Drop-dead gorgeous divas from all over the continent will jet into the city later this month to compete in the annual Miss Deaf Africa pageant, whose inaugural winner four years ago was Parklands resident Elnette Botha.
While most deaf people are marginalised in a hearing world, the pageant tries to unite the hearing and the deaf from all over Africa, showing that a disability does not define you.
As this year’s contestants prepare for the pageant at the Durbanville High School auditorium on Saturday July 30, Northern News met with Elnette at the Blue Peter Hotel in Big Bay to find out what she has been up to since being crowned the first Ms Deaf Africa in 2012.
It’s difficult to be drawn in by the picturesque views of the beachfront while the green-eyed blonde is present. Besides her obvious beauty, she is refreshingly down to earth and pleasant to speak to.
This year, Elnette will be returning to the pageant as a judge.
“I’m very excited. It’s nice to be on the other side of the table for a change. There’s not a lot of pressure on you,” she says.
Elnette was diagnosed as deaf when she was one and had a cochlear implant surgically fitted when she was three to help her hear.
When she took part in the pageant, she did not know how to sign and all the other contestants could. Now working as an occupational therapist with deaf children she has brushed up on her sign language considerably.
“You learn about each other’s challenges and dreams and you find common ground,” she says.
The pageant, she says, is not just about looks.
“We come in all shapes and sizes. It’s not just about beauty, it’s also about personality. It’s no good being just a pretty face but not doing good in the deaf community.”
Contestants are not asked to parade in swimwear, as is the case in other pageants. Instead photos are taken of the women in their costumes beforehand and shown at the pageant.
When she won, her grand prize was a trip to the Seychelles, and she used the opportunity to make contact with the deaf community there.
She hopes the contestants will not only enjoy themselves but also be inspired to help others in the deaf community.
“I want them to be themselves and to enjoy it. They must make the most of their time here. I want them to leave inspired to do something for the deaf in their countries,” she said.
Maria Sivertsen founded the pageant in 2012.
She taught at the Dominican School for the deaf for 30 years serving as the head of the senior department and in later years the head of the practical department which entails working with autistic children amongst others things.
She says she was inspired to start Miss Deaf Africa after she had attended the Miss World pageant a few years earlier. “I accompanied a former Miss Deaf South Africa to the Miss World pageant, and I felt that the African continent was not very well represented.
“From Africa, there were about four girls in the competition. I decided it’s time for the African continent to do something so our girls are better represented and stand a better chance to win.”
So Maria started knocking on doors and cold-calling to find sponsorship.
The hunt for funding is a struggle she still faces each year to keep the pageant afloat, but somehow, she says, her “passion for the deaf” keeps things going.
“I am very thankful for those who have come forward to help, but we are in need of much more sponsorships,” she says.
“I do this to enhance our sign language in South Africa and in different African countries because people don’t get in contact with the deaf. Durbanville’s auditorium has 700 seats and I want it to be filled. I urge people to come out and support this function. It really is for a great cause.”
Miss Deaf Africa will take place at Durbanville High school in Langenhoven Street, Durbanville. The pageant starts at 6pm and tickets cost R150.
Book at Computicket. Call Maria at 084 555 739 or email mariasivertsen@ hotmail.com for more information about the pageant.