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Miss South Africa Shudufhadzo Musida speaks on mental health, education and economic empowerment

Photography: Austin Malema

In front of the camera, Shudufhadzo Musida morphs into a different character, a professional model who oozes confidence. With Beyoncé softly playing in the background, she moves like a hot knife through butter, working her angles as photographer Austin Malema clicks away.

“As a teenager, I was very much an introvert. I kept to myself and preferred to be in the shadows, but now I’m on one of the biggest platforms in the world – that’s a 180-degree turn,” she says.

How does a young girl from the quiet, rural Ha-Masia village in Limpopo become a beauty queen?

“I always wanted to be a singer, but I had stage fright. I couldn’t stand in front of people to save my life, even for, like, 30 seconds,” she admits. “If I had to take part in a spelling bee in school, every time they put me on stage, I couldn’t get one letter out. But Miss South Africa helped me overcome [my fear of] public speaking. As a finalist, I had to do interviews, but the more I did those, the more comfortable I felt.”

Photography: Austin Malema

“I’ve always dreamed of working with or for the United Nations (UN). I wanted to use Miss South Africa as a platform to speak about issues such as mental health, education and economic empowerment. It was never about winning or losing for me because it was more important to get my message across to all the relevant stakeholders – winning was a bonus.”

Shudufhadzo, who holds a Bachelor of Social Science degree in Philosophy, Politics and Economics from the University of Pretoria, is passionate about humanitarian issues. In February, she launched an Instagram series titled #MindfulMondays. It comprised weekly conversations with experts to educate the public about mental health and how to prioritise wellbeing.

“When I was younger, my aunt Cecilia would invite strangers into her home to take care of them, which inspired my passion for living a life of service and helping people. My dream is to build a place where women and children receive humanitarian help and education to better themselves.

We’re fighting so many social ills in our world and society, but one thing we tend to neglect, which is crucial, is the mind. Once we tackle the mind, the power-house, then we can tackle so many other issues. I started #MindfulMondays to normalise the conversation around mental health. I figured that if we openly discussed the subject on a public platform, we’d provide many people access to valuable information.

“I invite clinical psychologists, and other experts, to talk during each session, and the public can ask them questions. It’s almost as if we’re offering many people therapy in their homes, which is a step in the right direction.”

Crowned Miss South Africa during a pandemic when lockdowns and global travel restrictions were in place, Shudufhadzo hasn’t experienced the typical jet-setting life of a pageant queen. Does she feel like she’s missing out?

“I believe people can become agents of their future and adapt to any situation, so it’s been interesting. The world had already begun to embrace technology and the digital age. Covid-19 merely propelled us faster toward our inevitable destination.

“I’m adjusting by finding ways to make sure my reign is successful, irrespective of the restrictions. I feel I’m missing out on travel and other things, but if I fixate on the fear of missing out, I won’t enjoy my reign.

The beauty of it all is that I’ve never been Miss South Africa before, so I have nothing with which to compare it. I’m currently living the reality set out for me.”

Even though her life’s in the spotlight, Shudufhadzo has maintained a small circle of friends and the women in her life, her aunt Cecilia, mother Thandi and younger sister Zwonka, ground her.

“To them, I’m still the same girl. I think my mom enjoys my win more than I do – she calls herself The Queen’s Mother – and my sister wants me to pick her up from school so her friends can see me.

“My life doesn’t feel the same anymore, even though I’m still trying to figure out exactly how it’s changed. My view of the world has changed too. Winning this pageant makes me feel like the world is my oyster. It’s about making sure I use that to the best of my ability. It’s almost as if Miss South Africa has given me the world, and I now have to figure out what to do with it.”

That world now comes with the great and not-so-great side of life: the likes of media and public scrutiny and social media influence.

“One thing I’ve learnt is that you shouldn’t take everything personally, whether negative or positive, and understanding that helps a lot. When people say bad things about me, I keep quiet, and when they say good things, I say, thank you.

“As the saying goes: ‘with great power comes great responsibility’. But I try not to put too much pressure on myself because I’m only human. As soon as you try to be this figure that constantly strives for perfection, it’ll stop you from living your life.

“Me living my life inspires a lot of people. I’m very grateful that some people see me as a role model now, but at the same time, I need to look out for myself first before I can be of service to others.”

Her coping mechanisms include going to therapy, being honest with herself and her emotional needs, journaling, reading and hanging out with friends.

Get GLAMOUR Winter Edition featuring Shudufhadzo Musida on sale now, available at selected newsstands and digitaly here.

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