Lerato is a teacher and a Miss Bachelorette 2023 semi-finalist. In a little under a week, on the 13th of November, she’ll host her first ever WITH RATO (WR) event themed A Call For Healing – an intimate conversation among women to empower one another and reaffirm identity neatly tied together by a stand against Gender-Based Violence (GBV). The event is presented in collaboration with Miss Bachelorette SA and Goddess Cafe SA.
ALL I KNEW WAS THAT SPEAKING WAS WHAT MOVED ME
WR was established in 2020 during peak COVID. Lerato shares, “it was a testing time for all of us both mentally and financially. I saw it as a time to take a step back and retreat to a secret place, a quiet place. I was rebooting mentally and asking myself good questions, difficult but really good questions.” The beauty queen holds a Bcom Accounting degree and was headed towards being a Chartered Accountant, but she found herself questioning whether or not it was something she really wanted to do. “At the time my mother was also asking me many questions – what are you going to do with your life, you’re currently renting, what is your life plan? She was just asking all these big questions all at once. Was it pressure? Yes, but it was much needed pressure because it got me to this point of wanting to do what I love. I remember a time when I didn’t know how to put it in words, but I remember just saying I want to be in front of people, speaking to them and changing their lives and perspective forever. But then I also remember asking myself girl how are you going to make a career or a living out of that? All I knew was that that was my passion, it was what moved me and I had to start somewhere. I felt WR was a proper platform for me to do that. I initially wanted to start with an IG channel and start speaking and moving and doing something, but that was hindered by doubt and procrastination,” she recalls.
MISS BACHELORETTE AND ADVOCATING AGAINST GBV ON THE GROUND
Lerato appreciates life lessons any way they come, and she tells us she’s glad she went through that ‘what if’ and ‘I’m not ready’ phase because in the process, she was learning. “Here we are today, and thank goodness I challenged myself and I entered Miss Bachelorette SA, a pageant that also aims to empower women and clearly I’ve been empowered. I’m excited to be launching WR and the main purpose is really to give back. I know that in chasing purpose, the reward will just follow you. Imagine being chased by a reward? Purpose is a journey. And just starting is in itself a victory. I just can’t wait to pour out from myself. To pour out what has been living inside of me and share it. I didn’t think my first event would be directed at GBV but that’s what it is about. Being in the pageant has taught me a lot about GBV. I found myself speaking to women who’ve gone through it and still ask themselves who am I and why was I born? These questions are simple but so difficult to answer, even I struggled with them. We’re all just trying to find out how we can serve here on earth and I found myself wanting to be a server of identity. I want to help women find their identities and be strengthened in knowing who they are and their purpose even if they end up in unwelcoming arms or at the wrong place. That’s why I had to call it A Call For Healing – it doesn’t matter what we’re going through, we’re so much stronger than whatever it is.”
FROM A HEALED OR UNSCARRED PERSPECTIVE, IT IS EASY TO SAY ‘GIRL, GET OUT’
While she appreciates how triggering the experience of GBV is, Lerato knows that we cannot find solutions if we don’t talk about it as honestly as possible. “I invited speakers that advocate against it, women who have chosen to actively contribute to the fight against GBV. I’m looking forward to learning from them. You know you think you know what it really is because of the big cases of GBV that we see on TV, but that is only the tip of the ice berg. Every moment of everyday, this violence is happening in homes, in our neighbour’s homes, in our very communities. And that’s where we come in as friends, sisters, neighbours. I cannot conquer it all in a single event but I believe us gathering in that little room, creating awareness and awakening people like I’ve been is a baby step. We have to do something, we just have to. And we have to be very realistic and practical in our approach. For instance if you have a friend who’s in an abusive relationship, how do you help them?”
Lerato shares that one of the three speakers, Tina Dolwana, an educator and professional ballroom dancer has a friend who’s going through it and she’s going to share practical and valuable tips to help us know how to approach lending a hand or advice and how to support a loved one in a similar situation.
“Being a ‘victim’ isn’t easy or black and white. From a healed or unscarred perspective it’s easy to say girl, get out. Why ulapho? Until you sit down and truly listen and see, you may never get it. It’s a very sensitive topic. I am willing to stand in the front line instead of minding my own business or saying hayi, asazi. Tina said choosing to go back or eat your vomit when you’re in an abusive relationship is never the result of a single element. For some victims, it is because the abuser, when they’re being ‘nice’, treats them like royalty and sometimes that might even be a foreign concept for them. When someone treats you like a queen when they’re in a good mood, it can make you justify their anger and consequent violence. Sometimes it’s a result of fear. Many people will stay because they’re afraid of what might happen to them or their loved ones if they leave. And the tragic thing is that violence has secondary and tertiary victims, the effects can spill over to their support system and children for instance. She also shared with me that one of the most powerful ways to get to victims is mentally, trying to restore them mentally and make them see themselves how you see them, differently. That can help them also see their situation differently. I’d like to meet survivors, women who’ve lived to tell the stories. wouldn’t be doing them justice if Ii didn’t share this platform and have them speak up,” Lerato says.
ALSO SPEAKING AT THE EVENT IS PEARL NTSHEHI, A 3 TIME GRADUATE, PLAYYOURPART AMBASSADOR AND MISS SA TOP 10 ‘22 AND VANESSA GXEKWA, A GBV ADVOCATE AND MEDICAL STUDENT. EVENT DETAILS ON POSTER ABOVE.
Is Miss Bachelorette your first pageant?
“No, I actually have pageant history. It’s just that when you grow older you want purposeful pageants, you want a really impactful platform – Miss Bachelorette is one of them. So I started small, I won a pageant at my highschool, then I did Miss Teen Benoni and then won Miss Benoni. I placed in the top 10 at Miss Gauteng. I wanted to grow gradually. But then for some reason I just stopped for a little while. When I decided to start again I wanted to go big, I entered Miss SA, but I didn’t make it far then I took a break again.”
You wanted a pageant with a purpose, are those hard to come by?
“Not necessarily, I’m glad many of the big pageants are incorporating things like empowerment, it’s definitely a work in progress and it’s great to see. But also beauty pageants are still beauty pageants, they have sponsors and they’ll need someone who they feel physically represents their brands and their brand.”
What would the title of your autobiography be?
“The Power of Knowing My Identity.”