MISS South Africa, 22-year-old Rolene Strauss, was crowned Miss World 2014 at the pageant’s final in London on Sunday, with an estimated billion watching on television around the globe.
Miss Hungary, Edina Kulcsar, was the runner-up and Miss United States, Elizabeth Safrit, came third in the 64th annual competition, contested by women from 121 countries.
Strauss clasped her hands together in surprise and was presented with the sash by the outgoing Miss World, Megan Young of the Philippines.
The medical student sat in the winner’s throne as the 2013 champion put the glittering crown on her head before a fireworks finale at the ExCeL exhibition centre in east London.
“South Africa this is for you,” Strauss said afterwards.
“I think I will brace myself for what’s about to happen. It’s a huge responsibility.”
She becomes the third holder from South Africa, after Penelope Anne Coelene in 1958, and Anneline Kriel, who replaced the United Kingdom’s Hellen Morgan on her resignation in 1974.
Strauss is the fifth African to win the competition. Antigone Costanda of Egypt set the ball rolling for the continent in 1954 while Agbani Darego of Nigeria was the last winner from the continent in 2001. She was also the competition’s first black African winner.
The competition has been running since 1951, the same inception year as the competing Miss Universe. The other major international beauty pageants of the so-called Big Four are Miss Earth, which launched in 2001, and Miss International, which has struggled for publicity.
It has also not been without controversies, a number linked to the continent. In 1976, in the thick of apartheid era, South Africa offered both a Caucasian and a black contestant, prompting several countries to boycott that year’s event.
The country was a year later banned from competing, and was only welcomed back in 1991.
The Seychelles had to in 1996 step in as host of the swimsuit category after protests in India threatened to disrupt the competition. Protestors in the land that gave us the Kama Sutra had grievances over what they said was vulgarity and nudity, and the consumerist culture they said the competition promoted.
But the 2002 event, held in Nigeria after Darego’s win the year before, stoked up the biggest storm yet. It had to be rescheduled to avoid taking place during Ramadan, with the country home to Africa’s second largest Muslim population after Egypt.
But it also coincided with the case of a Nigerian woman who had been sentenced under Sharia law to death by stoning for alleged adultery and conceiving a child out of wedlock.
A number of contestants sought to boycott the event, despite Amina Lawal being of the view that her plight was better addressed by the competition continuing on Nigerian soil. Kenya was among the countries that boycotted the event, while South Africa was suspended for unclear reasons.
A Nigerian daily further stoked tensions by suggesting that prophet Muhammad would have picked a wife from among the contestants had he been alive. Over 200 people were killled in the resulting inter-religious violence, prompting the event to be moved to England.
A Muslim contestant, Azra Akin of Turkey, won the rescheduled event.
Little has been seen of Africa’s first winner, Constanda, apart from being a judge at the Miss Egypt 2006 competition. She had been a fledgling model prior to her 1954 win at London’d Lyceum Theatre, which catapulted her into the elite ranks. She later branched into interior design.
Eighteen-year-old South African secretary “Penny” Coeleen beat 21 other contestants four years later. Despite several modelling contracts in her year of glory she did not make the cut for Hollywood afterwards, and went into clothing instead, where she had her own line, and also fronted for beauty products.
She is now a prominent socialite in South Africa, having married a wealthy sugarcane farmer, and runs a guesthouse, in addition to being a public speaker.
Another South African, Kriel, became the title holder in 1974 at the age of 19 after Britain’s Helen Morgan resigned only four days into her reign. Kriel had to contend with anti-apartheid winds, but battled on and went on to star in a number of movies and television soap operas.
She has been married three times.
Africa had to wait until 2001 for its most celebrated win, with Nigeria’s Darego becoming the first black African to pick up the crown. Her win catapulted her among the elite, landing her modelling gigs with Naomi Campbell, Donald Trump, L’Oreal and Christain Dior, among others.
She has also graced the covers of prominent magazines such as Elle, Marie Claire and Cosmoplitan, and continues to have lucrative contracts such as with Nigerian airline Arik Air, in addition to dabbling with her own reality show and clothing ranges.