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

DRUM - - Contents - BY GABISILE NGCOBO PIC­TURES: LUBA­BALO LESOLLE

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.

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