All indications are that after a three-year hiatus, the Miss Malawi beauty pageant will return this year.
The Miss Malawi office has been vacant since 2012. The reign of the last queen, Susan Mtegha, was littered with controversies both locally and internationally (when she represented the country at the Miss World 2012).
She replaces Rolene Strauss, the current Miss World.
Those who watched the Miss South Africa finals on TV will attest to the fact that the organisation of the pageant organisation was impeccable.
From the 12 finalists who knew exactly why they were on the ramp, to the designers, makeup artists and everything that makes a beauty pageant what it is, South Africa got it right.
It goes without saying that Malawi cannot match or beat the standards set by Miss South Africa beauty pageant.
However, there are lessons aplenty that Miss Malawi organisers, who are serious about the office and promotion of the country through international beauty events, need to critically look at and learn from.
Since its inception the Miss South Africa pageant has introduced many fiercely intelligent and beautiful ambassadors for the country.
To the organisers, Sun International, the idea that a ‘beauty queen’ is just for show and only judged on her exterior beauty is certainly not relevant in the search for the ambassador. They always refer to the ‘full package’ which includes, among other attributes, the inner strength and maturity to take on the role and ability to be able to interact with people on all levels and social standing. It is a job interview.
For starters, auditions are conducted in phases. Round one is swimsuit casting where if one is successful, they come back for a second round of on-camera interview. In this cycle, the contestants are asked about who they are, among others questions. The video footage is later assessed by a judging panel, along with all of the other tapes from around the country. The judges then decide which girls will be asked to come up to the Miss SA workshops.
It is worth noting that judges at the preliminary stage are different from those adjudicating at the finals. Between 30 to 40 contestants chosen from round two are invited to round three, where a series of workshops and interviews are conducted and candidates evaluated. At the end of these workshops, the judges choose the Miss South Africa finalists.
This is contrary to Malawi where, traditionally, the country has one round of auditions which comes up with the finalists who compete for the tiara.
Another notable thing with Miss South Africa is that designers are part of the organisers for the finals. During the Sunday’s event that saw 12 contestants competing for the crown, about four designers dressed all the finalists in all the categories. The contestants also had a makeup artist for all their facial needs.
Thula Sindi created the show’s cocktail dresses. Inspired by the timeless nature and the changing role of the Miss South Africa pageant, she gravitated to another classic ‘The Little Black Dress’ and 12 different ways to reinterpret this timeless piece.
Joel Janse van Vuuren designed silk kaftans to go over the swimwear, which was the introductory part of the event. There were four designs that were repeated three times, representing fluidity and motion, and inspiration was taken from under the water and water itself.
The outfits from Lauren du Plessis of Avant Apparel were selected from the designer’s archives to fit in with the vintage theme. The dresses all come from past collections and were chosen to portray the contestants in the most romantic and feminine way for the last category.
Locally, Miss Malawi contestants fend for themselves in terms of wardrobe. As long as the outfit is in line with the category, it goes.
With the South African competitors were 12 former titleholders, who agreed to mentor one finalist each for this year’s contest. It was a biggest gathering of Miss South Africa’s ever. Today they are businesswomen, moms, housewives, graduates, models, entrepreneurs and TV presenters. But these beauties — one of whom won the crown as far back as 1987 — know what it means to win the title.
The 12 finalists vying for the crown this year had been able to rely on the experience of their mentors. For sure, they learnt a lot form the former beauty queens.
The week leading up to the finale is always a chock-a-block with rehearsals, runway training, sound checks and media events.
But where is Malawi in all this?
Miss Malawi 2003 Mable Pulu Swira believes Malawi is stuck where it is now due to lack of sponsorship.
“First, what’s needed is dedication from both sponsors and organisers. Companies should see sponsoring Miss Malawi as a commitment to the empowerment of women. The Miss Malawi pageant should be seen as a powerful platform for developing young women’s potential. It’s up to the organisers to turn around the brand and convince people that it’s a worthwhile brand.
“At the moment no company would be willing to invest money in something that does not seem worthwhile. In my opinion government needs to be at the forefront in sponsoring the Miss Malawi pageant. Then private companies can follow. Make it a brand that everyone would want to be associated with. This means setting high standards for entry into the pageant. Contestants will have to be those that can inspire others, girls that can use the Miss Malawi brand to go on and achieve greater things,” she said in an interview.
To the contestants, Mable says it costs to chase a dream: “Think of the costs to be incurred before entering. As much as Miss South Africa provides clothes and accessories to the finalists they don’t provide clothes in the days or weeks leading up to the event.
“And know who you are before you start competing. Be comfortable in your own skin. Usually when you are happy with who you are, you give off a certain beauty that resonates with the people around you. Looks are not everything, so remember to let your personality shine through,” she explained.
Carver Bhima, who organised the Miss Malawi beauty pageant for years, says there is a lot that Malawi can adapt from not only the organisation of Miss South Africa but in the Sadc region and beyond.
“I watched the Miss SA pageant and I saw a lot that as a country, we can adapt and incorporate.
“There are even certain aspects of beauty pageant that are not part of Miss South Africa, for example, the talent section which is critical at events like Miss World.
“However, all these come at a cost. Our friends have sound financial backing from different sponsors but in Malawi, sponsorship in a very big problem. So, at the moment, I would say, Malawi can concentrate on only what is adaptable. Aside that, Malawi needs a beauty queen who can stand against international models and the pressure that comes with international pageants,” he explained.