Spare a thought for struggling gossip columnists.
Lockdown Level 3™ doesn’t exactly open the door to swinging parties and bad behaviour flowing from boozy nights on the town. But column inches must still be filled.
Which might explain City Press hackett Ntombizodwa Makhoba’s decision to trip the light tendentious with a story on Miss South Africa Sasha-Lee Laurel Olivier.
“Is Miss SA pregnant? The official comment is no,” says the headline, which pretty much sums up what follows.
Only the lonely
The idly curious might read on, however, or rather stare at the accompanying photograph of Olivier, alone at a marble-topped bar nursing what may or may not be a near empty wine glass.
Or is it a glass of water?
Some readers might be saddened to notice the lovely Miss Olivier appears to be stoksielalleen op n Saterdag aand, unable perhaps to find anyone to take her out or to to buy her a drink.
The more school marmish might be tut-tutting and asking: Who does she think she is, anyway, out dopping in public during lockdown?
Hardly setting a good example of social distancing.
But City Press says the picture was originally posted by Central Square Sandton on its Instagram account, where it was accompanied by the caption: “All in the middle of Africa’s most exciting city, the current Miss South Africa enjoys a lifestyle of sophisticated wellness, luxury amenities and offerings … ”
So some sort of publicity pic for the block of flats atop a Jozi shopping centre that the beauty queen calls home.
Olivier got the flat as one of her prizes when the reigning queen, Zozibini Tunzi, gave up her SA crown to become Miss Universe in December last year.
Pretty yawn-inducing stuff on its own, except City Press kicks off its story by saying that “one cannot help but ask if she has a bun in the oven”.
Actually, one can help.
The standard, tabloid get-out-of-jail-free line here would have been to remark on how the gorgeous Miss Olivier was flaunting her sexy curves in a mustard off-the-shoulder number, or some such innuendo.
In paragraph two of the same story a denial follows from the Miss SA organisers: No, she is not preggers.
At this point our hackett needed to put up or shut up.
She could have earned her chops with a quote from an anonymous friend, someone close to Olivier, spilling the beans.
A used pregnancy test kit recovered during a spot of dumpster-diving would have done very nicely.
Instead, City Press found a certain Thobile Sithole, described as a former Miss SA coordinator, who reckons that being with child would “go against international standard rules”.
“If Sasha-Lee is pregnant, it would be damaging to our Miss Universe Zozi Tunzi’s brand as well. She is just filling Zozi’s shoes,” Sithole.
So far, so speculative
The story then peters out with details of some of the contestants lined up for the next edition of Miss SA.
No prizes for guessing who won’t be on the media invite list.
The body politic
But it gets worse (or better, depending on your perspective).
After the story was published, the Miss SA organisers released a statement saying they knew of no-one by the name of Thobile Sithole.
City Press had crossed another line too, into the world of body politics.
“In a week in which President Cyril Ramaphosa speaks out against gender based violence, the Miss South Africa Organisation is horrified about the story and would like to put the following on record: Sasha-Lee Olivier is not pregnant. City Press was told this in no uncertain terms,” railed the organisers.
“The article is pure body shaming, implying that if Sasha-Lee is not pregnant then she is fat. We would have thought that the managing editors, news editor and journalist, who are all female, would never have supported such an offensive article which judges people based on their external appearance. Let us put it on the record that Sasha-Lee Olivier is a real person and is deeply hurt by what appeared.”
Olivier, the pageant organisers said,”stood as an advocate for fuller figure women and expanded on the organisation’s prior representations of beauty”.
A fuller figure figure and the full facts would clearly be welcome.
“The Miss South Africa Organisation will be taking legal advice and action.”
But what would a faux tabloid story be without some kind of happy ending?
Or put another way, it’s an ill wind that blows no good.
Channel24, like City Press, part of the News24 stable, got a useful followup story for its Monday edition: “Miss SA organisation to take legal action against City Press for ‘pure body shaming’ article” (No. 1 on its most read list).
Libel lawyers might just get some much-needed work.
The pageant people, received publicity of a sort.
And for readers siek en sat of the endless Covid-19 coverage, finally an interesting story and about the Miss SA, of all things.