THE formbook of professional beauty pageants associated with glitz and glamour in Zimbabwe continues to be torn to shreds.
Several pageant organisers and other influential figures in the industry have been accused of favouritism and seeking sexual favours from models in exchange for winning the crowns.
Also, nudity scandals have characterised some of the pageants and this has left many Zimbabwean citizens with a negative attitude towards modelling.
The selection of the final contestants for the prestigious Miss Universe Zimbabwe crown has been rocked by controversy amid allegations of vote manipulation and favouritism, in what appears to be the template for many of the country’s beauty pageants.
Last week, Miss Universe Zimbabwe organisers selected a bevy of 12 finalists ahead of the pageant’s grand finale set for September 16 at Hippodrome in Harare.
The winner at the pageant to be held under the theme, Beautifully Confident, is set to represent Zimbabwe at the 72nd edition of Miss Universe on November 18, 2023 in El Salvador, Central America.
The pageant national director and former Miss Zimbabwe Tendai Hunda is under scrutiny, as she stands accused of hand-picking some models.
According to sources privy to the developments, Hunda is alleged to have sneaked a model into the finalists because her boyfriend has financial muscle and is among the chief sponsors of the pageant.
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One of the models Tashinga Musara, who was among the final 25 contestants, took to social media platform, Instagram, to expose the alleged scam.
“I am not a sore loser, but I stand for what is right. Miss Universe Zimbabwe is a scam, they already had a favourite from the get-go and allowed the other 24 incredible women to waste their time and money,” she said.
Musara confessed that she did not audition for the Miss Universe Zimbabwe, but she was shocked to find herself among the top 25 contestants.
“I made it to the top 25, got me wondering what criteria exactly did they use to pick me, but they saw +45 (country code) and thought we got another diaspora on our hands, you don’t even know me, don’t know if I can speak or not, don’t know if I can catwalk or not, but that is Zimbabwe for you,” she said, adding that it was a huge embarrassment to the country.
Speaking to NewsDay Life & Style, some of the models and sources who requested to be anonymous for fear of victimisation confirmed that the selection process was marred with irregularities.
“There has been a lot of favouritism and leniency in the selection process of Miss Universe Zimbabwe towards their favourite contestants while some of us were pressured to do things at a specific time.
"For example, we were told to do a video of ourselves that was to be submitted at a set time, but others still had to send it a day after destroying the whole process of a presentation under pressure,” said the source.
“There were some models who claimed that they experienced some challenges during a Zoom interview where they were supposed to do their presentations. The pageant director then assigned them to take videos doing the exact presentations that were done on the Zoom interview and the videos of other girls raised suspicion as it seemed like they were pre-recorded.”
The source continued: “We later noticed that on the videos, some of the girls had different hairstyles from the ones they sported on the Zoom interview, also with different backgrounds, everything was just different. All these girls were selected and are part of the 12 finalists.”
“All this was just done deliberately for these girls to qualify. They were given the leniency to redo their videos while the videos of other contestants were trimmed short so as not to convey their messages.”
Another model added: “Some of the finalists had the worst interviews. A couple of girls who did not do well in the Zoom interviews are in the top 12.
"They showed the world rehearsed videos because some girls in that top 12 did not do well.”
The other models noted rules that were set did not apply to everyone.
“Some girls used robots to vote for themselves and they were not disqualified from contesting. Well, Tashinga spoke to the group addressing her grievances and after that one of the organisers just destroyed the platform as if nothing happened”.
The models said there was also manipulation of the voting system.
“It was free votes at first then all of a sudden they removed the free voting platform and introduced the boosted vote platform where we were required to pay to cast a vote,” she noted.
The models said they took their grievances to Hunda, but she professed ignorance of the matters. Contacted for comment, Hunda dismissed the allegations as false, noting that the aggrieved models never communicated their grievances to the Miss Universe Zimbabwe organisers.
“I feel like this news should not be published. Zimbabwe has just been reinstated on the Miss Universe and all the bad publicity is not good for us because we just got back onto the stage. We really need to protect the brand for Zimbabwe’s sake”, she told NewsDay Life & Style.
“The international community is watching, and allegations are coming 22 years after being put back on stage and the first thing we are doing is bringing a scandal. I don’t think that is good for the brand Zimbabwe.”
Hunda said the models, who had made it to the finalists, were not related to anyone (within the Miss Universe team), adding that they were new faces that deserved to be the finalists.
“On the voting system, it was very transparent. Initially the voting process was free, one free vote a day.
"During the free voting platform, two girls manipulated votes by using applications that boosted the number of votes until the whole system was compromised and blocked,” she said.
“The voting process was then restarted and the people who were the highest placed in the voting platform still made it to the top 12.
"No one was cheated out of the top 12. However, those that cheated by manipulating votes were not disqualified from contesting, but had their votes considered null and void.”
On Musara's claim that she tried to reach Hunda, the latter said the former did not communicate with anyone from Miss Universe Zimbabwe team.
“I saw her post on the internet. I am the one who sent her (Musara) a message (WhatsApp), that I hear you got grievances, would you like to talk them out, she blue ticked. I called her,” Hunda explained.
“The last message I received from the model was asking why she could not make it to the top 12 and I responded that I was going to get back to her since I was flying.”
The 12 finalists eyeing the crown are Stacy Hall, Allyfina Mwanyali, Brooke-Bruk Jackson, Angela Guta, Amanda Mpofu, Yamikani Nyenga, Nicole Musiyarira, Prudence Moyo, Noliwe Shand, Audrey Ward, Nokutenda Marumbwa and Life Matunzeni.