Making history and shattering stereotypes - redefining the crown

We’ve seen it countless times – the lights are dimmed, the crowd silent in suspense – two beautiful women hold each other’s hands in a fleeting display of sisterhood, the show host is slowly opening the envelope ready to announce the next reigning queen, and the air is thick with tension. Who will take the crown?

The finals of a beauty pageant will compel even the most apathetic passer-by to sit down in anticipation to see who will be crowned with tears in her eyes, beaming with delight and flushed with victory..

It will be no different this time at this year’s Miss South Africa pageant.

Thousands of girls enter the competition to be part of one of the world’s leading leadership platforms that empower and elevate young women.

In an ever-changing world of Internet information overload, insta-famous celebrity culture, self-defining Identity and collectively breaking generational curses while simultaneously building generational wealth, Lehlogonolo stands out as a bold, confident and humble leader of the new school.

Growing up as a trans-identifying teenager in North West, slowly forging her own path and keeping it all together through her evolution, she has always been prepared for this moment.

 In the past month or so, since being carefully selected as a top 30 finalist for the upcoming Miss SA pageant, she has been making headlines, quickly becoming the freshest name on everyone’s lips.

 As the first Black Trans woman to make it as a top 30 finalist, it’s almost as if she has already won (no jinx) and been given the opportunity to take on that leadership role that the pageant affords its winners – she’s already proven herself to be worthy of the crown just by being herself and fighting for the visibility, recognition and respect  of those just like her, those just like us.

 The LGBTQI+ community has always had its pioneers and leaders who have highlighted the good, the bad and the ugly of the reality of being queer.

 She is no exception.

 Armed with fierce determination, humility, compassion, and bold coloured lip gloss, she plans to make her mark in the world with or without a crown on her head, like a true queen

Isaac Lediga chats with Lehlogonolo Machaba  about her journey as a Trans-identifying woman, her journey from childhood in the North West, to being a top 30 finalist in the Miss SA contest.

Isaac: There’s no doubt that you have officially made history as the first black trans-Identifying woman to be a miss SA top 30 finalist.
You’ve been making headlines since the announcement, It must’ve been a whirlwind from your side.

What has changed for you in your daily life in the past few weeks after making it as a finalist & receiving so much positive recognition from that point on?
Lehlogonolo: I’m still in awe of the continued support.
I get direct messages from people telling me how proud they are of me and how much they’re rooting for me.
Honestly it all feels like a dream and I’m forever grateful for the love and support

Isaac: How does it feel to get the chance to finally use your voice and speak openly and freely about representation in the LGBTQI+ community on such expansive platforms such as Miss SA & media outlets around the country?
 Did you think it would ever be a possibility in your lifetime?
Lehlogonolo: I have always known that I’d be destined for something bigger than me – I really just didn’t imagine it would happen this fast!
I’ve always advocated for my community even before this platform and that is the reason why I continue to use the clout I’ve gotten from the contest to speak up and shed light on the continued hate crimes against the queer community.

Isaac: Being a trans- identifying woman of colour especially being highlighted on such large platforms at such a young age, do you ever feel burdened with the cultural responsibility you now have to live up to?
Lehlogonolo: Not entirely.
I knew getting into this that I’d have a lot to live up to and a lot to educate myself on so I could have a solid and informed opinion about matters I’m passionate about.
It does get a little overwhelming getting direct messages constantly with “big questions” and not having enough time to answer them.

Isaac: One thing I’ve noticed people don’t mention very often is that you’re a TUT graduate, with a degree in Fashion and Technology which is a incredible accomplishment on its own.
Tell us the inspiration behind you going in that direction for your career and the intention behind creating your very own fashion brand DeMollies.

Lehlogonolo: I have always loved fashion and creating.
My fashion brand started in my Senior Year where I had been making clothes for my friends and thought I might as well make it into an established brand.
I’ve been doing that ever since.

Isaac: What is your biggest fear as a black woman as it pertains to your career?
Lehlogonolo: Constant comparison, especially being in a contest with other beautiful women – everything about your appearance gets picked on and its really exhausting.

Isaac: if/ When you win the Miss SA Pageant, what do you hope to achieve with that leadership position?
Lehlogonolo: I would continue to educate and raise awareness on the issues facing the LGBTQI+ community.

Isaac: Years from now when you look back on your life & career, achieving all the great goals you’ve set for yourself, what do you want your portfolio to say about you as a person?
That I am accessible.
I want to always be someone people can talk to regardless of how successful I am.
I want to be able to help little Trans girls establish their true selves.

Isaac: If you could go back in time and speak to your younger self, what advice would you give young Lehlogonolo?
Lehlogonolo: I would simply tell her to be her authentic self no matter what.

Isaac: The work you’ve done so far has helped highlight & elevate visibility for the LGBTQI+ community, for those who exist outside of the queer community, what should they take from this?
Lehlognolo: To listen! Pay attention.
That’s very important, they should strive to educate themselves and be true allies.

Isaac:  Last but not least I’m going to ask you to list your 3 personal faves.
Favourite song, Favourite Make up Item, Favourite Designer.

  • Favourte Song Right now: Lapidoe – Feeling
  • Favourite Make up Item: Liquid eye liner
  • Favourite Designer: Rich Mnisi
Our Cover girl Lehlogonolo continues to prove that you don’t need the glitz and the glam to make a great impact, you just need the heart, and the rest will follow.
Although it wouldn’t totally hurt looking fabulous while doing it.
Her being unapologetically herself will continue to inspire little girls & boys all over the country and beyond to be themselves in world that’s constantly telling them not to, her integrity resonates with everyone and that’s why her rise to fame is so potent, not a simple flash in the pan – this will have a lasting impact on humanity as a whole – For us to recognize our own humanity and be confident in who we are despite our circumstances, flaws and fears.
As if she hasn’t broken records already, she will make history if she wins the crown and she will continue to make history long after the show is over.
Her confidence and intelligence speaks volumes on what could be achieved in the future, she has a clear understanding of what true leadership means and has every intention of making this moment count!

Images courtesy of Ms Machaba

Acknowledgement to the incredible talent of Photographers: @nevilledikgomo and @genic_mash

Makeup: @keamohetsemodisadife