Lebohang Monyatsi represented the country at the Miss Wheelchair World pageant in Warsaw, Poland, in 2017 where she was crowned first princess.

Beauty without barriers.

This is the theme for the first Miss Wheelchair South Africa pageant that will take place at the Artscape Theatre on Thursday 2 December.

The pageant aims to change the perception, narrative and image of physically challenged women in South Africa.

Lebohang Monyatsi, founder of non-profit organisation Miss Wheelchair SA, represented the country at the Miss Wheelchair World pageant in Warsaw, Poland, in 2017 and was crowned first princess.

Monyatsi says: “There was no Miss Wheelchair SA before I went to represent SA in Poland. So there they taught us how to hold a workshop, how to plan the event, especially for those who do not have this event in their respective countries, and they advised us to come and be that change here in our country.”

She says she has been advocating to have the event held on home soil for the past few years but struggled to get the funds to get it off the ground. “The aim is to change the image of people with disabilities and to create awareness and to make everything accessible for everyone. In that way, people with disabilities will not feel disabled. If we can have accessible features in everything, life will be better for everyone.”

Monyatsi, an international athlete who has represented South Africa in wheelchair basketball at the 2012 and 2015 Paralympics, says she is elated that the event will finally be held in the country for the first time.

“I am overjoyed that the event is coming to life because it will help the people who have been dreaming of walking the ramp and have not been given a chance.”

Sharna Nathoo, Managing Director of Universal Accessibility Hub – the organisers of the event – says they are proud that it is happening in Cape Town.

“Looking at all the people who have entered from the different provinces, it showcases that people have been waiting, they are excited about it, they have been waiting for an event of this nature so that they can participate.”

She continues: “I take my hat off to these women because it is about taking it to the next level; to showcase to their daughters and the next generation that there is nothing that can stop us. Just because we are disabled and in a wheelchair doesn’t mean that we can’t also do a runway.”

The names of the 10 finalists were announced on Saturday 6 November.

People’s Post was unable to get the names of all the finalists at the time of going to print last night (8 November).

However, the winner will represent the country at the Miss Wheelchair World next year.

Nathoo says their biggest challenge is getting financial support. She is appealing to businesses and individuals to donate prizes for the finalists and funding to pay for their accommodation.

“The biggest challenge for people with disabilities is funding. We would like to reach out to corporates or individuals that would love to assist us with prizes for the 10 finalists. We will appreciate whatever donations. Being the first event, we would like to see them get the prizes that were awarded to Miss South Africa.”

Nathoo says, despite the challenges, the event will go ahead as planned. “We are determined that we will have a winner who will participate in Miss Wheelchair World in October next year in Mexico. Be part of the change that is needed in our country and globally to move away from ‘us and them’, but about looking at everyone as human beings and redefine beauty.”

Monyatsi, who will be one of several judges choosing the winner, says: “I am looking for someone who can be an agent of change. Someone who listens. Someone who advocates for people with disabilities.”

She also shares a message with the contestants.

“Come and enjoy. There will only be one winner, but at the end of the day you are all winners. You all have a common goal to change the stereotype of people with disabilities.”

Monyatsi expressed her gratitude to the Artscape Theatre for partnering with them to host the event.

Marlene le Roux, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Artscape, says through hosting this event, they aim to change the image of women with disabilities, break barriers and show that being in a wheelchair is not a limitation.

“We wish to echo the words of the international leg of the pageant that: ‘Our purpose is to show the world that there are beautiful women in wheelchairs in countries all over the world and to remind you that the wheelchair is not a constraint but an addition to your personality.’ Every single woman in a wheelchair has the right to be whoever she wants and to feel beautiful.”

Le Roux says it is imperative that events such as these are held to give a voice to disability advocates who have called greater attention to the need to break down historic barriers that prevent people with disabilities from fully participating in mainstream activities, such as beauty pageants, effectively promoting their inclusion as full members of society.

Le Roux also shares a word of advice with the finalists.

“The contestants this year is of a high professional standard. I wish to impart to them that they should not let any obstacles stand in their way and continue to persevere in whatever dreams and hopes they have for themselves, persons with disabilities and humanity in general.”

Tickets to the pageant are R100 and available at Computicket. (Source:News24)