Zozibini Tunzi – or Zozi as she is known by her family and friends – is the first black woman to win Miss Universe rocking her natural hair with pride (which we absolutely love). She believes strongly in living a life of purpose, in serving others, and has a powerful passion to teach young women leadership. This stunning South African woman from the Eastern Cape was crowned Miss Universe in December 2019. During her reign she will reside in the Big Apple (New York) and take part in various events and appearances worldwide. Afropolitan was privileged to ask Zozi a few questions.

Wow, you won Miss South Africa! What word describes that feeling?

Surreal

Then you won Miss Universe! What word describes THAT feeling?

Another out-of-body experience! Sorry, that’s five words!

How was your first winter experience in America? 

The weather certainly took some getting used to. At first it was something of a struggle because I had arrived from hot South Africa and had never experienced such extreme cold. Warm weather was the one thing I really missed when I first arrived. But, you learn to adapt and the title has afforded me so many great opportunities.

How has your life changed since being crowned Miss Universe?

My life has changed completely, in fact I do not think my life will ever be the same again. I have been to places I never thought I would go to, and have met people I never imagined I would meet. The platform Miss Universe has given me has exceeded my wildest expectations, and I only took the title in early December.

I had never had the opportunity to travel before and I recently went to Indonesia. It was such a beautiful experience. I also was lucky enough to meet Dr Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, a woman I admired growing up in South Africa as a child. She is the executive director of United Nations Women and is a United Nations Under-Secretary-General. Being a part of that UN Women meeting, and having the opportunity to work with them, was something I had always dreamt of and that dream has now been realised.

And now, on my return to South Africa for my homecoming tour, I have been given the opportunity to meet President Cyril Ramaphosa at his State of the Nation Address. He is the leader of our country! I feel privileged to get the chance to meet him and to be invited to such an important South African event.

What do you hope to show and tell the world about South Africa? 

We are a wonderfully diverse country who, if we put our minds together, can achieve so much.

What have you missed most about home? 

I have missed my family so much. I miss the food, the sunshine and our rich culture. There’s something about home that you just can’t find anywhere else in the world.

What do you love the most about being in the Big Apple? 

The city has such a wonderful vibe and buzz. I love looking out my apartment window and seeing people go about their day – chasing dreams and chasing deadlines. I love catching a glimpse of Central Park. I have been settling in very well. I try to walk around whenever I can to familiarise myself with the city so it doesn’t feel so strange. Being a South African certainly prepared me to live here. We are a diverse nation and this helped with my transition. Most of the time I am working and doing a lot of media interviews which is a big part of my job as the spokesperson for the Miss Universe Organization. 

I have always been inspired by people who do extraordinary things in life; people who are agents of positive change and impactful in their societies and in the world. 

Your diary is super full, but if you had a day off to do anything you wanted, what would you do? 

Spend the day with my mother Philiswa Nadophu. She, and the rest of my family, remain the constant centre of my joy.

What are you most excited about in the year that you represent South Africa, and Africa, as Miss Universe? 

The chance to make a difference. I think the most important thing we should be teaching young girls today is leadership. It's something that has been lacking in young girls and women for a very long time, not because we don't want to, but because of what society has labelled women to be.

I think we are the most powerful beings the world and that we should be given every opportunity. And that is what we should be teaching young girls – to take up space. Nothing is as important as taking up space in society and submitting yourself.

What advice do you have for aspiring African woman? 

I want to tell them that they have everything it takes inside them to achieve their wildest dreams. They are not the weakest link and should never be made to think by anyone that they are. Their role in the world matters and the time is now to step into their power.

You love natural hair, and so do we! How do you encourage other women to flaunt their natural beauty? 

In the past, I think that beauty has been stereotyped to look one way. I have always tried to send the message that beauty does not look a certain way. It’s about accepting yourself for who you are and how different you are. I hope it just inspires women to be themselves, their authentic selves.

If we could send you one meal from South Africa, what would it be? 

Definitely Nandos. They don’t have one around where I live in New York and I am dying for some Nandos.

What qualities do you believe are most important in Miss Universe? 

I originally entered Miss South Africa – which took me to Miss Universe – because it was a means of contributing towards my goal of living a purposeful life. I have always been inspired by people who do extraordinary things in life; people who are agents of positive change and impactful in their societies and in the world. I have always believed that as human beings we exist to do more than just serve ourselves. A portion of our lives should be dedicated to being of service to others, especially those who need the help the most. I wanted to be Miss South Africa and Miss Universe because I wanted to tap fully into that selfless aspect of myself. I come from one of the most disadvantaged provinces in South Africa and I have seen first-hand how a little help can have a huge impact on someone’s life. I want to be able to do that for someone. You have to be hard-working and passionate about what you do. You genuinely have to like people and want to make a difference when given the opportunity.

…as human beings we exist to do more than just serve ourselves.

What is your most memorable moment as Miss Universe? 

I have been so blessed and have met such wonderful people, but it has to be my homecoming – going back to Tsolo and Dutywa where I grew up and going back to my primary school, Canaan Academy in Dutywa, which was started in 2004. I loved connecting with the youth from where I come from because it is important for them to see that they can become so much more than they imagine.

All of my Grade 1 class has made it to tertiary education and we have produced doctors, engineers, town planners and auditors. I was delighted to meet up with my classmates, some of whom I had not seen for years. Included were Dr Ayabonga Duba, attached to the Nelson Mandela hospital in Mthatha, as well as Thina Dlepu, a chartered account at KPMG in Pretoria, and Yongama Mdleleni, who is doing his masters in agriculture at the Free State University. How inspirational is this!

You are well known for your activism against gender-based violence. How will you leverage your title to further these efforts? 

For me, I really look at this beauty pageant platform as a platform of leadership. You are given the opportunity to meet other powerful people. You know it is about beauty but it isn't just about physical beauty – it is who you are on the inside, it's how beautiful your mind is and how much you want to change the world. I will continue to speak out about the importance of education, the issue of gender-based violence as well as working with Smile Train, a non-profit organisation and charity providing corrective surgery for children with cleft lips and palates.

I want to help build a school in my hometown. I grew up there and have seen the struggles learners go through to get a decent education. Every year the Eastern Cape is seen as one of the worst-performing provinces and this is due to a number of factors, infrastructure being one of them. Buildings and classrooms are crucial elements of learning environments. If learners do not have a roof under which they can learn then we are already setting them up for failure. Every child deserves a chance at a brighter future and that is why building this school is so important to me.

Miss South Africa and Miss Universe 2019

Name: Zozibini Tunzi

Meaning: Receiving something with both hands (Xhosa)

Birthday: 18 September 1993

Age: 26

Birthplace: Tsolo, Eastern Cape

Siblings: 3 sisters

Education: National Diploma in public relations management from Cape Peninsula University of Technology, and prior to winning Miss South Africa, Tunzi was completing a Bachelor of Technology graduate degree in public relations management and worked as a graduate intern in at Ogilvy Cape Town.