SA proves beauty is only skin deep

Click to follow
JOHANNESBURG - Allegations about the fixing of beauty contests are as old as the occasions themselves, writes John Carlin. But it is a measure of white South Africa's self-consciousness about racism these days that the whisperers were putting it about yesterday that the Miss South Africa contest on Saturday night had been rigged in favour of the pageant's first non- white winner.

Amy Kleinhans, 24, a model from Cape Town, is what apartheid defines as a Coloured. In fact, she looks as white as the average Miss Spain, but the state has judged her - as it has 3 million other South Africans - to have mixed black and white ancestry.

The event was sponsored by the Johannesburg Sunday Times, whose main competitor, the Sunday Star, bitchily predicted two weeks ago that Ms Kleinhans would be this year's 'politically correct' winner. The Star drew its deduction from the fact that a number of monthly women's magazines, obliged to go to the printers before the official announcement, had obtained inside information and had already prepared big features on the winner.

Accordingly, the Sunday Star announced that Ms Kleinhans had been 'duly crowned', while the Sunday Times, protesting a little too much, dedicated a good one- third of a lengthy report to dispelling any notion that the (undoubtedly stunning) Ms Kleinhans had been a token choice. This was especially necessary because a Sunday Times poll had placed a blonde from Johannesburg first and Ms Kleinhans fifth. As it was, the judges did not even put the readers' favourite, selected from photographs, in the top five.

It was important that a blonde did not win, because this year's Miss World contest is to be held in South Africa, or rather in the 'independent homeland' of Bophuthatswana. The venue for Miss South Africa was Sun City; the venue for the Miss World will be the Lost City, a similarly glitzy, but newer mock-up of Las Vegas.

Quite apart from the positive political message that Ms Kleinhans's participation will convey to the world, she may be relied upon not to put her foot in it, as last year's winner reportedly did just before the Miss World contest, by remarking that it was not possible for a black to win Miss South Africa 'because they all get pregnant by the age of 14'.

As a failsafe device, in case Ms Kleinhans is withdrawn from Miss World over a Penthouse pose or some such matter, the judges on Saturday night chose Augustine Masilela from Soweto as runner- up. Her prizes were worth about 50 times more than those of Thembi Mhlayivana's, the winner of the Miss Soweto contest the night before. Billed as 'the new, upmarket Miss Soweto competition', because the venue was not in Soweto but Johannesburg, the event was as raunchy and spontaneous as Miss South Africa was coy and staged.

The 23 competitors in Johannesburg, several in bikinis that failed to cover the waistline of their tights, seemed to see it as their function to induce lust- frenzy among the men present; in particular, the male judges. A favourite device was lingeringly to remove a glove with the teeth while staring hard into a judge's eyes.

The crowd, most on their feet, danced, hooted and howled, reaching a crescendo when one of the finalists responded to a question by saying that, if she won, she would do 'what Miss South Africa does not do for the black community'. Which, as it turned out, was perhaps a premature judgement. The choice of Ms Kleinhans may have been pure political PR, but its significance cannot be denied: another milestone has been passed on South Africa's long road to freedom.

(Photograph omitted)