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There’s more to Eldorado Park than its drug dens and dealers

When a friend tagged me on Twitter to tell me the new Miss South Africa was from Eldorado Park I took notice. Suddenly our youngsters have someone worth looking up to, I thought. It was a reminder too that hope for something better can be found even in our dusty hometown.

Then came the other tweets – and the annoyance. A coloured girl from Eldorado Park, Johannesburg, became Miss SA and all anyone could say was: “And we thought all Eldos was famous for was its drug dens and dealers.”

Well, that’s not true. We should be famous for our beauty pageant winners – plural. Because Liesl Laurie isn’t Eldos only beauty pageant winner. Another Eldos girl made good all the way back in 2007. How could we forget about the lovely Tansey Coetzee, a woman so proudly Eldos she said that if she had the chance to relive her childhood, she wouldn’t have changed anything about it? But our country is famous for having this kind of selective memory when it comes to Eldorado Park.

While Eldos hasn’t had a good rep lately, I have to point out that many wonderful people hail from her streets, and proudly so; from entertainers to authors, from Bianca Le Grange and Jerome “Slim” DuPlooy to Don Mattera, we have a myriad creative people whose imaginations are inspired by Eldos’ struggles. We have a community radio station (check out their YouTube channel). Hell, we even have a homegrown movie.

Most people only end up visiting Eldos because they’ve taken the wrong offramp on the way to Lenz, and the only thing they know about us is our drug problem because we got that visit from President Jacob Zuma back in 2013.

But we are more than this. We are a vibrant community where people of many walks of life live together in good neighbourliness, where families celebrate both Christmas and Eid, and everyone knows what a barakatjie is; where you know your neighbours and they’ll give you a cup of sugar or run an extension cord across the street when you’re hit with loadshedding.

Of course, there is the crap part of Eldos, namely winter. Winter in the ’hood is hard. Most people have set up and rented out shacks in their backyards, and run cables from their homes to these makeshift zozos and wendy houses, causing frequent power surges. We all know what causes them, but we can’t do anything about it.

Crime can’t not be mentioned, because it’s a harsh reality for many, and there are so many single-parent households barely holding onto their minimum-wage income.

There’s no escaping that crime and poverty are a problem for every child of Eldos. And so we should applaud Laurie for putting a spotlight on my beautiful but broken hometown. I can only hope that she pays this opportunity forward. And let me tell you what winning this pageant could mean to a girl from the ’hood:

An exit strategy. Completing her BCom, and taking advantage of the opportunities that Miss SA brings, could very well end the cycle of poverty for her family. This is a big deal for her and her family and, hopefully, the start of something amazing.

An opportunity to give back. Once her whirlwind tour is completed, Laurie will become an ambassador and can hopefully mentor young girls from similar backgrounds, and help them achieve their goals.

I won’t hate on the Miss SA pageant or the contestants who enter it here, nor will I debate mainstream views on what is beautiful and of worth. (The internet is huge and the trolls are everywhere.)

But for what it’s worth I hope Liesl Laurie has a fantastic experience, and I hope she knows only success in her future. I also hope she recognises how lucky she is and what a big responsibility it is to represent our hometown, her people and our nation.