Miss SA celebrity judges, Kojo Baffoe and Sophie Ndaba opened up during the Q&A session ahead of the third regional judging session scheduled for 22 and 23 August at The Maslow Hotel in Sandton.
Q: You’ve both led fascinating lives and had extraordinary careers. What’s been the one thing that you’ve done that you’ve loved more than any other?
Sophie: Everything I do is unique. I’ve been an actress for 25 years. I love acting, but I’m multi focused workwise. I’ve had a production company for 15 years – we’ve designed, planned and coordinated events all around the world. I also see myself as a philanthropist; I try and make children’s dreams come true. You see, I grew up in an orphanage so I have a pretty good idea what little ones in children’s homes dream of. About eight years ago, I started an interior decorating company. So you see, it’s an eclectic mix. But I’m passionate about everything I do; I’m very driven! I’m very lucky as I am supported by excellent teams.
Kojo: I have wide-ranging interests and move easily from left to right brain, from high finance to my creative side. I worked in my dad’s office as a teenager which exposed me to the business of business. But I’ve been a bookworm my whole life and read voraciously. This love of books has morphed into a passion for writing, which I use for poetry and journalism, for research and essays. I just love the written word, creating content. I was born in Munich, Germany but my parents moved to Ghana, then Uganda and finally Lesotho when I was three. That’s where I grew up. I spent a year as a Rotary exchange student in Germany after high school. That gave me the chance to connect with my German family.
Q: Are you a dedicated follower of fashion? Which was your best era?
Sophie: Ooh! I love fashion! I’m an avid shopper and collect shoes and bags. I’m not a follower of trends – I stick with what works best for me. I loved the Marilyn Monroe era… the fashion was so feminine, so flattering to women’s bodies.
Kojo: I don’t know if I would describe myself as a ‘dedicated’ follower of fashion, though I do enjoy exploring fashion trends. I find fashion elements that speak to me and reflect my personal ‘voice’. No era stands out for me; I can go from a tracksuit to jeans, T-shirt and sneakers to three-piece suit comfortably.
Q: Why did you decide to become a Miss SA judge?
Sophie: When asked by Cell C and Sun international if I’d be interested, I said: “Why are you asking?” They said they knew I love beauty and dressing up; I love women driven by passion. And most importantly, they know that I approve of the fact that Miss SA highlights beauty with a purpose. I’m perfect for this job. I can spot a young woman capable of making a difference from a mile away.
Kojo: I took a step back from the prejudice against beauty pageants, gleaned insight into how this competition could be a launching platform for young women and found it made complete sense. Also, I also bring a very different perspective and point of view to the Miss SA competition.
Q: Do you like pageants? What other beauty pageants do you follow?
Sophie: I’ve loved them since I was a teenager and entered a fair number myself, mainly to boost my self-confidence. I was a very shy little girl. Later, of course, I moved into acting. I follow Miss Universe, Miss World, Miss SA – my favourite title-holders have been Anneline Kriel, Suzette Van Der Merwe, Jacqui Mofokeng, Peggy Sue Kumalo and Basetsana Kumalo. Just look at these amazing women and where being Miss SA has got them.
Kojo: In the 80s and 90s, I religiously watched pageants. They’re addictive, like watching reality TV. You pick your favourite and see how far they get.
Q: How do you think modern entrants have changed? Remember when all the girls wanted world peace?
Sophie: Modern Entrants are becoming more and more themselves. They know who they are, they know what they want. I’m amazed by how “in their skin” the young women who enter Miss SA are!
Kojo: In the two years that I have been involved with Miss SA I have found the young entrants intelligent, driven and compassionate. They have much to offer the world.
Q: Do you think entering Miss South Africa is empowering for young women? Is it a launching pad?
Sophie: It’s most definitely empowering; just look at former winners of the competition. The competition teaches you valuable life lessons – confidence, public speaking, networking, managing money, poise… The dressing up and modeling: that’s just the cherry on the top!
Kojo: I think that if the platform is not used as a springboard, it is wasted. It allows the young women a foot in the door of powerful places and access to powerful people. The platform is as empowering as one uses it.
Q: What do you look for in the entrants?
Sophie: Passion, a willingness to work hard, healthy competitive spirit, ambition, beauty inside and out… You cannot be a South African ambassador if you don’t love this country and its people with their various cultures and traditions. And, if you are not familiar with the different cultures, you need to be willing to learn.
Kojo: Intelligence, maturity, the ability to be comfortable with people across all levels of society. Authenticity and empathy are critical for women. All the young women are beautiful so I take that out of the equation, especially when it comes to the last twelve.
Q: The concept of nudity has changed so much in recent times. We see celebrities on red carpets who are practically naked. Has this trend softened the criticism usually leveled at the swimsuit segment of the completion?
Sophie: I always say to anyone who has a problem with the swimsuit segment that they should never set foot on a beach or go to a public pool. There is no nudity; the girls are in swimsuits. And really, it’s five minutes of the entire pageant. Anyway, we’re in Africa and see topless, scantily clad young girls at reed dances. Because this is culturally acceptable, we hold our criticism.
Kojo: I asked Rolene Strauss what she though of the swimsuit segment and I loved her response. She said she was comfortable with herself and her body and so really refused to focus on the idea of objectification. We must remember, too, that the Miss SA contest is also about being fit and living a healthy lifestyle.
Q: Who do you think epitomizes beauty? Who’s your most beautiful woman ever?
Sophie: Sophia Loren and Winnie Madikizela Mandela – both women with timeless beauty. And Iman, because she is effortlessly beautiful.
Kojo: Beauty is a subjective thing. True beauty is amplified by the spirit of a woman, by her intellect, by her heart, her passion.