Zozi Tunzi may have the world at her feet, but it is Africa that she has missed since being crowned Miss Universe in December.
On Saturday the 26-year-old Eastern Cape beauty landed at OR Tambo International Airport, greeted by hundreds of screaming fans who welcomed her home.
In an interview with the Sunday Times, Tunzi, who is based in New York for the year of her reign, said she had missed SA.
“There’s no place like home. No place like South Africa. I feel like this is where I gather my strength. So being home is like having my spirit renewed.
“The diversity of South Africans is one of the most beautiful things I think I’ve ever experienced; people’s stories, the humility that you come across when you meet the people. The culture in South Africa is so rich and it is one of the things I miss when I am away. New York in itself is diverse but there’s something in the African soil that speaks to me, so I miss that. That culture of ubuntu.”
The Tsolo-born beauty queen is home for her victory tour and to show off the new Mouawad crown (power of unity crown), estimated to be worth $5m (about R74m).
“My life has changed drastically. It was like a 360-degree switch in seconds. One moment I was Miss SA, next thing Steve [host Steve Harvey] is screaming out that South Africa is the next Miss Universe. From that moment everything changed. My life will never be the same again.”
Although her chosen passion project is fighting gender-based violence, Tunzi has devoted her social media campaign to changing the narrative around gender stereotypes and advocating natural beauty. She said this was not always easy, because some people were not accustomed to an authentic black woman owning her space.
“The movement of breaking stereotypes started literally on the night, the minute I got crowned. It was in that moment that little girls and young women were watching their televisions and thinking they, too, can finally do it.
"And I want to say, I am not the benchmark. I don’t want young women and girls to look at me and say that they want to be like me. I want them to know that they can do more. Me speaking about the things I am passionate about, being brave about it and being unapologetically black in all of my blackness is exactly what the movement needs.”
Tunzi said she drew strength from her family, praying and always affirming herself when she felt overwhelmed. “I draw power from understanding that I am here for a purpose. And being strong, because it does take strength to believe that much in yourself.”
Tunzi said she also wanted to reintroduce SA to the world, and hoped that, through her, people would learn about the relatively unknown parts of the country. “We come from a troubled past but we have so much beauty within us and it unites all of us,” she said.
Last week, Tunzi opened New York Fashion Week. She was on a panel discussing evolving standards of beauty.
She was joined by Miss USA Cheslie Kryst, Miss Teen USA Kaliegh Garris, and Miss America 2019 Nia Franklin — all black women on the panel.
She told a cheering audience in New York that SA had some of the most powerful women in the world.
“When I read about these heroic South African women, and learnt about what they did to fight for our freedom, I’d look at them and see beauty. I’d see myself reflected in them, because I come from them.
“I have three sisters, my mom and my grandmother, and they are all black women who are extraordinary, confident, fierce and beautiful,” said Tunzi.
“That’s why I always saw myself through them and my support system has especially been the women in my family.”
Her trip to SA coincides with an upcoming campaign, Catch the Feels, a platform to create feelings of unity, pride and positivity in SA.