Angola’s Leila Lopes was recently crowned Miss Universe for 2011, making her the first beauty queen from her country to win such a title, and the first on the continent since 1999.
The 25-year-old Miss Angola competed against 88 other hopefuls at the Credicard Hall in Sao Paulo, Brazil, on 11 September 2011.
She becomes the fourth African women to win the prestigious title after South Africa’s Margaret Gardiner in 1978, Namibia’s Michelle McLean in 1992 and Botswana’s Mpule Kwelagobe in 1999.
Lopes was joined on the podium by first runner-up Olesia Stefanko from Ukraine, and second runner-up Priscila Machado from Brazil.
“As Miss Angola I’ve already done a lot to help my people. I’ve worked with various social causes including poor kids, the fight against HIV, and the protection of the elderly,” said Lopes. “I’ll have to do everything that my country needs.”
She added that as Miss Universe, she’ll be able to do a lot more for her country.
Winning over judges and crowd
The leggy beauty from Benguela, western Angola, wore her hair in an elegant top-knot and answered the judges’ questions simply and sincerely.
When asked what physical trait she would change, Lopes said to the judging panel: “Thank God I’m very satisfied with the way God created me and I wouldn’t change a thing.”
She added that she considered herself to be beautiful on the inside because of the principles she learned from her family and that she would continue following these principles throughout her life.
When asked about racism, Lopes said: “Any racist needs to seek help. It’s not normal in the 21st century to think in that way.”
Lopes endeared the crowd by speaking Portuguese, which is the native language of Brazil and Angola. Both are former colonies of Portugal.
Brazilian Natalie Bursztyn, who was part of the audience, said of Lopes: “She captivated the crowd and we were all behind her. It was great that the judges also saw what the fans saw and gave her the crown.”
Lopes said she has never had cosmetic surgery, attributing her beauty to three simple things: getting enough sleep, using sunscreen even when not in the sun and drinking lots of water.
With a history spanning nearly six decades, the Miss Universe competition started out as a local “bathing beauty” competition in Long Beach, California, according to the pageant’s website.
Today, the women who participate in it are goal-orientated, savvy and hope to advance their modelling careers, while also fulfilling humanitarian goals.
The production of the annual event is a joint venture between Donald Trump, a property mogul from the US, and TV channel NBC.
Rise of Angola after years of war
Although Angola gained its independence in 1975 after years of colonial rule, Portuguese is still widely spoken in the south-central African nation.
Angola’s civil war, which had been raging for 27 years, came to an end in 2002 after Jonas Savimbi, the leader of the ruling Unita party, was killed in combat.
The country, now in the process of rebuilding itself, is the second largest sub-Saharan oil producer after Nigeria, and is also rich in natural gas.
Since the war years Angola has made strides in fighting polio by enlisting the help of various organisations, including the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.