South Africa’s premier male pageant, Mr South Africa™, has come under fire in the last 4 years for shady practice.
Over the years, South Africa has seen an increased rise in the number of local and community based pageants, including offshoots and wanna-be’s that aspire towards the status of SA’s prestigious and exclusive beauty contests.
Miss South Africa and Mr South Africa™ are two of the official and national platforms for young women and men in South Africa. Winners from both these competitions go on to represent South Africa in Miss World, Miss Universe, Mr World and other recognized global titles.
While it may be perceived that these brands are closely connected, it is quite the opposite…
Unlike some of the national pageants that are backed by large endorsements, sponsors and funding instruments, Mr South Africa™ is a ‘private’ entity with a trademark held by Mr Rudi Baker since 2013.
According to the Mr South Africa™ website (before it got suspended), candidates are selected each year and are required to undergo an intense 10-12 month process in order to assess their abilities, character and drive (among other qualities).
In 2016, the Mail & Guardian covered a story titled Hot hunks flex their muscle over Mr SA’s ‘missing’ money which raised eyebrows when contestants began voicing their concerns about money that was not accounted for. It was not long after that where the story blew over.
Fast forward to 2018 and the Mr South Africa™ organization is yet again in the limelight as contestants speak out against an array of similar inconsistencies within the governance of the national platform.
During the 2017 process, contestants were informed that the Mr South Africa™ organization would be raising funds for two charities;
- Cancer Association of South Africa (CANSA) – (Challenge 1)
- CHOC (Childhood Cancer Foundation South Africa) –(Challenge 3)
Challenge 2 was found to be a replica of a challenge from the 2016 season called ‘Random Acts of Kindness’.
The competition kicked off in April 2017 and contestants were told to raise a minimum amount of R10 000 each to be deposited into the CANSA bank account for Challenge 1.
Thereafter, a target of R1 million was set and a website was developed by Mr South Africa™ called The Hero Network– the Mr SA and CHOC One Million Rand Challenge. It remains uncertain as to why another website was created when a tab or extension could have been added to the existing Mr South Africa™ website.
Contestants were urged to invite friends, family and potential sponsors to make financial donations via The Hero Network website at heronetwork.co.za. These funds were processed using a Payfast gateway (linked to a private account) which allowed users to make credit card payments on the website.
Donations through the online platform were carried out to meet the ambitious goal of R1 million for the selected charity:
“The Mr SA Organisation is fighting the fight against Childhood Cancer. Our goal is to raise R1mil for the fight against childhood cancer. We can only achieve this goal through your help. Open your hearts and donate, your contributor could save a child’s life” – The Hero Network
The virtual “thumbsuck” amount of R1 million came together after the organizer made a stipulation that another national pageant and their contestants had to achieve a similar target. The question is: how can a poorly managed existing competition (Mr SA) compare itself to a well-managed and resourced competition? Such financial targets should have been re-evaluated and carefully thought out before forcing contestants from 2017 far beyond their comfort zone.
Further along, contestants were not pleased when they received no clear response on how much had been raised and were harshly dismissed on several occasions when questions relating to money were once again brought up.
According to a statement made by a Top 12 finalist Zolisa Nomandla, who has withdrawn from the competition, contestants were manipulated when it came to financial challenges:
“In the beginning, donations were very slow and that’s when Rudi introduced something he called Flash Challenges. He would give us cash fundraising challenges for a day, for a specific amount, and we had to ensure that we would raise that amount within a day. All the money that we raised through these flash challenges had to be deposited into a personal Capitec bank account. That raised an eyebrow for me. I asked a lot of questions about why the money had to be deposited into a personal account but I never received any answers to my questions…Rudi kept insisting that if we don’t perform on these money challenges, we would be eliminated. That didn’t sit well with me”.
RED FLAGS RAISED BY CONTESTANTS:
- Mr South Africa™ is not a registered business.
- All funds and sponsorships are transferred into a personal savings account.
- No headquarters for the Mr South Africa™ organisation exists.
- Mr South Africa™ has no landline telephone. Only a cell number and email address is available.
- Mr South Africa™ is not represented by any PR/Marketing agencies.
- The organization is managed by the owner, a possible assistant and over a certain period, an outsourced web designer.
- There is a clear emphasis on sponsorships and fundraising as ‘challenges’ throughout the competition.
- No prizes for the winner and finalists. This is dependent on sponsors secured by contestants, and varies each year. No prizes and money is arranged by the organizer.
- Sponsors page on website is misleading. Most brands are featured on website due to paid advertising. This also gives the impression that the winner is sponsored by these brands, when it is not true.
- The winner receives no prizes or money, just the prestigious title.
- No clear outline on the judging processes and challenges. Rules are changed regularly each year.
- Dates and deadlines are not adhered to by management.
- A flash challenge: contestants were asked to raise a minimum of R1000 to secure a television interview. The first person to make the deposit into the personal bank account would win the interview.
- For the 2017 competition, more money raised by contestants, equated to a better chance of winning.
- Mr South Africa 2017, Dr Habib Noorbhai, was told to solely stage the Mr South Africa™ finale and gala night with no budget and resources. He was expected to attract sponsorships for all items specified on an email sent to him, and would have received a percentage of the ticket sales for his efforts. After Habib refused the request to stage the finals (as it was never a responsibility for any title holder in pageant history), his title was revoked and the organizer sent him a Whatsapp message:
“Habib you will receive communication from me later today. Further please take note that from immediate effect you are strictly prohibited from acting as Mr SA in any manner whatsoever. Also you may not disclose any information whatsoever, whether fact or opinion, to any person, regarding your reign or the brand as per the terms of your title”.
In addition, Habib confirmed that he had not signed any contract or title terms after winning, and only selected a tick box to the entrance criteria when he entered the competition in March 2015.
From the current season, Abrie Marais was the second in the Top 12 to withdraw from the competition. He felt that the conduct of the competition was ‘cringe worthy’ and he did not feel proud to be representing such a brand:
“The organizer showed a total disregard for sticking to dates. One example is that the final evening was supposed to take place in November 2017. With February 2018 looming the date still hasn’t been finalized. I was truly surprised that an organization like Mr South Africa™ doesn’t have a bank account of its own, so when I merely asked the organizer, on a WhatsApp group for all the finalists why the Mr South Africa organization does not have a bank account of its own, this is the rude response I received from the organizer, Rudi baker:
‘‘Abrie, it is its own bank account as the trademark is on my name. So I am the Mr South Africa. Please direct random questions directly to me as some contestants would like to focus on winning the competition”.
Implying that I was not interested in winning the competition. This is unacceptable and highlights the unprofessional manner in which questions and queries were addressed”.
Jaco van der Merwe and Morgan Jacobs were next to join the exit with their fellow brothers in the competition, making it a total of 4 out of 12 finalists to withdraw from the grand finale.
Jacobs said: “It is unfortunate that I had to withdraw due to perceived inconsistencies as noticed throughout the contest, but I do believe that the brand has so much potential and can achieve much more than it is”.
According to an anonymous call with CHOC, the organization was not aware of The Hero Network nor received any of the money as yet. Listen to a few minutes of the call here:
On Thursday 25th January 2017, the headline ‘Lelike Drama om Mnr. SA’ was stretched across the streets of Johannesburg by Die Beeld newspaper. The article detailed some of the issues within the competition and how contestants saw it as a ‘moneymaking scheme’.
Note: The headline and article referred to the conduct of the Mr SA organizer and not the previous or current Mr SA title holder(s).
Shortly after publication, the social media furor began with dozens calling out the organization and its owner:
As the heated discussion ensued on social media, Mr South Africa™ 2017, Dr Habib Noorbhai revealed in a public statement on Facebook that his title was revoked. He also expressed that while the brand needs new ownership and better management, it is still a relevant platform for empowering and making a difference in South Africa.
“…In addition, my title had also been revoked on the 9th December 2017 because I refused the request to stage the 2018 finals…With better management and new ownership, in due time, I am confident that the brand will be able to be reformed and that it will continue empowering and inspiring the youth and men in South Africa”.
As a quick attempt at crisis management, a general Q & A section was posted under the notes tab on the Mr South Africa™ Facebook page.
This updated information did not correspond with the content listed on the Mr South Africa™ website (another inconsistency). A day later, the Mr South Africa™ website was suspended making it inaccessible to the public.
(Note: Facebook updated on 25 January 2018, 12:53 pm . Die Beeld article was published on 24 January 2018, 9:04 pm)
According to the update on Facebook, Mr South Africa™ is a ‘privately owned company’:
Also, according to the update on Facebook, Mr South AfricaTM is a trademark and ‘not a company’:
After some verification with banks, this was an anecdotal statement, and is not in fact, true. In addition, contestants from 2015 and 2016 also mentioned that they had to make deposits into a company bank account called: Maverick Trading (Pty) Ltd. This inconsistency warrants another further investigation.
As it stands, 4 finalists for 2017/2018 have withdrawn from what is known as the leading male pageant in South Africa, due to poor management and neglect of the national brand. Not only are past and present contestants speaking out about the inconsistencies and shady practices within Mr South Africa’s governance, but so too are industry professionals, sponsors and companies who have worked with the Mr South Africa™ organisation in the past.
Though Mr South Africa™ depends on financial backing from sponsors and donations in order to thrive and maintain its position within the South African landscape, transparency is crucial for all those involved especially when corruption has become a centerpiece discussion within our borders.
It is imperative that the efforts, resources and integrity of current contestants and those to come are not exploited under the guise of goodwill and charity. Whether this calls for the stepping down of ownership, further investigations or a complete overhaul or reformation of the organization, change is needed in order for trust and credibility to be restored.
Now that the cat is out the bag, it is left to be seen how the ‘men of honour’ brand will redeem itself…