THE MISS UNIVERSE pageant was not the subject of a boycott when it was held in apartheid South Africa. In fact, the oft referred to event never occurred, and was never scheduled. Our country does not appear as a location on the list of Miss Universe pageants held every year since 1952 — except for a sole 1996 event which was mooted for Johannesburg but then shifted to the USA.
Although some contestants refused to participate in various international pageants if the then Miss South Africa attended, none were barred by their respective governments. They thus exercised their freedom of choice.
The organisers behind the campaign to remove Miss South Africa from the competition being held in Israel this year would like us to believe that similar government actions were taken against the self-same beauty pageant held in apartheid South Africa. It is only the 1996 Miss Universe event which was scheduled to be held in the country, two years after the first democratic elections, but which was later moved.
The blatant denial of the rights of Lalela Mswane, a black woman to decide her fate for herself, especially when it comes to political issues, is both patronising and racist. In a televised interview Palestine4Africa’s Bram Hanekom, upbraids Mswane’s decision to attend, insisting that he, as a white male, should decide her future. In a missive published by IOL, he tells Mswane: “Do as you are told”.
Hanekom claims that since boycotts were used to good measure as one of the many tools of the anti-apartheid movement, similar strategies will be equally effective in ‘gaining rights for Palestinians’. He appears oblivious to the fact that if such an event had been held in the country during the height of apartheid, no black contestants would have been allowed to attend.
The first official Miss South Africa pageant held in 1956 was only open to “white” (Caucasian) females and was organized to send a representative to London for the Miss World pageant”. That year Norma Vorster was crowned Miss South Africa. Two years later, Penny Coelen, was crowned and would later go on to win Miss World. It was not until 1977 that all persons of all races were allowed to compete in the Miss SA competition. “Prior to that, people of colour competed in the Miss Africa South pageant, which was renamed Miss Black South Africa in 1977.”
It is unclear what the goals of the BDS affiliated campaign are — whether or not they are campaigning to effectively end women’s rights in Israel, or merely seek to maintain the status quo viz vi LGTBIQ rights in the region, a situation in which Gay rights are restricted in most Arab States and in some cases subject to the death penalty. Apartheid was a policy separating persons according to pseudo-scientific race classification, not national or religious affiliation, and homosexuality was outlawed.
According to Amnesty International (AI), women in Gaza and the Palestinian Authority continue to face discrimination and violence, including killings as a result of gender-based violence. An Hamas-run Islamic court in the Gaza Strip ruled in February that women require the permission of a male guardian to travel. Meanwhile President Mahmoud Abbas amended an election law in March, raising a quota for women in the West Bank, Palestinian Authority legislature to 26%, not the promised 30%, and still a long way away from the 50% female quotient of the population.
Lesbian, gay, bisexual, & transgender (LGBT) persons in the “State of Palestine” face legal challenges and discrimination not experienced by non-LGBT residents. An AI 2020 report on Palestine states: “Section 152 of the Penal Code in Gaza criminalizes [male] consensual same-sex sexual activity and makes it punishable by up to 10 years’ imprisonment.” In 2019, the Palestinian Authority (i.e., West Bank) police banned the activities of queer and feminist rights organization Al Qaws and demanded that residents report ‘suspicious’ activities.
Injustice cannot be overcome by Injustice. Forward to a Freedom Charter for the Middle East. Forward to human rights for all. #StandBySecularism