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Ms Ayanda Thabethe, a final-year student in the Discipline of Dietetics and Human Nutrition at UKZN is one of the Top 10 contestants in the annual, nationwide Miss South Africa pageant.
The winner will be crowned at a ceremony in August and represent her country at Miss Universe 2022, Miss World 2022 or Miss Supranational 2023.
The 22-year-old is one of two contestants from KwaZulu-Natal selected by professional and public judging and has spent the past three years balancing her modelling career, business and studies. The aspiring dietitian plans to contribute to developing nutrition-related guidelines to combat South Africa’s double burden of malnutrition and obesity.
Currently based in the private sector where she is completing her Food Management Studies block, earlier this year Thabethe was based at the Harry Gwala Regional Hospital where she focused on the clinical components of her qualification.
The older of two siblings, she was born and raised in Pietermaritzburg and attended Longmarket Girls’ School and Pietermaritzburg Girls’ High School (GHS) where she excelled in athletics and cross country. A prefect, vice house captain and vice-captain of cross country in her matric year, she maintains her fitness by running recreationally.
Thanks to the influence of Consumer Studies educator Mrs Shelagh Goddard at GHS who studied Dietetics, Thabethe set her academic goals early on, deciding in Grade 8 that she would pursue Dietetics Studies at UKZN after researching her options and finding the University’s academic offerings and proximity to family appealing.
‘The structure of the course is phenomenal and I liked the modules; it was a strong programme,’ she said.
She found the environment at UKZN stimulating and conducive to success because of the small and personal Discipline of Dietetics and Human Nutrition, and exposure to a diverse student body. She said the staff showed care for their students, provided all the necessary information and were always available.
Thabethe began modelling after a spur-of-the-moment suggestion from a friend that she apply for a modelling opportunity. She soon realised her aptitude for it and completed the requisite courses for professional modelling, signed with an agency, successfully freelanced, and was then signed by Boss Models which accelerated her career. She also started her own business, The Closet which rents out formal dresses and ball gowns for pageants.
Driven to be a trailblazer and role model and inspired by women including Maya Angelou, Oprah Winfrey and former Miss South Africa Basetsana Kumalo, Thabethe was inspired to enter Miss South Africa to bring about positive change in South Africa.
Emerging as one of the Top 10 contestants was foreshadowed by her family saying she would be Miss South Africa from before she could walk. Thabethe has found that modelling is not simply about walking a stage but includes considerable opportunities for empowerment and advocacy. She reached the top 12 of the Miss Greater Edendale Mall pageant, and went on to win the Miss KZN Queen, a year-long title that enabled her to focus on self-discovery and prepare for Miss South Africa.
Participating in Miss South Africa has been an unexpected journey, providing more opportunity for individual expression than Thabethe anticipated, and offering contestants routes to self-improvement through lessons and information in the pageant workshops.
While modelling is important to Thabethe, her career is her first priority, and she hopes to focus on holistic health, inspired by time in a rural area with her family where they motivated their community to take up pastimes including jogging. She hopes to promote the use of outdoor gyms, host boot camps and encourage the use of community centres for discussions on mental health.
She said that her Dietetics internship has crystallised her learning and enabled her to put her studies into practice, and she and her UKZN colleagues have received praise from hospital dietitians on the depth of their knowledge. When her studies are complete, Thabethe will be one of the first in her family to attain a university degree. She is looking forward to her Community Nutrition block and preparations for the next stage of Miss South Africa.
Words: Christine Cuénod