When Basetsana Khumalo
The challenge of being an ambassador of a nation so rife with racial and political challenges at the time could have easily been too much for the former beauty queen to handle.
But instead, Kumalo clung onto the country's new found hope at the time and from her elevated position, spread it to all those she encountered.
She was so successful at this task and the many other duties she carried out during her reign, that almost three decades later, Kumalo has become an even greater force than when the jewelled crown was placed on her head during the beauty pageant.
It has been 25 years since that single moment completely altered the trajectory of her life.
South Africa might be a different country since then, but Kumalo used the hope that was alive during the dawn of democracy to inspire a new generation of youngsters to follow their dreams.
The 45-year-old is so determined to encourage future generations to never give up that she has released her first book, Bassie: My Journey of Hope.
The former beauty queen, media personality, entrepreneur and mother insisted that the purpose of her memoir was to remind readers of her wide-ranging struggles in a bid to demonstrate to them that hope is never lost.
“I wanted to chronicle the journey of my life in literary form and fully reveal the lessons that I have learnt and the challenges that I had to overcome to inspire a new sense of hope.”
Kumalo stressed that such a book was needed in South Africa at a time the nation is constantly confronted with a new set of challenges.
“We have lost that which makes us South Africans because of the real challenges that our country is facing.
“I wanted to ignite that spirit of hope and to say that after 25 years, we are still a young democracy with a long way to go.”
Kumalo admitted that while she was only 20-years-old when she walked away with the prestigious title, she was cognisant of the time she was crowned Miss SA and understood the responsibility the position would bring.
It was also during that time when she realised that she would one day share her entire life experience.
“I have known since the time that I came into public life in 1994 that I was always going to write a book because I understood the hour in which I was crowned and what South Africa was going through at the time.
“The intoxicating effect of that newfound freedom was juxtaposed with me wearing the crown and becoming an ambassador of the new nation.
“I understood what that era represented.”
Since then, Kumulo has been journalling her life experiences from her Miss SA experiences, having former president Nelson Mandela as her mentor, gracing the covers of magazines and becoming the first black presenter for acclaimed local lifestyle show Top Billing and interviewing the likes of Oprah Winfrey and Michael Jackson.
But as Kumalo jotted down her life's journey so far, she had to confront her painful past, including her struggles of domestic abuse at the hands of a former lover, miscarriages, cyberbullying, a stalker and the death of her parents.
She admitted that those chapters were particularly difficult to write and could often result in her sobbing to such an extent that her laptop would stop working because her tears soaked her keyboard.
“I hoped that I would have never had to re-open those wounds, but if I was going to write a book, it had to be an honest account of my life.
“The book had to be authentically true and had to fully reflect my journey so far.”
While the overarching theme of Kumalo’s book is hope, she also used her memoir to highlight the role fate played in her life journey so far.
Being crowned Miss SA set in motion a sequence of events which propelled a leader like Kumalo into the spotlight.
Kumalo paved the way for a new generation of superstars, employed thousands of people through her various businesses and waged legal battles which could ultimately inspire those who encounter similar challenges in the future.
But all this could have easily not even happened if she never claimed the prestigious crown.
In the book, she comically chronicles the journey leading up to that defining moment and all the factors which stood in her way.
Bassie: My Journey of Hope speaks of Kumalo’s initial apprehension about beauty pageants, the role her late mother played in convincing her to compete in them and the lack of resources she had when participating in the beauty pageant.
She insisted that she didn't even consider herself a contender when she almost arrived late at one of the Miss SA pre-judging processes after she was forced to hitch-hike there and arrived in a T-shirt, jeans and sneakers.
“I believe it was a divine intervention, and that my steps were divinely ordered,” said Kumalo.
“One's life can change in a split second, and we can make all the excuses we want, but when God has a divine plan for your life, you can't stop it.
“My life is a true testament to what is meant to be, will be.”