Allow me to take you back to February 2020. It’s Zozi’s homecoming. Up until six months prior, no-one had even heard of her.
The Gautrain is offering free rides to the airport to meet her. President Cyril Ramaphosa is personally inviting her to attend the State of The Nation Address as his guest. And, Nelson Mandela’s grandson is opening the doors to Tata Madiba’s’ historic home, where she is invited to sit in his grandfather’s favourite armchair. ‘I’m never washing this dress,’ she excitedly captions her Insta post. I wouldn’t wash the dress either.
This is a big deal, people. It is one of the many things I love about this country – and its people. The immense pride and inclusive support we show for those who fly our flag high is remarkable. And, as the current reigning Miss Universe, Zozibini Tunzi is only just getting started.
Somewhere in the middle of her whirlwind homecoming tour, we find ourselves in the rooftop suite of Jo’burg’s current ‘it’ hotel, Hallmark House. ICYDK, all the cool kids are hanging here these days (Laduma Ngxokolo, we see you).
Zozi arrives wearing a maxi dress in an African print. Seven enormous bodyguards surround her, including a New York Police Department officer named Dennis. IRL, she is small-framed, yet tall and statuesque. ‘Just the right amount of “laidback” for a Miss Universe,’ says COSMO’s fashion director Cleo Marcopoulos.
She is graceful, yet down to earth. She is the girl next door, but not. She is professional, yet relaxed and approachable. She has a kind-hearted energy – the kinda friendly and accessible energy you get from someone you’ve known your entire life.
She is feeling exhausted (although you’d never know) – the day before, she was at a street parade in her Eastern Cape hometown of Tsolo, and her body is running on no sleep (New York, where Zozi is currently living out her year-long reign, is six hours behind us). We get her a strong coffee and two muffins (one blueberry and one bran, because we’re not sure which one she’ll prefer). Zozi eats both. We stan her even more – a girl after our own carb-loving hearts.
Rewind to two weeks before the shoot when I had her on the phone for our interview, a peaceful conversation before the homecoming frenzy hits – Zozi in her Big Apple apartment, me in my office with a big ‘do not disturb sign’ hanging on the door. ‘I love Nandos,’ she says to me. ‘The first thing I plan to eat when I come home is Nandos, because they don’t have it here in New York. I want to have vetkoek so badly. And samp, too. But it’s the middle of summer and people don’t eat samp in summer.’
We go back to where it all began. Zozi was a shy, seven-year-old girl and her mom was concerned. ‘I didn’t have a lot of friends and I didn’t play sport either, so I didn’t socialise much, which worried my mom a lot,’ she says. I tell her I find this rather hard to believe. This is not the same Zozi I watched tell gazillions of viewers across the world in the Miss Universe final that women are the most powerful beings on the planet and we should teach young girls to take up space.
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