Sidwadweni, the home of the new Miss Universe

Young and old at Sidwadweni in Tsolo toast Zozibini Tunzi's Miss Universe 2019 victory yesterday. /LULAMILE FENI
Young and old at Sidwadweni in Tsolo toast Zozibini Tunzi's Miss Universe 2019 victory yesterday. /LULAMILE FENI

As an emotional Zozibini Tunzi held her face in her hands, barely believing she had been crowned Miss Universe yesterday, in her rural village of Sidwadweni, relatives and neighbours huddled around their TVs sharing in the big moment.

The girl known as "Loza", who used to push a wheelbarrow to fetch water from a neighbouring village, is now one of the most famous faces in the world.

Tunzi, the reigning Miss SA, beating 90 other women at a glitzy event in Atlanta in the US in the early hours of Monday, SA time.

Asked by host and television personality Steve Harvey what young girls needed to be taught, Zozibini said: "I think the most important thing we should be teaching young girls today is leadership. It's something that has been lacking in young girls for a very long time, not because we don't want to [take leadership roles], but because of how society has labelled women to be."

It was a message that resonated immediately with the young women of her village, near Tsolo, many of whom stayed up all night to see if she would bring home the crown.

Speaking to Sowetan's sister publication Dispatch at Tunzi's family home yesterday, Sinoxolo Magwevana, 10, said: "I just love sisi Zozibini and could not miss watching her on TV. I want to do beauty pageants and become a successful model just like her."

For the young and old in her village her crowning was an occasion that was never going to be missed - no matter what it took.

Nontyatyambo Mgaju, 31, who grew up with Tunzi and is her next-door neighbour, said while most people watched the Miss Universe pageant on television, some relied on a WhatsApp group set up by young people in the village for updates.

"It started raining at about 4am and we were discussing that this was a blessing. We knew that she would bring the title home as rain is considered a blessing in our culture," Mgaju said.

Tunzi's aunt, 61-year-old Nophelo Chaza, was also not able to see her niece on television because her TV was struck by lightning.

But she said she still had vivid memories of her young niece pushing a wheelbarrow to fetch water from a neighbouring village.

Her uncle, Gcinikhaya Tunzi, said he followed the Miss Universe pageant on radio and when Tunzi was announced the winner, he found it difficult to hold back his tears.

A group of 100 people, mostly village women, youth and children, arrived at the Tunzi homestead in song and dance.

Boys blew their vuvuzelas while others sang her praises: "uZozi lo, abamaziyo abazange bambona".

Mgaju said villagers were proud of Tunzi's achievements and they started rejoicing the moment she was crowned

"Others were even crying," she said.

She said her win would inspire a lot of youngsters in the village.

"Now youngsters do not care about weaves. She [Tunzi] is just proving a huge inspiration because she had managed to stay true to herself.

"Children are now confident that they can conquer the world without changing how they look."

Sibabalwe Mazitshana, 32, a close friend, joked that he used to carry "Loza" on his back when she was growing up.

He described his friend as a very humble and beautiful person who liked to laugh a lot, but was also very calm.

"Our children have now started to dream big because of her," Mazitshana said.

The chief of Sidwadweni, Nkosi Mziwenceba Mthawungeni Makalima, said the young beauty had put the village on the world map.

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