The South African government has said it is distancing itself from a decision by the Miss South Africa pageant organisers to participate in the annual Miss Universe contest, due to be held next month in Israel.
The decision on Sunday came after growing calls for the reigning Miss South Africa, Lalela Mswane, to boycott the pageant that is scheduled to take place in Eilat on December 12.
Local beauty pageant organisers have been adamant that the recently crowned Miss South Africa should go to the event, arguing the Miss Universe pageant is not a “politically inspired event”.
“It has proven difficult to persuade the Miss SA pageant organisers to reconsider their decision to partake in the Miss Universe event,” the arts and culture ministry said in a statement.
The government therefore “withdraws its support” following the organisers’ “intransigence” and “disregard of advice”.
“The atrocities committed by Israel against Palestinians are well documented and government, as the legitimate representative of the people of South Africa, cannot in good conscience associate itself with such,” it said.
South Africa backs the Palestinian cause with formal diplomatic relations established in 1995, a year after the end of apartheid. It downgraded its embassy in Tel Aviv in 2019 and pulled out its ambassador.
Arts Minister Nathi Mthethwa said the move to go ahead and participate in the event could “prove disastrous to her [Mswane’s] future and public standing as a young, Black woman”.
In a statement, the governing African National Congress party urged the organisers “to hear and listen to the overwhelming call for the Miss South Africa team to boycott the upcoming apartheid Israel hosted Miss Universe”.