Miss SA Zozibini Tunzi and her father, Lungisa
Miss SA Zozi Tunzi can count on her proud father’s support as she gets ready for Miss Universe
WHEN she steps onto the stage at the Miss Universe pageant she can be sure of one thing: her beloved father will be there cheering her on every elegant step of the way.
To Miss SA Zozibini Tunzi, her dad, Lungisa, is many things: a devoted chauffeur, her biggest fan, her rock. He’s been her unfailing pillar of support since she was a little girl taking part in her first pageant and he’s here today as she chats to us in her stylish Sandton apartment.
“I’m always there for her,” says Lungisa (55), who works in the department of higher education and training in Pretoria.
And Zozi (26) wouldn’t have it any other way. “I’m a daddy’s girl,” she says.
Lungisa will never forget the day his daughter’s name was called out on the night of the Miss SA pageant in August.
“I recorded the show and often replay it to remind myself how incredible it was.”
Now he’s hoping her name will ring out again in the early hours of Monday 9 December if she’s announced as the new Miss Universe.
Lungisa and Philiswa, Zozi’s school principal mom, will be in the audience at the pageant, which will take place in Atlanta in the United States. And even if she doesn’t win, the achievement of competing on a world stage is enough to make this dad’s heart light with love.
IT’S hard to believe the dazzling young woman seated before us with poise and exuding such charm was cripplingly shy as a little girl. In a bid to boost her confidence, her parents persuaded her to enter her
first beauty pageant when she was just six years old.
“You can’t be anything in this world if you don’t have confidence,” Lungisa says.
Little Zozi took to pageants like a duckling to water – she won her first contest and has been taking part in pageants ever since.
Still, growing up in the village of Tsolo in the Eastern Cape, she kept pretty much to herself. She didn’t have many friends and her sisters, Yanga (now 30), Sibabalwe (24) and Ayakha (13), were her “everything” she says.
Zozi didn’t take part in sport and was far happier with her nose buried in a book. But she loved to look pretty, her dad says. Her mother used to design Zozi’s pageant dresses when she was young and get a seamstress to make them.
Her parents split up in 2011 but the family remained warm and loving.
After school Zozi enrolled at Cape Peninsula University of Technology (CPUT) to study public relations and continued taking part in pageants.
She was crowned Miss CPUT and Miss Mamelodi Sundowns and then dreamt of making it all the way to Miss SA – which is now mission accomplished.
It’s been an amazing ride since her August crowning, she says. “One minute I was a PR intern, the next I was Miss South Africa.”
Zozi was a graduate intern at marketing company Ogilvy for a few months earlier this year, working in various fields from digital marketing to communications. Now, instead of a nine-to-five job, her day occasionally begins at 3am to prepare for promotions and social media shoots. Then it’s sponsorship work, appearances, interviews and gym. She’s also announced her social cause of choice, the #HeForShe campaign – a United Nations initiative through which men and women are invited to stand together to create a gender-equal world. What’s been the standout moment of her reign so far? Tough question, she says. There have been so many highlights – but if she had to choose, walking the runway at New York Fashion Week soon after her reign began takes the cake.
ZOZI’S signature feature is her close-cropped hair. Lungisa says he was a bit sceptical when she decided to ditch her wig and go for the natural look. But this is something Zozi feels strongly about.
She believes her look is a true representation of South African women and she wants to break beauty stereotypes.
“Society has been conditioned for a very long time to see beauty as something that’s been westernised,” she says.
That’s why she didn’t take it personally when she was mocked by some people on social media soon after her crowning. “It did affect me just a little in a negative way, but I bounced back.”
But, Zozi says, she’s had more positive feedback than negative. “I never realised how overwhelming it could be to be loved by people who don’t even know you.”
She’s now taking her Afrocentric look international. About 1 billion people are expected to tune in to watch Miss Universe and Zozi is already standing out: she’s the only contestant whose profile picture on the competition website shows her with her head covered.
She’s wearing an emerald-green headwrap and says the “risky” move has been well-received. “The doek is the story of many South African women. It’s considered beautiful to us, so why not introduce it to the universe?”
Are the nerves kicking in as the big day draws nearer? “Not at all,” she replies. “I’m super-excited.”
Preparations for the pageant are well underway. They entail watching previous Miss Universe contests, rigorous workouts at the gym three times a week – something that’s taken getting used to as she’s never been a gym bunny – learning how to conduct interviews and taking catwalk lessons.
“It’s like going to the World Cup of beauty pageants,” she says with a chuckle. She’s also learning how to style herself, something she’ll be practising in Atlanta for pre-judging events.
“The only time you get your hair and makeup done for you is on the day of the pageant,” Zozi says.
After Miss Universe, she’s looking forward to spending Christmas with her family at home. Because of her hectic schedule, she doesn’t see her loved ones as much as she wants to. “She doesn’t belong to us anymore,” her dad says ruefully.
Lungisa will have to get used to seeing his beloved daughter even less if she wins Miss Universe as she’d have to move to New York for the year of her reign.
Zozi, however, will face the challenge head-on if it comes her way.
“I want whatever I do to be purpose-driven,” she says. “I don’t want to wake up every day feeling like I’m wasting my time.”
Zozi is inspired by the women of colour who came before her to take the Miss South Africa title, including Peggy-Sue Khumalo, Basetsana Kumalo and Amy Kleinhans.
“I didn’t enter Miss SA because I thought I was the most beautiful woman in SA,” she says. “I entered because it’s one of the few platforms that give women the ability to lead and I knew I had a powerful voice and message to send out.”
LEFT: Zozi with her dad, Lungisa, who’s been to all her pageants. ABOVE: After winning the Miss SA title in August. ABOVE RIGHT: With her dad and mom Philiswa, her biggest supporters.
Lungisa says becoming Miss SA hasn’t changed his daughter at all – she’s still humble and respectful.