The reigning Mrs South Africa Hlengiwe Twala, the beauty from Hartbeespoort Dam, was crowned as the 2017 Schwarzkopf Professional Mrs South Africa at a glittering grand finale at Emperors Palace.
The Mrs South Africa pageant may not enjoy as much fanfare as its counterpart the Miss South Africa competition. Entered by married women, Mrs South Africa sells itself as a women empowerment platform promoting women with philanthropic interests. Although the “queens” or the winners of both competitions take home a sparkling tiara and sash, and also enjoy a yearlong reign, the similarities end there.
While Miss South Africa is also big on women empowerment and celebrating beauty with brains, Mrs South Africa takes it a step further by promoting entrepreneurship and a sense of self. Hlengiwe Twala the current reigning Mrs South Africa explains this to me during her recent press tour in Cape Town.
The Joburg-based Twala has all the trimmings of a beauty queen. A slim and toned body, a dazzling smile and flowing hair, however it is her aura that immediately puts me at ease. I would later learn that this is due to the fact that we share the home province of KwaZulu-Natal. She, born in the quiet town of Pietermaritzburg says Durban is her happy place when she needs some quiet time: “I love Durban, it calms me,”she says.
Unlike most young girls who daydream about entering beauty contests, Twala on the other hand never gave it much thought until her mother died due to a rare blood cancer. This is one of the main reasons she entered Mrs SA.
“I have never really had an interest in beauty contents. “I literally found out about Mrs SA about two years ago. “And what really grabbed my interest was that they work very closely with the Cancer Association of South Africa (Cansa),” says Twala
“It was really heavy on my heart and I wanted to do something that would help raise cancer awareness… the competition was a perfect fit. “I also went through a cancer scare as I was planning on entering, so this has been a very personal journey for me.
“I got my test results a couple of days before the entries closed. “I saw it as a sign that I had to do it now because there are no guarantees for tomorrow,” she says. “I entered and I was not expecting win. I really wanted to have a year of fun. I wanted to have a year of me, because I realised that I was not living but I was just merely existing because I was in so much pain over my mother’s death.
“It has been a truly fulfilling journey. “I am so happy, my kids are happy and my husband is happy because they see me so happy,” Twala says.
Twala, a mother of three daughters, is fresh from competing in the Mrs World competition in Korea. Winning the competition has been a life changing experience, she says. “ My life has changed completely. The one thing that I love the most is that Mrs South Africa is all about women empowerment. “Unlike other pageants, we don’t really compete among each other.
“Soon after the Top 10 was chosen we had to prepare for a Cancer Gala to raise awareness and funds for Cansa… the whole experience empowers you to think like a business woman or a business person,” she says. Her philanthropic interests come from her mother Ntombifuthi, who taught her children from a young age to share what little they had with those who had less, Twala explains.
“I come from very humble beginnings. I remember my mother used to sew clothes for kids in the community who did not have any. “Although we also didn’t have much money to go round, she thought… I have hands and a machine, I will sew’;
“My mother used to say to us ‘When you give to another, you give to yourself’ and that is how I grew up… I don’t know anything else,” Twala explains.
Top left, Lilliana LulliMarruchi won second princess, Mrs South Africa Hlengiwe Twala and first princess Olwethu Leshabane.
However, life in the spotlight attracts involuntary attention and sometimes not the right kind. Also, beauty pageants of any kind are always under scrutiny and are said to promote vanity and forcing unnecessary pressure on young girls to be perfect. Twala is well prepared for what is coming, good or bad:
“There is nothing wrong with us women looking pretty and enhancing what we have because when you look good, you feel good. “I think we should now promote being comfortable in your own skin and stop wanting to judge,” she says. “I am a little nervous about being in the limelight. “But I think right now, I feel so blessed that even the fear has taken a back seat. I feel so blessed and happy.
“I know it’s going to happen, when people see something good, they want to pick at it. “But you know what? I have so much positive support as Mrs SA, from my family, from my home and my friends… I am going to concentrate on the good,” Twala adds.
● Connect with me on Twitter and Instagram @Nontando58
This feature was first published in the Cape Argus on December 9 2016.