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Zambian beauties lead the way: African women are advancing rapidly in high-profile activities such as television presentation and beauty pageants ... and Zambians are in the vanguard of that advance, reports Clayton Goodwin.

For several years, a Zambian lady, Rosemary Chileshe, has been Britain's leading African beauty contestant and model, and her compatriots are succeeding now in all aspects of the industry--from promotion to participation.


Yet beauty is not restricted to pageantry. Lukwesa Burak, a beauty in her own right, whom I had the pleasure of meeting at a reception for UK Zambians at the High Commission in London, can be described in the nicest possible way as being a "lady of the night". She presents Sky Late News from midnight to 4a.m. and then fronts Sky World News, which caters for audiences in Africa, Asia and Europe, until 6a.m.

Lukwesa, whose working "day" starts when she leaves her home in Leicestershire for London at 7pm, has an affinity with the hours of darkness.

"I've always worked the early shift," she says. "At Nottingham (earlier in her career as a 'weather girl'), it was non-stop; we had 21 radio broadcasts in the morning. I had to be up at 4.30am to start at 6am. First I had to ring the Weather Centre, where the forecasters would give you the science and you had to work out the best way to put the story across to the public."

Lukwesa can still remember being "a little girl, freshly bathed, pony-tailed, and in her new dress sitting in a puddle making mud cakes" back in Zambia, where she was born and which she left aged eight years when her mother remarried.

She arrived in Britain during one of the worst winters on record. She graduated from Sussex University with a degree in Geography and European Studies, and was awarded a European Union Scholarship to complete a Master of Science degree at Leicester University. Her studies included a year at Neuchatel in Switzerland through which she became fluent in French.

She joined Sky News last year from being a news anchor for BBC East Midlands Today after working on various local radio stations. Her broadcasting career started at the BBC Weather Centre before moving into news presentation. She has been able to "break the news" on several leading international stories, including the execution of Saddam Hussein, Israel's invasion of Lebanon and the Gaza Strip, North Korea's first nuclear test, the Indian train bomb attacks, and last year's Indonesian earthquake. Lukwesa, who combines her career with housework and being a mother, would like to encourage more African women to become news presenters. "It is very important for African women, both white and black, to get involved in the media," she says. "Those stories can be given a voice and reflect who is in the world and what the world is about".

Elsewhere, Rosemary Chileshe's career has provided a blueprint for what a beauty title and its holder should be. She was a student from Sheffield, a comparatively provincial "backwater"--though she has since moved to Manchester. Rosemary was voted Miss Zambia UK in 2003, then one of the several competing national community titles. Sheffield, however, is noted for its production of steel, and there has been steel in Rosemary's character. She has transformed her title and expectations of her compatriots.


In 2004, she returned home to compete for Zambia and qualified to represent her country in the Miss World pageant in China that same year. Rosemary has since gone on to use her celebrity status to strengthen and develop the embryonic pageant industry.

She has become a familiar guest at other promotions--always punctual (even though she has to travel from the other end of the UK to London), always well-groomed and beautiful, and always polite and modest.

She has become the epitome of what African beauty--and all beauty--should be. Unlike some other title-holders in the community, who seem to consider it to be their duty to discourage potential successors, she has stimulated newcomers to emulate her example.

In 2007, she represented Zambia again in the Miss Universe pageant in Mexico City. She showed Africans that they "could come good" at the highest level--and the floodgates were open. Yet Rosemary, who is a commercial property surveyor, has progressed considerably from her start in beauty pageants. It would require more space than is available to list her modelling achievements and her work as a goodwill ambassador in the fight against HIV/Aids and poverty worldwide, in connection with which she addressed an international audience at a Commonwealth Forum to commemorate World Aids Day 2006. Justina Mutale, who provided Rosemary's first platform for public recognition, has also developed from being just the promoter of Miss Zambia UK. As CEO of Perryfield Promotions, she now holds the franchise for 15 international beauty pageants around the world, including Miss Earth (Philippines), Miss Commonwealth (London), Miss Global International (Jamaica), World Miss University (South Korea), Miss Teen World (Ecuador and Australia), Miss Europe & World Junior (Czech Republic), Miss Teen Universe (Trinidad & Tobago) and the Face of the Universe (Ghana).

Pageant "mania" seems to have broken out worldwide as the "new" and "developing" countries of Africa, Asia, Latin America and Eastern Europe recognise the advantages of enhancing their national profile in challenging the hitherto hegemony of Miss World and Miss Universe.

At the time of going to press, Justina was due to accompany, as chaperone, the 16 year-old Zambian beauty Anne Choolwe Malambo to the Miss Europe & World Junior 2007 in Ostrava (Czech Republic).

Justina said: "In the past only the title-holder was given an opportunity to represent Zambia at an international pageant. However, with numerous international beauty pageants spread across the world, we want to spread our wings to all the four corners of the world by sending a candidate to fly the Zambian flag in each continent."

And for the title-holders it does not end when they have given up their tide--as Emma Chishimba, an early Miss Zambia UK, went on to win Miss Commonwealth Africa.

Hildah Mulenga, chief executive of Miss Malaika UK, has shown that the UK Zambian community has room for two major promoters.

The pageant draws contestants from all the African Diaspora and, similarly, provides opportunities for others to compete for the most prestigious international titles. Earlier this year, Cynthia Muvirimi, a Zimbabwean midwife and First Princess Miss Malaika UK, won Miss Global International at the Pegasus Hotel in Kingston, Jamaica.

In doing so, she took over the crown from her compatriot Ropafadzai Garise in putting Zimbabwe in the spotlight and promoting Zimbabwean tourism. Cynthia was accompanied by Brenda Mulenga (Hildah's daughter) who, too, has "moved up" from being a contestant to helping with the administration and grooming the entrants.

Finding myself sitting at a recent press conference in London between Brenda Akot, Miss East Africa 2006, and Esta Lumutenga, Deputy Miss Caribbean & Commonwealth, I asked the former, somewhat naively, if all Ugandan women were so beautiful.

She replied: "All African women are beautiful". It is certainly impossible to argue with the evidence, and if Zambians are in the vanguard of the promotion and presentation of such high-profile activities, the other African communities are not far--if at all--behind.
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:Fashion
Author:Goodwin, Clayton
Publication:New African
Geographic Code:6ZAMB
Date:Nov 1, 2007
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