Miss World SA ready to shine on the global stage

Miss World SA Thulisa Keyi
Thulisa Keyi Supplied/ TerraNova

Picture a woman with girl-next-door charm, but with the looks of a beauty queen. She is the epitome of confidence and composure; mixed with an ample dose of intelligence and compassion.

This is the unique combination of characteristics that recently won Thulisa Keyi the Miss World South Africa title. Yet, few people know that Keyi is more than just a pretty face, she is also smart – evident in the fact that she is only six months away from qualifying as a chartered accountant [CA(SA)]. She speaks with gratitude about her journey and of appreciation for the people who helped her carve the way.

Keyi grew up in Mdantsane, a township on the outskirts of East London in the Eastern Cape. As a child, the world appeared to be just as it should. She was not aware of the disadvantage and poverty that surrounded her.

“It felt totally normal because I did not know anything else,” she recalls. “Just like any other township in South Africa, we experienced similar socio-economic challenges: high crime rate, high levels of unemployment, and high levels of teenage pregnancy.”

It is only with hindsight that she acknowledges the socio-economic conditions from which she ultimately rose.

Yet, Keyi had to overcome more than just her community’s challenges. Her life was marred by the tragedy of losing her father when she was just 17.

She says of the experience, “My late father has inspired every step I take, even in his absence. It was a terribly painful experience and something that I still have difficulty talking about. But through it I found the strength to really be the woman that I have become, one who goes for her dreams and is an inspiration to the nation.”

As Miss World South Africa, Keyi hopes to use her position to, “further the cause of the economic empowerment of women in South Africa”. These are not just words to Keyi. Her desire to work for the betterment of society stems from her own experience as the recipient of a social outreach programme – a programme she says literally changed her life.

Talent recognised and nurtured

At school, Keyi had excelled at mathematics and accounting. It was her aptitude for these subjects that prompted her grade 11 teacher to encourage her to apply for the Thuthuka Bursary Fund (TBF) – an initiative of the South African Institute of Chartered Accountant (SAICA) aimed at helping people from disadvantaged communities enter the accounting profession by paying for their university tuition and providing them with holistic wrap-around support to help them navigate the academic and social challenges that young people experience at university.

Following her acceptance to TBF, the bursary funded Keyi’s studies at the University of Cape Town where she earned a BCom Accounting Degree and a Post Graduate Diploma in Accounting (PGDA).

For Keyi, moving to Cape Town and attending university was a culture shock. She confides that, as a small town girl, had it not been for the support of the TB,F the process would have been overwhelming.

She elaborates, “Learners from disadvantaged backgrounds face unique challenges upon arrival at university. The environment is so different to what we are used to. We are not only adapting to university life but also to city life. The increased number and diversity of people could lead us to question our sense of personal identity. Fortunately Thuthuka guided me throughout my journey and made me feel like an individual – not just a number.”

It was this experience and her continued relationship with TBF that has made ‘giving back’ one of Keyi’s enduring passions.

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Through all she has gone through, Keyi says, “I realised that life is not fair, but whatever cards life hands you, you have to be willing to thrive – regardless. Put excellence as a priority no matter what challenges you face along the way”.

It is this pragmatic and logical approach to life that has spurred Keyi on to live courageously, compassionately and passionately. After all, she says, “Life calls and asks us to acknowledge the reality of our circumstances, to accept them when necessary, and to improve them when possible”.

Keyi will be representing South Africa on the global stage later this year at the Miss World pageant to be held in China. Apart from that, her aspirations for the future include completing her articles and qualifying as a CA(SA), becoming a Certified Financial Analyst (CFA) and founding her own investment company.

It is this course of action, which she believes, will enable her to best aid the cause of economic empowerment of women as her story will serve as inspiration for innumerable young girls.