Kerishnie Naicker: The first Indian to win Miss South Africa

22 May 2020 | Angelique Reyes

Kerishnie Naicker was crowned Miss South Africa 1997 and represented the country at Miss World 1998 held on 26th November 1998 at the Lake Berjaya Mahé Resort in Mahé Island, Seychelles, where she was placed at Top 5 at the end of the event finale. She later went onto represent South Africa at Miss Universe held on 12th May 1998 at the Stan Sheriff Arena in Honolulu, Hawaii. Wendy Fitzwilliam of Trinidad and Tobago, where she was placed at the Top 10 at the end of the event finale. She became the first academically qualified and first Indian Miss South Africa. Being the only successful Indian in this competition continues to remain significant for the Indian population in South Africa. Kerishnie Naiker was the first Miss South Africa in 14 years (due to apartheid) who chose to compete in the Miss Universe pageant and thus became the first Miss South Africa to participate in both international pageants thereby setting the trend for her successors.

Kerishnie Naiker was born in Durban, South Africa. She attained an Honors Degree in Pharmacy and practiced as a senior pharmacist in hospital and retail pharmacy. She was studying for her Masters in Pharmacy Practice researching about "The Social and Behavioral Factors Affecting Tuberculosis in South Africa" in 1997, when she became Miss South Africa. The diva explained, “I gave up pharmacy to become Miss South Africa. It was because of ethnic pride," she explains, "there'd never been an Indian Miss South Africa before and I was determined to enter. My parents challenged me to finish my pharmacy degree and then enter the pageant the following year, but my Dad passed away in my final year of studies."


Kerishnie Naicker: The first Indian to win Miss South Africa


After her father passed away, Kerishnie started working as a pharmacist, both in retail and in hospital pharmacy, and studying for her Masters when she suddenly realized she had reached the age limit of the contest 24 was the cut-off age and it was now or never. So, she gave up her Masters and despite reservations about losing her job she didn’t have to worry as her boss was highly supportive – she entered the competition "without any expectations", and won the title. The diva explained her winning moment as, "It truly was the realization of a dream and the year of my reign afforded me the platform to realize other dreams which completely changed my life."

Nine years down the line Kerishnie has moved a long way off her chosen career path and is involved in corporate social responsibility in the fields of malaria, HIV/Aids, cancer, and TB. Becoming Miss South Africa opened another door which enables her to live yet another of her childhood ambitions: being a television anchor. The diva worked frequently as interviewer of national and international public personalities, e.g. Nelson Mandela, Luciano Pavarotti, Former Deputy President of South Africa, Jacob Zuma, Danny Glover, George Benson, Neena Freelon and many South African political leaders. She has shared the podium with the likes of Richard Branson, Cherie Blair, and Seal to name a few.


Kerishnie Naicker Miss South Africa 1997


She has worked in television broadcasting in LA and New York, as well as on TV in South Africa, and enjoys every minute of being on the small screen. "I've always believed in the importance of embracing the dialectical nature of life", she says, "knowing that by harnessing the power of your mind you can have anything you are passionate about – including your dreams!" On behalf of the United Nations, Kerishnie produced the Voices Forum at the 2001 World Conference against Racism and conducted the interviews for the subsequent documentary. She directed and co-produced a documentary on the plight of Tuberculosis in Southern Africa for Sanofi-Aventis.

Kerishnie was assigned Chair Judge for the Miss South Africa pageant for the years 1998 to 2004 with the objective of ensuring the high reputation and ambassadorial representation of such title in South Africa. The diva went onto establish the ‘Kerishnie Naiker Welfare Initiative’ (KNWI) which focuses on social and human development by way of healthcare (e.g. Tuberculosis, Cleft Lip and Palate, Head Injuries, Dialysis, AIDS, Cardiac, Nutrition, etc.), welfare and education. Through her foundation, the diva, has worked closely with former President Nelson Mandela, on several projects contributing to reconstruction and development in South Africa. She has initiated and facilitated the building of The Chatsworth Youth Centre, several hospitals and nine Tuberculosis Resource Centers throughout South Africa with Nelson Mandela as patron. Kerishnie assists numerous charitable organizations. She is a board member of the Vodacom Foundation, is a founding trustee of The Chatsworth Youth Centre Trust and is a board member of the Smile Foundation.


Kerishnie Naicker Miss South Africa 1997 winner


The diva is deeply drawn to the realm of brand value, reputation management, communications, social responsibility, media, healthcare, jewelry, and clothing design. She enjoys investigative journalism, cosmeceutical research, art, photography, reading, dancing, music and playing musical instruments, off road driving, quad biking, netball, natural health, and yoga. Kerishnie Naiker is an international public speaker sharing her insights on Turning Tragedy into Triumph; Fertility and Antiaging; Great Health is your Greatest Wealth and The Art of Communication and Emotional Intelligence.

The diva has a very strong social media presence where she talks about her initiative along with empowering women across the world. She also speaks about how grateful for the opportunities she has achieved in her journey. She stated, “It’s been enlightening, interesting, invigorating, stimulating, fulfilled & so much more.”

We are so proud of Kerishnie Naiker for following her dream and making not only South Africa but also India proud.