I used to suck my thumb, says new Miss SA

The new Miss SA, Lalela Mswane.
The new Miss SA, Lalela Mswane.
Image: Supplied.

The new Miss SA, Lalela Mswane, says most people will be surprised to learn that she had a habit of sucking her thumb until she was 18 years old.

The 24-year-old from KwaSokhulu, near Richards Bay in KwaZulu-Natal, was crowned Miss SA at the Grand Arena, Grandwest in Cape Town, with Moratwe Masima and Zimi Mabunzi as the runners-up.

The bachelor of law graduate from the University of Pretoria walked away with R1m in cash and prizes worth R3m, including a brand new Mercedes Benz C-Class.

“I sucked my thumb for the first 18 years of my life and my teeth are perfectly straight,” Mswane laughed. “I just found comfort in it to a point where I was dependent on it and I couldn’t even fall asleep without sucking my thumb. I stopped after one day I realised I fell asleep without doing it and I didn’t die.”

The last-born of three children, her mother Hleliselwe, 57, and her two siblings, Hlobisile, 37, and Mavela, 35, were in attendance when she was crowned. “I saw my mom in a special immediately after I won. She was with my aunt and she was at a loss for words,” Mswane said. “She started crying and it was an emotional moment. She lived through this journey with me and my experiences became hers. She knows what it took for me to get here.”

Her father, Muntu Philip, died when she was 12 years old in grade 7. “My dad used to call me sisi, and knowing him, after I was crowned Miss SA he would have said: ‘usebenzile sisi, siyabonga ntombo (you did well, thank you girl)’.”

Lalela Mswane supports her crown after she was crowned by 2020 Miss SA Shudufhadzo Musida, right, in Cape Town on Saturday.
Lalela Mswane supports her crown after she was crowned by 2020 Miss SA Shudufhadzo Musida, right, in Cape Town on Saturday.

Mswane is also a ballet dancer and started at age nine. Her modelling career launched at 16 years old and she booked her first billboard a year later for DStv.

She has starred in a lot of commercials, but a highlight was being the face of the David Tlale fragrance last year.

“I have always been a diligent person. I was always afraid to get into trouble in school,” Mswane said.

“I was such a good girl and my mom was never called to school. I excelled academically, with dance and leadership wise. I always say I hope I’m blessed with a child like me.”

This was the first time that Mswane entered Miss SA and previously had only entered a beauty pageant in matric in 2015, where she placed first runner-up.

“I’m not a pageant girl. But that’s why I think it’s important for people to stop seeing Miss SA as a mere beauty pageant, which is why I often shied away from pageantry. Miss SA is an empowerment platform for women and could be a launchpad for so many other opportunities.”

Fact file: Lalela Mswane

Favourite food: Seafood

Favourite actor: Gabrielle Union 

Favourite movie: Miracles from Heaven 

Favourite TV show: Devious Maids

Favourite emoji: White heart emoji

Through her Miss SA campaign #BeReady, Mswane plans to put the spotlight on youth employment.

“It focuses on youth employment from the perspective of no longer waiting for opportunities from the state, but instead empowering the youth by providing them with entrepreneurial skills to take charge economically,” Mswane said.

“A lot of people fear entrepreneurship and see it as something unattainable. From a young age, we are not discouraged, but ignorant, because we don’t have the entrepreneurial know-how to establish anything of our own. We then move the responsibility to the state. I will focus on a programme that provides the youth at school level with entrepreneurial skills.”