Artscape to host first ever Miss Wheelchair SA

Nokuthula Yonke will represent the Western Cape at the Miss Wheelchair South Africa pageant 2021, held at the Artscape this week.

Artscape Theatre is set to host the first ever Miss Wheelchair South Africa in partnership with Universal Accessibility Hub on Thursday December 2.

The event is aimed at promoting the theme, Beauty without Barriers, and to start the journey for the newly crowned Miss Wheelchair SA to represent South Africa at Miss Wheelchair World in Mexico in October 2022.

The 10 finalists, selected from across the country through auditions, will be in Cape Town this week where they will take part in workshops ranging from choreography to personal entrepreneurial development, and enjoy guided tours of Cape Town.

Founding member of Miss Wheelchair South Africa Lebohang Monyatsi said she was proud to be an ambassador for NPO Universal Accessibility Hub, which has been instrumental in organising and making Miss Wheelchair South Africa’s dream realised.

“Creating an awareness of the disparities and advocating for persons with disabilities is done through events such as Miss Wheelchair SA and we aim to change perceptions and start new conversations that beauty has no limitations.”

The criteria used for short-listing was based on personality, confidence, introduction and answer content.

Representing the Western Cape is Nokuthula Yonke, from Rondebosch-East. Ms Yonke grew up an orphan, and was raised by different families as part of the foster system – “I don’t have a specific place in Cape Town I am from,” she says.

Ms Yonke was born with a condition called Spina Bifida, a birth defect that occurs when the spine and spinal cord don’t form properly.

“I’ve been wheelchair bound for as long as I can remember, and because it’s been a lifetime for me, I have learnt to adapt and even play in the park with kids in my own way.”

Ms Yonke said she started modelling for fun, putting on fashion shows while she was a pupil at Astra School in Montana, and St Joseph’s Home’s care facility.

“I recall making outfits out of recycled plastics at school and putting on a show, making it possible to show that disabled persons can do things, and we are not just here for show.”

She said she’s always been told that her pictures are beautiful, however, Ms Yonke loves her personality more. “What I love most about myself is not any body part, but the fact that I can make people laugh, smile or forget their problems, even if it’s just for a little while – that’s the best.”

She does some photo modelling, and appears in a few advertisements.

When she is not modelling, she is doing a learnership in administration, and is an avid sports player – excelling in basketball.

Ms Yonke said her basketball coach, who she lives with, encouraged her to participate in Miss Wheelchair SA. “I resisted, but thought if I don’t participate, I won’t be living to my full potential by showing people what the disabled world really is like and the true facts of using a wheelchair.”

She said when she was chosen as a finalist, she was honoured and excited as it took her one step closer to getting her message about disability across to a wider audience. If she wins, she said, she would like to break barriers and take away the “ag shame” factor of people with disabilities. “The nation and the world needs to know that my wheelchair does not define who I am, as it should’nt for any person out there.“

Ms Yonke said one of the things that got her through most of the challenges in her life was a quote from civil activist Martin Luther King: “You don’t have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step.”

“There is nothing to be afraid or ashamed of. You only need to make a single move, and the rest will follow.“

Artscape CEO Marlene le Roux said the building that houses Artscape is celebrating its 50th year but it opened as the Nico Malan on 19 May 1971 for white people only.

She said as democracy dawned and the name changed to Artscape circa 1999, a transformation journey commenced to demystify the building as a home for all.

“This event thus succinctly ties into our ethos of promoting full inclusivity including persons with disabilities. With the hosting of this event, we aim to change the image of women with disabilities, break barriers and show that being in a wheelchair is not a limitation.

“The crowning of the first Miss Wheelchair South Africa is crafted with the aim to change the perception, narrative, and image of disabled women in South Africa.“

The other nine finalists for 2021 are Pearl Nkosi from Mpumalanga; Bongiwe Sithomo from KwaZulu-Natal; Palesa Mahloko from Gauteng; Nokuzola Kakaza from North West; Tamelyn Bock, from Northern Cape; Mbalenhle Nkhumeleni from Limpopo; Nadia Leila Carelse fromKwa-Zulu Natal; Catiana Signor, from Gauteng and Maureen Mukale, from North West.