Vinah Mamba-Gray (affectionately known as Aunt V) has earned the title of iron lady of the local beauty pageant industry.
She was the first lady in the country to be crowned Miss Swaziland, she also became the first Swazi lady to be crowned Miss Photogenic in the Miss World contest.
As a trendsetter in the beauty pageant industry, she became the first lady to organise the Miss Swaziland contest back in 1975 making her the only one person in this entire country who has a better understanding of the local beauty pageant industry.
Despite the backlash she received from different quarters after running the national pageant, she maintained her cool and dignity by merely walking away.
Affectionately known as Aunt V, she is aging well and seems to be ‘drinking from the phantom well of life’.
Aunty V takes L & E down memory lane as she recalls how she got to join the Miss Swaziland contest and how she had to quit her job at the Royal Swazi Casino to focus on her modelling career in the neighbouring South Africa.
“I opened my heart and I just liked what I was doing. I won the contest and went as far as representing the country well in an international competition. I went on to become the first Swazi to be crowned Miss Photogenic in the Miss World contest,” she adds.
She explains that during the Miss World contest, she discovered that all the finalists that represented their countries were very successful which inspired her to come back to the country to run the pageant.
“I took part in the Miss World contest and when I came back in 1975, I was snatched by a South African modelling agency becoming the first Swazi to have a professional contract in modelling outside Swaziland. I had to quit my job at the Casino and relocate to South Africa where I spent eight years modelling there,” she says.
Aunty V explains that very same year, Miss World Director Julia Morley asked her to organise the Miss Swaziland contest.
“I was very young at that time and didn’t know if I would manage that on my own. Then Victor Hurley came on board and we organised the second contest. However in 1994, I organised the contest on my own,” she adds.
She adds that in 1994, she invited Morley to come to Swaziland and she was booked at the Royal Swazi Spa Convention Centre.
“When Morley came here, she met with me because the male director Victor couldn’t come. Morley advised her to run the pageant alone,” she adds.
She ran the pageant on her own from 1994 until 2010.
She gives herself a pat on the shoulder that all the girls who later became titleholders who participated in her contests got the opportunity to represent the country in the Miss World contest.
She says all the girls that listened to her advice while they were still part of the Miss Swaziland are very successful in their lives.
She also states that some even became millionaires in South Africa and Europe.
“Those that listened to my advice are very successful and those that never listened to me and ran to the media to complain are nowhere to be seen now. I am very proud of all my products and they are also proud that I gave them a foundation. All those that joined in my time were educated and I was their parent more than anything,” she goes on to say.
She dismisses past accusations that she misused pageant funds as baseless.
“These girls were just greedy. They thought because they won all the money that was donated goes to them. That is wrong because there are so many costs that go into organising an event. There were some contestants/ finalists who demanded money from me. I used to spend weeks in South Africa, looking for sponsors and this enabled some of the girls to win cars as part of the prize package. That was all through my efforts. I did my level best. It is only now that some appreciate what I managed to do for them,” she reveals.
According to Mamba-Gray, there were times she was forced to squeeze money out of her husband just to foot the airfare for the girls to participate in the Miss World contest.
She expresses shock that the standards in the local pageantry industry have disintegrated so much that winners of contests are even given goats as part of the prize package.
“In my time I never gave them animals but gave them something tangible,” she states.
Aunty V mentions that when the Swaziland Beauty Pageant Association was formed, she thought it was a step in the right direction.
However, she goes on to say that the SBPA swept the rug right from under her feet by failing to take a few pointers from her.
She recalls that is when she decided to disassociate herself from the association.
She admits that she is interested in the running of the pageant once again on one condition; that is
government should provide a subvention for pageants in the country.
“When they fired me as a Miss Swaziland Director, I had clinched a 10-year sponsorship from KFC Director Mr Pimento. He had promised to sponsor me with E500 000 every year for 10 years. I thought I was done with the troubles and the girls were going to get better prizes but one person decided to take the pageant away. That was their loss as Pimento made it clear to me that he will sponsor the pageant when I take over the pageant again,” she explains.
On what she is busy with now, she says she is busy helping her hubby with his business and also manages her garden. “However, I still hope to do a pageant for women in the country. I want to appreciate the good work they have done over the years but that will be determined by the availability of sponsorships,” she further states.