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Leadership Editor Prof. Onkgopotse JJ Tabane sat down with Zabelo Hlabisa to find out more about her journey to becoming Miss Earth South Africa and how she intends to use her position for good

Zabelo Hlabisa just turned 30 and she wants more for her life ahead. She has ambitions of impacting the lives of girl children in South Africa. She ascribes her success in the last three decades to the inspiration and guidance of her mother and adoptive parents who steeped her in values of respect and love. In July last year, she was crowned Miss Earth South Africa—something she ascribes to her love for tradition and nature, which are traits that she believes the judges saw shining through her vision.

This recent crown follows her crowning as Miss Heritage South Africa and her appointment as an ambassador of the Zulu Royal Family where she is tasked with changing perceptions around the Zulu monarchy. These ambassadorial roles had their seeds planted when her mother instructed her—at only 10 years—to join the pageantry. Soon she was winning multiple crowns and the rest was history.

Zabelo is highly entrepreneurial and has single-handedly launched a modeling school under which she mentors hundreds of young women with ambitions to be models. Under the auspices of this modeling school, she runs dynamic masterclasses that have already empowered a number of young models who owe their careers to her. She has also launched a foundation that focuses on sanitary health for young women and the general well-being of the girl child.

Her career has been littered with awards and societal acknowledgement for her success. She was as recently as late last year acknowledged in Russia as one of the most influential media personalities and influencers on the continent. Her acknowledgements have given her a sense of confidence that she can conquer whatever challenges life can throw at her.

Her future plans include; her own traditional clothing label and a shop where she will exclusively sell this merchandise.

Zabelo, a dynamic born in the hills of KwaZulu-Natal but bred in the place of the rising sun (Mpumalanga), did not allow her rural upbringing to deter her destiny. She sees herself strengthening internationally, especially with her current role as Miss Earth South Africa.

Zabelo puts a huge premium on education and as a result she made sure that while pursuing her dreams, she acquired a solid qualification in BTech from DUT in KwaZulu-Natal and intends to pursue a Masters degree as soon as resources allow her to pursue.

Zabelo’s life also has a strong spiritual dimension. She is proud to be a traditional healer. This, she tells me, was a calling that has been long coming. At only nine years old, she began to see visions of things that were yet to happen. She was able at that age to tell her family lots of predictions and premonitions. This used to scare her but she remained strong until she could not resist the call anymore. In 2020, in the midst of COVID-19, she finally answered the call and attended a six-month long initiation into the world of traditional healing. Today, she consults, not as a career but as a calling. She heals those most in need, especially in areas such as infertility. Many have already gravitated towards her and received that much-needed healing.

Zabelo stands out as a true living testimony of 30 years of our democracy and a shining example of the young, gifted, and black produced by our country of dynamics and democracy.

Zabelo Hlabisa in her own words

What is the best lesson you have learned in your life so far?

It doesn’t matter where you are from, whether you have parents or not, know them or raised by your grandparents. As you grow, you will always meet people who will help you navigate life, as long as you are willing to go forward and reach your goals. Life is what you make of it.

What is your advice to a young person who wants to follow in your footsteps?

Never, ever, let anyone talk you down! Make sure that everything you do in your life, you do it for YOU, not for your friends but you. Remember to take every opportunity that comes your way and run with it. Lastly, respect the universe and her people. It will always give back what you give out.

What are your views on the state of South Africa’s leadership?

It is unfortunate that leadership has somehow been compromised by the people who just want power. I wish we had people who would be selflessly serving our country. As much as I’m not a politician and I’m not into politics, I wish our state leaders would advocate for their parties.

What is your view on how South Africa should handle challenges of climate change?

We should have people who are leaders, who work across the provinces and the country to fight the threats that contribute to climate change. This should be something that is known in our country. Our people need to be educated about the risks of climate change, therefore, everyone will play their part in making sure that we at least minimise climate change.

Your foundation deals with the issues of a girl child, what are your thoughts of how we can stem the tide of teenage pregnancies?

First of all, we should look at WHY does teenage pregnancy happen. We all need to take initiative in raising the awareness of this issue. To say pregnancy is not just about young girls, but it also involves the young boys. I think we need to have more conversations with young boys as well, we have so many young fathers out there who don’t even know how to take care of themselves. As a society, I believe we need to include every teen so that they help in designing programmes to discourage teen pregnancy. We need their input if we are to design programs that speak to the world teens actually live in, rather than engage in wishful thinking about how their world ought to work. We need to make them the ambassadors of change.

Some people believe that pageants are archaic. What perspective can you share about the continuing relevance of beauty contests?

I take pageants as a way of empowering women. I, for one, have been doing pageantry for the past 16 years. I have learnt a lot about myself and life. Pageants help build confidence, develop professional skills and opportunities, as well as create a platform for women and men to advocate for important issues and state their opinions in a larger scale.

What tips can you give to those wanting to join modeling?

Please go to school. Get that degree! Modeling is like a sport, you can not do it forever. There are new people coming in and out every day, so the competition is very high. It is a short-lived career, make the best of it while you can. Do not be everywhere, focus on one thing that works for you.

Tell us about your international schedule over the last two years and what is coming up?

For the past two years, I’ve been traveling around Asia, but just before the year ended, I started traveling to Europe. I’m hoping for more opportunities that side. I’ve built relationships with the other countries. When I’m done with Europe, I would really love to start traveling my beautiful continent, Africa. I have just started my journey as a travel influencer, so I’m looking forward to working with different brands in that department.

What do you intend to do with your Miss Earth title this year?

To embark on roadshows on introducing Green Infrastructure Solutions to Life Orientation classes at schools and low-income communities on impacts of climate change. I want to raise awareness in schools, have programmes that are designed for children to participate in taking care of the environment. I have started in Johannesburg last year. I will be traveling around the country. Up next is Mpumalanga. But since I’m based in KZN, I will do more schools here and distribute the knowledge through social media to reach more people.

What are your three leadership lessons that you would like to share with our readers?

Talk less, listen more, and do more: A good leader understands that they can grow and make better decisions if they listen to feedback from other team members.

Change is constant, be ready to adapt to change: An important leadership skill is to be adaptable and flexible to accommodate changes.

Communication: A good leader shares relevant information and key data with their followers. They also involve them in the decision-making process.

Prof. Onkgopotse JJ Tabane is the Editor of Leadership Magazine.

By Editor