By Lovemore Asonele Phiri

Carrying a bold message of inclusion and LGBTQIA rights, Miss South Africa hopeful Lehlogonolo Machaba – a model booker and volunteer at a local LGBTQIA centre – is blazing a trail as the first openly transgender contestant in Miss South Africa’s 64-year-history.  

The 24-year-old sylphlike beauty from Oskraal, Letlhabile, in the North West province says she is honoured to have been selected as a Top 30 finalist. The Top 30 finalist announcement was made on Tuesday, July 6 on the Miss South Africa Organisation’s YouTube channel. Machaba was at home preparing dinner when the news broke. “I was excited. I am truly honoured to have been granted the opportunity to amplify my voice regarding the matters that we are facing as a community,” she says.   

Machaba’s inclusion in the competition is especially poignant, considering that 2021 has been a deadly year for LGBTI persons in South Africa. A call-for-action to Government to respond to the hate crimes crisis was put out by a coalition of South African LGBTI organisations back in April.

“We have been here before …. more needs to be done,”  they said.

Machaba aims to challenge and address the biases and discriminations ingrained in our society’s minds: “If we are afforded as many platforms as possible to educate people about our existence, I believe we will see an end to the discriminations and biases,” she says.  

Machaba is aware of the media visibility she has received since the announcement and the pressures it puts on young transgender girls looking up to her. However, she is big on self-determination. “Why should I go to a psychiatrist/psychologist to be diagnosed with gender dysphoria in order for me to obtain a new gender marker,” she asks. “I know I am transgender, so why do I need approval?”  

Machaba understands the importance and the anxieties that come with applying for a change in gender marker. “It took me a year to obtain my new identity document. I submitted my Miss SA application with a temporary ID,” she says.  

Machaba’s year-long wait for a new identity document is a crisis faced by many transgender persons in South Africa. This is because obtaining a valid identity document relies on biological determinism and medicalisation. Medicalisation includes hormonal replacement therapy, therapy and gender reassignment surgery. According to Machaba, “the government is responsible for trans justice. There needs to be a change in the process of obtaining a new valid identity document”.  

Machaba has praised the Miss South Africa pageant for its progressiveness in terms of the protection of human rights of vulnerable and minority groups like the transgender community.  

Machaba’s voting no. is 18. The public has until July 21 to select the top 10 by voting on the official Miss South Africa website. Vote for Machaba here.

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