Botswana first won its international pageant courtesy of Mpule Kwelagobe’s Miss Universe title back in 1999. Prior to Kwelagobe’s achievement, Batswana’s interest in beauty pageants was only confined to competitions within our own boarders.
Any talk of a local achieving such a feat would have been deemed too ambitious. It was therefore not a surprise at the time that almost the entire nation was oblivious to the event taking place on the night of May 26, 1999 somewhere in a small island called Trinidad and Tobago. It was only when the news of Kwelagobe’s triumph started filtering in that the rest of the nation begun to take notice. It suddenly dawned on young beautiful women across the country that the sky was the limit after all.
Only since that moment on the eve of the 21st century has the local pageant industry emerged from the rough and dusty streets of Gaborone. A handful of promising young beauty queens got the courage to push the local industry on to the global stage.
Kaone Kario and Emma Warreus went on to carve their own names on the history books of international pageants.
Meanwhile 20 year old Mendry Gaotsenelelwe was only five when Kwelagobe broke barriers. She was probably too young to have even comprehended the mantra of self-doubt that had permeated young local women’s minds at the time.
Having won the Miss Tourism Botswana 2013 title, the University of Botswana Environmental Science and Sociology student has set her sights beyond our borders. “I got a call from the local Miss Heritage license holder, Boikanyo Phenyo, asking if I would be interested in taking part in this year’s Miss Heritage pageant scheduled for Johannesburg,” Gaotsenelelwe tells Lifestyle.
She says because Phenyo got her license too late to host a pageant that would crown the country representative for this year’s event, she (Phenyo) thought it was fitting for her (Gaotsenelelwe) to represent Botswana.
“She facilitated an interaction between me and the pageant organisers in South Africa,” she says. Growing up in Letlhakane, Gaotsenelelwe says she never envisioned herself as a beauty queen or model. But she never harboured any doubts about her looks or abilities either. It simply never crossed her mind.
“It was only when I was doing Form Four at McConnell Secondary School in Tutume that my friends convinced me to enter the school pageant,” Gaotsenelelwe says. “And I won.” Her next attempt at a beauty pageant would come a few years later (2013) when she eventually won the Miss Tourism Botswana. She represented Botswana at the Miss World Tourism Finals in Equatorial Guinea but could not make it into final three. Unfazed by her failed attempt in Guinea the lanky beauty went on to take part in the Miss Inter Varsity pageant in Lesotho where she finished as first runner up. She has also modelled for a few design houses here in Gaborone including Kaone Moremong’s House of Kay and the Winter Fiesta.
Gaotsenelelwe believes there is a lot of raw talent in the country waiting to be uprooted. “We do not get the exposure and support we need especially from the government,” she says.
She points to inconsistencies in the government’s calls for youth empowerment and its “complete failure” to meaningfully support and protect the same industries that support the development of the young generation.
“This failure is not so much a failure as it is a reflection of the refusal by the government to prioritize youth empowerment activities that can provide an alternative to the escalating rate of unemployment,” Gaotsenelelwe says.
She calls on all aspiring models not to despair, but rather believe in themselves and persevere despite the challenges. As part of her preparations, Gaotsenelelwe says she is still looking for support to buy or design traditional attire and accessories for the competition as well as learning how to prepare a unique traditional dish.
She thanks the University of Botswana Student Affairs department for sponsoring her return ticket to South Africa. She leaves for Johannesburg on December 2nd.The coronation of the 2014 Miss Heritage queen will take place on December 12th.
PS: The designer of the swimsuits won by Mpule Kwelagobe and fellow contestants back in 1999, Oscar de la Renta, sadly passed on last week. The Dominican born designer who dressed Hollywood stars, American first ladies and other rich socialites died at the age of 82. May His Soul Rest In Peace!