Miss South Africa wins Miss Universe crown

Zozibini Tunzi, of South Africa, is crowned Miss Universe by her predecessor, Catriona Gray of the Philippines, at the 2019 Miss Universe pageant at Tyler Perry Studios in Atlanta, Georgia, US on Sunday. (Reuters photo)

Miss South Africa won the Miss Universe crown on Sunday in Atlanta, beating the Puerto Rican and Mexican finalists after a televised extravaganza oozing with pomp, ceremony and speeches about racial tolerance and female empowerment.

"I grew up in a world where a woman who looks like me, with my kind of skin and my kind of hair, was never considered to be beautiful," Zozibini Tunzi, 26, told a cheering crowd. "I think that it is time that that stops today." 

Tunzi bested more than 90 contestants from around the world, including Miss Thailand Paweensuda Saetan-Drouin, one of the favourites to earn the crown.  

Last week Miss Myanmar Swe Zin Htet, who did not make the finals, came out as the first openly gay contestant in its 68-year history.

"I have that platform that, if I say that I'm a lesbian, it will have a big impact on the LGBTQ community back in Burma," she told People magazine. Homosexuality is illegal and punishable by up to life in prison in Myanmar.

Last year, Miss Spain Angela Ponce became the first transgender contestant.

This year’s Miss Universe competition, the 68th, was held in Atlanta's Tyler Perry Studios and hosted by American comedian Steve Harvey, while backstage commentary was provided by TV personalities Vanessa Lachey and Olivia Culpo. Despite the speeches about women’s rights, the pageant still features a swimsuit contest – although it was not televised during the final.