel blessed because my first time abroad is going to be as Miss South Africa and that’s not something everyone gets to say. It’s very special,” she says.
Her magical night may still be a bit of a blur but Zozi is clear about one thing right now: she plans to use her reign to touch the lives of others.
“I always knew I had to find a way to be a catalyst for positive change. Finally, everything has come full circle and I find myself ready to deliver on the promises I have been making since I was a child.”
Zozibini, who is already making her mark as Miss SA, with her proud parents, Philiswa and Lungisa Tunzi.
She oozed confidence as she took to the stage.
ABOVE: Zozi has a degree in public relations and will use some of her prize money to pay off her student debt. RIGHT: She stayed in shape in the run-up to the pageant to strut her stuff on the Miss South Africa stage.
Zozi was once a girl with a dream and now that it’s been realised she hopes to show other young people that their dreams are valid too.