IN Zimbabwe the formbook of professional beauty pageants associated with glitz and glamour as well as a fat pay cheque for those who make it onto international ramps appears to have been torn into shreds by some unscrupulous promoters accused of abusing female models.
There has been a public outcry over how the local modelling industry has been reduced to a platform for sexual exploitation of models when it has the potential to provide employment and turn around the economic fortunes of many local girls and other support staff.
Widespread reports of organisers and other influential figures in the industry seeking sexual favours from models in exchange for winning pageants have left many Zimbabwean citizens with a negative attitudes towards modelling.
Investigations by NewsDay revealed that abuses were widespread in the modelling sector although most of them were swept under the carpet. Further indications were that a sizable number of the pageants were more about nudity rather than revealing the mental abilities of the models.
There have also been disturbing cases in which nightclubs have hired beauty models whom they use as bait for customers although the tactic also expose the women to abuse by nightclub patrons.
In a snap survey carried out by NewsDay, some modelling fans expressed mixed feelings over some of the happenings in the sector.
Others, however, said it would be wrong to view the entire industry through negative lenses that portray modelling as a profession for women of easy virtue.
“Some girls willing to take modelling as a career, but find themselves in a dilemma due to discouragement from family members and friends who look at modelling as something done by women of loose morals,” said Brenda Kamwiyo of Mt Pleasant.
Although research has shown that in South Africa and other countries beyond Zimbabwe’s borders modelling is often a lucrative profession with rich pickings, the same cannot be said of local pageants where girls often have to fight for the few opportunities available.
Edith Ganyau of Warren Park bemoaned the poor remuneration for models in Zimbabwe as the cause of their wayward behaviour.
“Local models only boast of wearing designers’ clothes, travelling to different places and meeting respected different people, but on the monetary aspect, they have nothing much to show for,” she said.
Pageant organisers sexually abuse models?
Last year in December, some models who participated in the inaugural Face of Kariba made sensational claims that the pageant organiser, Alois Chimbangu, sexually harassed them during their stay in the boot camp and threatened to disqualify them if they did not give in to his sexual demands.
A bevy of 20 models from Harare and Kariba participated in the pageant that was held at Kariba Country Club under the theme Unveiling the Beauty of Kariba.
In separate interviews with NewsDay, the models who preferred anonymity for fear of backlash alleged that Chimbangu was unprofessional and allegedly pestered them for sex.
“Face of Kariba was the worst pageant I have ever participated in my modelling career. The boot camp was marred by abuse and during our stay we were sexually assaulted, but I stood my ground and turned down Alois’s sex request,” one of the models said.
Another model claimed that they were ill-treated during and after the boot camp with girls that had travelled from Harare being labelled prostitutes after they had refused to offer sex in return for the crown.
“After the swimming session, Chimbangu came to my tent and kissed me on my hand and said he would give me the crown if we had sex, but he said the plan would require me to be quiet about it,” said another model.
This was not the first time issues of sexual abuse have been levelled against pageant organisers.
In 2007, Sipho Mazibuko accused Zimbabwe Tourism Authority (ZTA) boss Karikoga Kaseke of victimising her after she turned down his sexual advances.
Kaseke denied the charges saying Mazibuko deserved to be detained at a mental hospital.
She was then arrested in 2011, following claims that she accused several ministers and senior government officials of sexually harassing her.
In that same year, another model, Lungile Mathe, who had been crowned Miss Tourism Zimbabwe’s Miss Personality, was dethroned and had her prizes withdrawn from her after allegedly turning down the sexual advances of senior politicians and government officials.
ZTA spokesperson Sugar Chagonda, however, denied the allegations saying Mathe was dethroned because of her alleged unbecoming behaviour which he said violated the rules and regulations of the pageantry.
Modelling Industry Association Zim a toothless organisation
While we have a board like the Modelling Industry Association Zimbabwe (Miaz) which seeks to revive the local modelling industry, very little has been done with this board to an extent that it has been viewed as a missing link in the sector.
Zimbabwe was last year in December exposed at Miss World yet we have such a body.
Many are going for the view that Mary Mubaiwa Chiwenga finally struck the right chords after taking over the running of the Miss Zimbabwe pageant whose recent editions have been marred by poor organisation.
Mary had managed to put up a well organised event at Mabvazuva Village, formerly Caravan Park, in Msasa winning the hearts of the many. The event was nothing short of elegant and the models complemented the glamour with polished presentations.
However, the nation was later exposed at Miss World 2014 as there was drama which swathe pageant having three record title holders.
Yes, three record title holders!
The initial winner was University of Zimbabwe law student Thabiso Rumbidzai Phiri, but only two months after being crowned she was was stripped of the crown and allegedly forced to resign and Cathrine Makaya replaced her.
As if the drama was not enough, Makaya was dethroned and replaced by Tendai Hunda days before the Miss World finalists go into camp.
That rushed decision to send an ill-prepared Hunda to compete at the prestigious event in London left Miss Zimbabwe organisers with egg on the face as she found it going tough. Hunda become was the subject of ridicule on social media as a result of her makeup and hairstyle.
White sheep of the black flock
It would, however, be unfair to paint all beauty models with the same black brush. Beneath the pile of rubble lie specks of gold. Cases in point are that of Miss World 1994 finalist Angeline Musasiwa who came out fourth and, in recent years, former Miss Malaika Brita Masalethulini.
Brita launched her modelling career as a student of art at Harare Polytechnic when she decided to take part in numerous beauty pageants and went on to win, among others, Miss Harare Polytechnic, Second Princess Top Model Zimbabwe, Miss Harare, Miss Lucky 7 and the big one being Miss Zimbabwe in 1999.
In 2002 Masalethulini was crowned Miss Malaika and later decided to quit from modelling.
Masalethulini was on record saying a person could only be taken advantage of only if they give permission following alleged reports on abuse of models in 2011.
“A model should have own values and principles and should be able to make solid decisions. You can succeed on your own without looking for help. Of course the family and colleagues can help,” she said.
Modelling lovers believe that the profession’s integrity can still be reclaimed and protected because internationally, modelling sustains a multi-billion dollar industry.
Top models and nude pictures
Early January pictures suspected to be of successful model Malaika Mushandu were circulated on social networks. Malaika is ranked among Zimbabwe’s finest models, having cat-walked her way into the top 10 of Miss World at the peak of her successful career, winning the admiration of many.
Although not denying having shots taken in the nude, Mushandu told the media that the pictures were part of many that were taken during various photo shoots for her modelling portfolio.
Although at first she denied knowledge of the pictures, according to media reports, she later admitted there was a possibility the photos could have been leaked from her portfolio.
“It could be me because I have taken numerous professional photos of myself before,” she said. “Of course I was wearing a bikini and they were purely professional photos.”
It is, however, this downside of the modelling profession that appears to have courted the ire of many sceptics.
“How can people with common sense allow their daughters to venture into modelling that is all about shooting of nude pictures,” said Elliot Mapuranga of Harare.
With only two months after being crowned Miss Zimbabwe, top model Thabiso Phiri was dethroned and allegedly forced to resign after her suspected nude pictures gone viral on social media.
According to reports, Phiri had sent the pictures to a boyfriend, who then posted the images on social networks after a nasty divorce.
‘Beauty models are not prostitutes’
Former model executive director of Miss Curvy beauty pageant, Mercy Mushaninga, believes that it was wrong to label models as prostitutes.
Mushaninga said it was wrong to ridicule models by calling them prostitutes because modelling was a professional occupation. She said people often referred to models as loose people without substantive facts and that was discouraging for many aspiring models
“Modelling is a career and a profession that is able some people to earn a living through it so people must stop seeing models as prostitutes. The perception that models are prostitutes is misplaced,” she said.
Mushaninga is credited with grooming a number of models for prestigious modelling showcases both locally and internationally.
She is behind the success of models among them Malaika Mushandu — Miss Teen Zimbabwe 2012 — SorayaVallabah and former 2011 Miss Southern Africa Evelyn Gond.
‘Beauties without brains’
The grooming of the models has left a lot to be desired as numerous pageants have been characterised by beauty-without-brains-syndrome as the models usually leave audience in stitches turning themselves into objects of ridicule showing shocking levels of illiteracy.
The beauties without brains syndrome has left many wondering how the beauty queens would represent the country in prestigious pageants like the Miss World if they do not know basic facts about their country.
They are supposed to be the country’s ambassadors and must know their country, but shockingly, some of the girls’ demonstrates limited knowledge about Zimbabwe as they could fail to answer simple questions.
At Miss Tourism Harare finals in 2010 a model failed to name the then Deputy Prime Minister of the country.
As that was not enough, another model at the same pageant failed to name one of Zimbabwe’s Big Five animals yet the country boasts of tourist attractions.
Last year in June at the Black Opal Face of Zimbabwe pageant, beauty-without-brains-syndrome was also the order of the day as some of the participants struggled to pronounce some words and answer questions relating to the Black Opal products posed to them during the mandatory question-and-answer segment.
Some answers that were given by the majority of the contestants showed their little knowledge of the products, leaving a lot to be desired for someone who was competing to become Black Opal’s products’ brand ambassador.