Reigning Miss Universe, Zozibini Tunzi, received a tumultuous welcome on her arrival at OR Tambo today.
It was the first time she has been in South Africa since taking the title on December 8 in Atlanta, Georgia, in the US.
As the 68th Miss Universe winner, Tunzi will now embark on a week-long homecoming tour that includes visits to Johannesburg, Cape Town, Mthatha and the two villages she grew up in – Tsolo and Dutywa in the Eastern Cape.
Tunzi says she is delighted to be back: “I am so thrilled to be home. I can feel the energy and the passion and it has been truly special. This win hasn’t just been about me and I share it with all South Africans.”
Her whistle-stop visit includes street parades in Mthatha, Tsolo, Cape Town and Johannesburg and being a guest of President Cyril Ramaphosa at his State of the Nation Address in Parliament next week.
Tunzi’s arrival at OR Tambo included a performance by the Soweto Gospel Choir and welcomes from the Deputy Minister of Sports and Recreation, Arts and Culture Nocawe Mafu as well as ANC chief whip Pemmy Majodina.
Said Mafu: “President Cyril Ramaphosa brags about you and can’t wait to meet you at the State of the Nation Address in Parliament. The South African Government is so proud of you. You have given to many people a reason to believe.”
The next leg of her tour is, according to Zozi, the most special part of her trip as she returns today to the place of her birth, Tsolo, the little Eastern Cape town close to Mthatha to meet “my home people who are also my most ardent fans”.
“I cannot wait to see my parents and what they have planned for me. Growing up in Tsolo I was the little girl who didn’t always feel that I had a place. I didn’t see role models or people who looked like me. My message for every village child – for every child – is to believe in the power of your dreams and believe in yourself. You can be way more than I am.”
On Sunday (February 9), Tunzi will unveil a mural that has been painted in her honour, before attending a lunch at which she will be entertained with traditional dancing.
She said: “While I have been in New York, I have longed for two things: sunshine and the voices of African people raised in song. I cannot wait to be a part of the celebration – Eastern Cape style – that is being planned.”
On Monday, February 10, Tunzi, accompanied by her mother Philiswa Nadapu, will visit her primary school, Canaan Academy, in Dutywa, where many of her former Grade 1 and 2 classmates will be on hand to welcome her.
On Thursday morning, February 13, Tunzi will ride in an open-topped bus through the streets of Johannesburg (route to be announced), and later that afternoon she will fly to Cape Town where she will be the personal guest of President Cyril Ramaphosa as he gives his State of the Nation Address in Parliament.
The following day (Friday, February 14), it will be the turn of Cape Town residents to see Tunzi as she makes her way through the city in a street parade (route to be announced).
Miss Universe homecoming sponsors are The Department of Arts & Culture, The Ministry of Communications, South African Tourism, Brand South Africa, Mercedes Benz and Sun International. The OR Tambo airport welcome sponsors included Gautrain, South African Airways and ACSA/OR Tambo. SA Express partnered with the Miss South Africa Organisation on the Mthatha flights.
Tunzi answers some questions about her return home and how her life has changed since she took the crown:
How do you feel about your triumphant homecoming tour?
The support from South Africans came way before I won Miss Universe. The minute I stepped on that flight to Atlanta I knew I was taking South Africa with me. I took that flight as a single person but stood on that stage representing millions back home. Their undying support and love have never stopped. Coming home I get to finally touch and feel that love in person and celebrate it together. I cannot think of a better emotion.
You were at OR Tambo to meet Siya Kolisi and the rest of the squad when they arrived home after winning the Rugby World Cup last year. How do you now feel being given this same honour?
I feel absolutely privileged. I remember standing in the airport when the Springboks arrived after their win. The energy and the atmosphere are still indescribable. I don’t think I had ever seen so much joy in one place. It extended way beyond the airport into the whole country for days. If I can be responsible for bringing joy and pride into people’s lives like that, I will feel extremely honoured.
What message do you have for your fans?
I don’t know if I have fans. I like to think of them as my supporters and my message to them is to believe in the power of dreams and capabilities. The world will take away so much from you, but your dreams and abilities are yours to believe in and to take care of and to fight for. I want them to be stubborn and resilient.
What has your life been like since your win in December? Has it lived up to expectations?
My life since the Miss Universe win has changed completely, in fact I do not think my life will ever be the same again. I have been to places I never thought I would go and have met people I never imagined I would meet. The platform Miss Universe has given me has exceeded my wildest expectations.
What have been some of the highlights?
I had never had the opportunity to travel before and I recently went to Indonesia. It was such a beautiful experience. I met Dr Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, a woman I admired growing up in South Africa as a girl child. She is the executive director of United Nations Women. Being a part of that UN Women meeting and having the opportunity to work with them was something I had always dreamt of and that dream has now been realised.
What has the last few months been like in the US?
I have been settling in very well. I try to walk around whenever I can to familiarise myself with the city so it doesn’t feel so strange. Most of the time I am working and doing a lot of media interviews which is a big part of my job as the spokesperson for the Miss Universe Organization. I also think that being a South African has held me in good stead – we are so diverse and that has really helped.
You were on a few big US talk shows. Tell us about that?
They were great experiences. I think my most powerful tool as Miss Universe is my voice and my platform and making sure that I use the platform responsibly to speak about issues that are closest to my heart and issues that matter in the world. Being on these shows gave me the ability to send my message to an even bigger audience and that has truly been a blessing.
What have you missed most about South Africa?
I have missed my family so much. I miss the food, the music and our rich culture. There’s something about home that you just can’t find anywhere else in the world.
What is the first meal you’re going to have when you are back home?
Definitely Nandos. They don’t have one around where I live in New York and I am dying for some Nandos.
How important is it to visit your home town?
It is extremely important. I especially want to connect with the youth from where I come from because it is important for them to see that they can become so much more than they imagine.
What message do you have for those thinking of entering Miss South Africa 2020?
I say, do it! You have absolutely nothing to lose. All you have to do is fill in a form and arrive as you are. I never compromised who I was and what I stood for in that competition. I believed in my truth. I lived it and I spoke it. I also want to point out that it’s not an easy ride which is why it is important to be strong – both mentally and emotionally.
How do you feel about meeting President Ramaphosa at SONA?
He is the leader of our country. I feel privileged to get the chance to meet him and to be invited to such an important South African event.
You want to build a school in the Eastern Cape. Can you give us more details?
I want to help build a school in my hometown. I grew up there and have seen the struggles learners go through to get a decent education. Every year the Eastern Cape is seen as one of the worst-performing provinces and this is due to a number of factors, infrastructure being one of them. Buildings and classrooms are crucial elements of learning environments. If learners do not have a roof under which they can learn we are already setting them up for failure. Every child deserves a chance at a brighter future and that is why building this school is so important to me.
What do you want to say to young women in South Africa?
I want to tell them that they have everything it takes inside them to achieve their wildest dreams. They are not the weakest link and should never be made to think by anyone that they are. Their role in the world matters and the time is now to step into their power.
Photographs: Yolanda van der Stoep