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Inclusive name, selective victory

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It is inappropriately ironic that she shares a stake in the place in which the slow, systematic exercise of selecting an impressive individual dubbed Miss Blantyre takes place.

However, the irony is that she takes no part in the glory, being associated with Miss Blantyre only in name and not victory.

The double irony is that Blantyre encompasses two areas, namely Blantyre Rural and Blantyre City. There is no ‘single’ Blantyre without the other, but it seems there is victory for only one, when it [victory] was supposed to apply to both.

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According to the National Statistical Office fifth-initiated 2008 Population and Housing Census, Blantyre Rural has a total population of 338, 047 while Blantyre City has a total population of 661, 444. Of this population, however, it is Blantyre Rural’s female population of 173, 501 and Blantyre City’s female population of 323, 789 that Miss Blantyre organisers are interested in.

But it seems, so far, that even the 323, 789 population has been ignored when it comes to sharing of the euphoria of victory.

Self-inflicted or systematic exclusion?

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Miss Blantyre Pageant has been run by different agencies, for different purposes. For example, when Top Citizens Events Management was managing the Miss Blantyre contest— supported by corporate sponsors such as Skyway University [then called Skyway Business College, which was offering scholarships to reigning Miss Blantyre], Candlex Malawi Limited, which was providing beauty products such as laundry materials, among others— the focus was on beauty.

Again, beauty queens from Blantyre Rural were ignored, if not outright disregarded.

And history seems to be repeating itself after current Miss Blantyre organising Chairman, Daniel Ngwira, decided to fill the gap left by Top Citizens Events Management, who managed the Miss Malawi Beauty Pageant for two consecutive years before leaving the stage to others.

Ngwira and his organisation team decided to shift the focus from beauty to other commendable attributes that make human beings naturally attractive. So, the slogan has been ‘Beyond Beauty’, while the themes keep on changing. This year’s theme is ‘Keeping the girl child in school’.

But, as if true to form, the winners have been from Blantyre City, as if Blantyre is synonymous with City.

However, Ngwira chooses to differ.

“The call for participation extends to every Blantyre resident including those in the rural areas. We use all communication methods—traditional, conventional and unconventional. Little wonder, Blantyre spreads much into locations and these models come from all over the city,” Ngwira says.

Did he say ‘city’ in the last line of the paragraph? It is like an admission, not so?

But Ngwira qualifies his words: “Partly, I may wish to comment that some ladies in the rural areas may aspire to contest and have the sought beauty but, due to lack of exposure and lack of interest in current affairs, they miss out. We, however, know our reach is everywhere irrespective of location. It is inclusive.

“Modelling is about choice, confidence, self-esteem, beauty and expression. It has a lot of commercial value if done right. It is a stepping stone to many careers including modelling itself, journalism and marketing. We need Malawians to support us and be part of the positive change,” Ngwira hastens to say.

He points out that models influence public opinion. He says if, for example, Miss Blantyre speaks against killings of albinos, youth and other stakeholders may take heed of the advice, thereby influencing positive change in society.

“We should not deny society change it demands because, if that is not honoured, time will punish us,” Ngwira says.

Forward march

So far, Ngwira says Miss Blantyre has spurred positive change both in Blantyre City and Blantyre Rural.

He says, for example, that organisation of the event has helped mend some of the stereotypes associated with modelling, to the extent that the public has developed belief in modelling.

The other stepping stone has been the establishment of a foundation, Young Educated and Talented (YET) targeting needy and vulnerable students in schools. YET Chief Executive Officer and founder is Miss Blantyre Chisomo Machelo. It is hoped that the foundation is the magic formula for sustenance of activities after she hands over the crown next month.

“[We have also] significantly contributed to every national pageant happening in Malawi. For example, Miss Blantyre and her princesses made the list of Miss Malawi finalists from the Southern Region and Miss Blantyre Princess Tuno made the final list for Miss Heritage Malawi. We safely claim to be the cradle of the best practices in modelling.

“[We] successfully campaigned for the Keep Blantyre Clean and Green initiative in schools and supported Tree planting activities by the City Council. [As part of] Girl Child empowerment, Chisomo has been to a lot of Schools in Blantyre, empowering girls to believe in themselves and to prioritise studies and skills development.

“As a project, Miss Blantyre 2015 chapter offered an IT [Information Technology] Scholarship to Miss Blantyre, Chisomo, courtesy of TechnoBrain and she holds that qualification and certification, which aligns with our slogan, ‘Beyond Beauty’. As a brand, we elevated Chisomo to a high social position of positive influence,” Ngwira says.

Rough patches

However, like all journeys in life, the Miss Blantyre organisers have faced some raging waves along the way.

These include rejection by the corporate worlds despite efforts by City Mayor and organisers to support the organisers. This is compounded by the fact that the old generation still keeps its distance when it comes to modelling issues, and this extends to marketers whose jobs everyday demands models in creative works.

But, instead of going local, marketers have strange foreign tastes and engage foreign models.

Other challenges include sponsors who talk more than they act, lack of initiative for most models [not necessarily the queen], parents who block their children from creating a career out of modelling. Again, the identification of models remains a mammoth task, fire fanned by lack of seriousness from some models.

And, come to think of it, “Some partners and potential sponsors [have been found] pushing [more] for the girls [models] than business [interests, something] which we have beaten and done very well [on]”.

As if these factors were not enough, mystery surrounds factors that influenced Miss Blantyre organisers to part ways with their main sponsor last time out. Is it because Ngwira and crew wanted the sponsor to do everything?

“No. Main Sponsor actually failed to honour the basics of their commitment to the extent that organisers were forced to stand in for some commitments on their behalf. Their business went bankrupt but [they] failed to officially communicate to us or at least make a statement until we pushed them to the wire. Nonetheless, they made a contribution of monthly allowances of K40, 000 per month for the period we worked with them, something which is greatly worth appreciating, more so for the experience where our queen drove [a car],” Ngwira says.

However, Ngwira says the organisers are ready to walk the long mile until their goals are met.

“We are credible for our expertise in modelling industry. Most Malawians do not pretty much understand this [and] so we also contribute in educating the public about what modelling is all about and clearing some of the stereotypes. This goes to parents too as most have not allowed children, especially girls, [to join modelling] thinking they will turn to prostitution and lose control.

“Fact is, prostitution will happen if it has to and it has nothing to do with modelling. Spotlight, which I can also call exposure platform, is what most ladies crave for in modelling as they aim to be super stars in Malawi and build their own legacies. Models make celebrities especially where they are liked and active. We believe parents now should embrace this and support girls to participate in Miss Blantyre Beauty contest or at least be part of the team,” Ngwira says.

The current Miss Blantyre is expected to hand over the crown on November 4.

To whom will she hand over? That is the question. After all, the road to identifying a Miss Blantyre from Blantyre Rural has been painfully slow, as if Blantyre Rural is dry and barren.

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