‘Living in a parallel universe’

Published Mar 3, 2024


Durban — Does KZN live in a parallel universe?

This is the question asked by a women’s rights advocate as eThekwini Municipality announced in a “newsflash” that it had organised a beauty pageant for fuller-figured women to boost their self-esteem.

As the strike by municipal workers went into overdrive, crippling some services across the city, the council issued the call on various platforms for “Aspirant (sic) curvaceous women” to audition for Miss Curvaceous Queen (22-35 years old) and Miss Curvaceous Teen (16-21).

On Friday, City spokesperson Gugu Sisilana said the competition had been put on hold until further notice.

“We have not received further details from the unit concerned and we will respond to your questions as soon as we have collated the information and received an update on the resumption of the programme,” said Sisilana.

“A postponement notice has been issued to media and shared on all social media platforms.”

The original release said: “The City’s Parks, Recreation and Culture Unit has introduced the Miss eThekwini Curvaceous beauty pageant to empower women to become self-sufficient in society and to boost their self-esteem. The competition also seeks to empower women who are otherwise overlooked in the beauty and fashion industry and to advocate against discrimination and stereotyping.

The City called on “self-confident, curvaceous women”' of all races to participate and said the winner of Miss eThekwini Curvaceous 2024 would be crowned at the Inkosi Albert Luthuli International Convention Centre at the end of April.

It said the competition would only accommodate “women from size 36 and above” and contestants would have to prove they were from the municipality by producing a utility bill or a letter from a councillor. To audition, women had to wear jeans, T-shirt and heels, while their hair should preferably be in an “upstyle” and not cover the face, while make-up, facial piercings and tattoos were not allowed.

The Independent on Saturday reached out to the Commission for Gender Equality (CGE) earlier this week which initially criticised the event and promised to respond with an official comment. However, despite assurances that the statement was ready and needed to be signed off, at the time of publication it was still not available.

Questions were sent to the municipality about who the judges would be, what they would use as winning criteria, what prizes would be up for grabs, the rationale behind the pageant and who would pay for it.

A few days after the initial announcement the City issued a statement saying that the first Miss Curvaceous audition scheduled to take place in Phoenix on Saturday was postponed because municipal workers were on strike. It made no mention of the auditions at the Workshop Shopping Centre in the Durban CBD, Chatsworth Centre and Hammarsdale Junction later this month.

However, opposition party leaders in the City Executive Committee said they were unaware of the beauty pageant, and political analysts were gobsmacked.

“Do you live in a parallel universe (in KZN)?” asked political and gender analyst, Professor Amanda Gouws from the University of Stellenbosch, alluding to comments by former president Jacob Zuma that pregnant girls would be exiled to Robben Island if the MK Party was voted into power.

Gouws said it was ridiculous that the City believed a beauty pageant would empower women.

“Municipal workers are on strike and let us not forget, next week is International Women’s Day which is about the empowerment of women and the struggle for rights and to end gender-based violence, and they want a beauty competition? Parallel universe, I tell you.”

Gouws also said it would not build self-esteem, but aggravate the situation.

“Because it’s a competition, there will only be a few who can win this competition. How are the rest going to feel about themselves? If you want to empower women, give them skills, give them economic opportunities.”

She said a beauty pageant was another way of objectifying women and there were other ways of building self-esteem through making people understand diversity.

The University of KwaZulu-Natal’s public policy programme co-ordinator Belinda Johnson said promoting body positivity was commendable, but hosting the competition now may be insensitive.

She said while the City’s Parks, Recreation and Culture Unit was not responsible for the City’s infrastructure, for residents who were still waiting for their access to water to be restored, seeing the municipality spend funds on a pageant would be a bitter pill to swallow.

“Considering the existing condition of the municipality, there is a high likelihood that this will be perceived unfavourably by ratepayers. I am sure they would, at this point, prefer that any money available go to addressing more pressing matters like improving service delivery and addressing the failing infrastructure.

“This is not to take away from the initiative itself. The Department of Parks, Recreation, and Culture has been involved in some excellent initiatives, like Durban’s Warwick Zero-Waste, which has led to further initiatives about organic waste management. Given the current state of the city, this is probably the type of spending that people would be happy to see more of.”

IFP Durban Metro chairperson Mdu Nkosi said the initiative was an insult to women and ratepayers.

“They are not assisting the women, it’s just a beauty contest and then after that nothing will happen.”

The DA’s eThekwini Caucus leader Thabani Mthethwa said he too was not aware of the beauty pageant.

“The DA is not against initiatives to empower women in any way. However, we encourage city officials to also prioritise service delivery especially now many of the city’s parks and open spaces are in a dire state, libraries have no books, etc.”

Independent on Saturday