Senior Arts Reporter

The year 2003 was a momentous occasion in the history of beauty pageantry in the country as it saw the birth of the Miss Rural Zimbabwe.

At inception, it was envisaged that the pageant would mainstream the generally marginalised rural girl.

The vision was excellent, the intention good but the execution bred unforeseen trouble, anxiety, debt and suffering not only to the girls, but the country at large.

It became a horror story as the country was awash with news that there was brazen abuse of the girls during boot camp as they dated older and wealthy men, and that the organiser of the contest was equally culpable and not of sound mind.

Whether or not this was true, the fact is that the pageant suffered a huge blow.

The beauty pageant was the brainchild of Bulawayo-based fashion and beauty enthusiast Sipho Mazibuko, who had to go through several upheavals to ensure the pageant gained not only recognition, but also that the ordinary rural girl realised her potential in the cut-throat beauty and fashion industry.

The Miss Rural pageant was a novel concept as it did not conform to stereotypical rules and regulations associated with international beauty pageants.

For starters, it did not recognise the background or the upbringing of the model, but instead it exposed the uncut diamonds in the rural who would be groomed to stand tall at international catwalks in Milan, Paris, New York and London.

The inaugural Miss Rural Zimbabwe queen Abigail Mabwoni was discovered at Nemanwa Growth Point in Masvingo oozed stunning confidence, much to the delight of fans.

The untold story is that some well-wishers ensured that Abigail went through university after she won the title when she was only studying her O’ Levels.

Such was the enthusiasm of Mazibuko to ensure the rural girl had the same exposure and grooming as models in Bulawayo, Harare, Mutare, Gweru or any other city in Zimbabwe.

While the intended purpose was noble and commendable, the pageant suffered a huge setback following allegations of child abuse and lack of resources, including Mazibuko’s depression and subsequent mental challenges. She was not even shy to point fingers at those who fought her during that time, but today she says it is all water under the bridge.

There were also allegations that Mazibuko was using the contestants as baits to lure the rich and famous to raise funds for the pageant.

Today, Mazibuko who insists she has overcome her depression and mental problems, says she is fit and raring to bring the pageant back to life.

Mazibuko claims she not only faced resistance from the industry, but was also discriminated against and stigmatised after she suffered mental problems.

Now she is back and wants to recoup the lost glory of Miss Rural, but the question on everyone’s lips is will she take up and honour her words that she wants to promote the girl child?

Has she healed from the mental problems and again, what of the not verified allegations of child abuse?

Will people, especially parents, trust her with their children again?

In an interview yesterday, Mazibuko opened up about child abuse allegations and demonisation of the pageant in the media.

“Not again, I am facing stigmatisation. I thought those questions had been answered before and I have opened a new page, but well, let me set the record straight.

“The demonisation I endured from the media was immense. Coupled with other factors, I experienced a mental breakdown, which resulted in me being admitted to Ingutsheni Hospital 11 years ago.

“This was because I had turned down sexual advances by a well-to-do executive. He in fact took two models from camp and convinced them to give false statements about me. One of the stories was that I was using them as bait to fundraise for my own benefit.

“However, as it turned out the allegations were thrown out because they were baseless and held no merit. The models could not prove the allegations and until now there was no docket to prove the allegations,” she said.

“I became stressed and suffered from depression, resulting in my mental problems.”

She said the pageant is back and will be under her non-governmental organisation, Mental Voices Trust, which aims to fight stigmatisation faced by people with mental health problems.