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December 13, 2021 12:12 pm

Miss South Africa Places Third in Eilat Miss Universe Pageant After Rejecting Pressure at Home to Boycott Israel

avatar by Shiryn Ghermezian

Lalela Mswane, Miss South Africa 2021, is announced as a Top 3 finalist during the 70th Miss Universe Competition® on December 12, 2021 at the Universe Arena in Eilat, Israel. Photo: Tracy Nguyen/Miss Universe.

Miss South Africa Lalela Mswane was the second-runner up in the 70th Miss Universe pageant that aired live from Eilat, Israel, on Sunday, after facing weeks of pressure in her home country to skip the contest held in the Jewish state.

The South African government announced in November that it would not back the 24-year-old’s participation in the pageant, as a show of support for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel. Her success in the competition was also in defiance of calls on social media to boycott the Dec. 12 pageant, which used hashtags including “#NotMyMissSouthAfrica.”

Mswane —  a law school graduate, model and dancer — said on Thursday night, in between rehearsals for the pageant, “My soul would not have been at peace if I skipped it.”

“If I had not come to Israel to compete in the Miss Universe pageant, I think I would have regretted it for the rest of my life,” Mswane told the Jerusalem Post. “I always thought South Africa has the friendliest people on earth but it might be rivaled by Israel.”

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Mswane embodied a “Dove of Peace” in the pageant’s national costume competition on Friday night. Asked as her final question in Sunday’s competition for advice to young women facing pressure in life, she replied, “I would implore young women today to choose courage over comfort every opportunity that they get. I’d also like young women to know that since the beginning of time they have anything, everything rather, within them to achieve anything they’ve wanted. It was unfortunately the world that convinced us that we do not.”

Jewish groups in South Africa applauded Mswane for placing third in the international competition, with the South African Jewish Board of Deputies calling her a “remarkable woman.”

“Lalela you made us so proud. What an achievement,” the group said. “We will remember your insightful words in response to your final question, ‘Choose courage over comfort.’ This you embody.”

The South African Zionist Federation added in a Facebook post, “Congratulations to Miss South Africa Lalela Mswane who refused to listen to BDS and anti-Israel voices who bullied and pressured her. Lalela your stand for peace has not gone unappreciated and unnoticed! Thank you for being a wonderful example and representative of South Africa!”

“You stood up for what you believed in and rejected the hate of #BDS,” said the organization South African Friends of Israel. “Thank you for representing us proudly!”

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