Miss South Africa 2020 entrant Asonele Phiri appeals to the organization to challenge social margins

25 May 2020 | Angelique Reyes

Miss South Africa 2020, the 62nd edition of Miss South Africa, will host its annual edition virtually in the month of August where the next delegate to represent South Africa at Miss Universe 2020 will be crowned. South Africa’s performance at the international beauty pageants has been incredible as the divas have always proven their worth in the competition and with their remarkable performances, they have taken home multiple titles, especially in the recent years. Rebuilt under ‘Face your power, embrace your future’, stunning beauties will compete for the crown and the opportunities to represent South Africa in Miss Universe 2020 and Miss World 2020.

Asonele Phiri, a student at Rhodes University, appealed to the Miss South Africaorganization to not only become more inclusive by allowing transgender woman to enter, but also to challenge the social margins that breed exclusivity. In her open letter to the organization, Asonele stated the criteria of beauty pageants and how they restrict and police non-operative transsexual women. She referred to how the media showed conditional acceptance of Angela Ponce the first openly transgender woman to compete in the Miss Universe pageant and be crowned Miss Spain in 2018 because she was legitimately trans as she passed as a woman.


Miss South Africa 2020 entrant Asonele Phiri appeals to the organization to challenge social margins


Asonele identifies as a transgender woman and believes that it is time for new beauty paradigm within the beauty pageants not only in South Africa but across the globe. She stated, “As a transgender woman, I was thrilled and excited for such history, but I am not in Spain. I am in SA. Question here is: does one need a surgical transition to be considered?”

Miss South Africa Organization’s CEO Stephanie Weil stated that the criteria set for the competition are based on the criteria for international pageants, such as Miss Universe allowing Miss Spain Angela Ponce to become the first transgender woman to compete in 2018. “In 2019 the Miss SA Organization proudly presented the most diverse line-up of contestants in the history of the pageant and will continue to do so. Miss SA allows for any male-to-female transgender entrants who have undergone reassignment surgery to participate. They have to be in possession of a South African ID document reflecting their amended sex is now female,” she said.

Sibabalwe Gcilitshana who was one of the first openly queer finalist at Miss South Africa 2019, spoke about her experience at the competition. “Being the first in anything is extremely daunting. In my experience, while it was scary simply because there was so much media focus around me, I also felt extremely supported by my LGBTQ+ community, and standing for something bigger made me feel so proud to belong to this community. Because my identity was so different in how I walked life, it also did mean my experience was very different from the other ladies particularly for that reason, but not for anything else beyond that” she said.


Miss South Africa 2020 finalist Asonele Phiri


The diva also stated that she believes that changes don’t happen overnight but some of the steps that Miss South Africa Organization has taken will help the other organization and the society in the right direction. Some of the steps that include is allowing people from the LGBTQ+ community are eligible to apply for the competition. Both the former finalist and the new entrant believes representation on a platform such as Miss South Africa is important. Gcilitshana also mentioned, “I knew it would be important not only for myself but also for woman, particularly young black queer woman who felt they hadn't seen people who look like themselves. We can unpack this on different levels. It's about race, your gender identity, your sexual orientation, your socio-economic background," she said.

Asonele in her open letter stating Zozibini Tunzi as an example mentioned, “Zozibini said 'cement yourself'. I'm saying cement yourself by understanding that your worth is not linked to your appearance. It is time for us to advocate for change. It is time for us to say beauty standards need to fall.”