The global media trained its focus on Zimbabwe again recently, this time on a story of two men fighting over who should be declared the ugliest in a country of 13 million people after an unusual pageant on November 21.
The pageant was cancelled in 2014 due to lack of sponsorship, but made a comeback this year with support from the Zimbabwe Tourism Authority. The winner Maison Sere, who was placed fourth at the last pageant, received $500 for coming out tops this time around while Mr William Masvinu was given $100 for his efforts.
However, the contest has divided opinion in Zimbabwe with some sections of society calling on the organisers to end it, arguing it demeaned participants who were mostly poor men.
When he first won the contest, Mr Masvinu was a porter who operated from one of Harare’s busiest bus ranks, a job he still holds today.
He still stays in one of the capital’s poorest neighbourhoods of Epworth. One of the country’s leading daily newspapers, NewsDay, wrote an editorial calling on the organisers to stop the pageant for the good of the country.
“As advocates of free speech and association, we cannot call for the banning of the pageant, but we believe there is a fair case for the organisers to cancel it, for the greater good of the country,” the paper wrote in its editorial.
The paper argued that the fact that most of the participants were poor showed that Zimbabweans had been made desperate by the economic situation to an extent that they could do anything for money. “To add insult to injury, the pageant mainly attracts poor people, who are so desperate for money that they are willing to do anything they can just to earn a few dollars,” NewsDay said.
“The publicity it generates is not complimentary for the country and it ensures we continue to be the laughing stock. Pageants are by their nature supposed to be a rich and spectacular affair, but all these attributes are missing from Mr Ugly, which is derogatory and insulting for both the participants and the country at large,” the paper added.
But judging from reactions to the editorial on the paper’s online media platforms, some NewsDay readers did not agree with the assertion and want the pageant preserved because they believed it was innovative.
“The Mr Ugly contest has brought humour and suspense in entertainment circles as no one ever thought being ugly would bring bread and butter on the tables of suffering Zimbabweans,” wrote one of the readers, only identified as Chris.
“There is also beauty in ugliness that’s why his (Masvinu’s) wife joined the call to have her husband crowned the champion.