By Bruce Ndlovu
Last week Miss Zimbabwe 2014 Thabiso Phiri relinquished her crown less than two months after her victory in the pageant, citing what she has termed “peculiar” and “personal” circumstances as reasons for stepping down.
On Tuesday, 19-year-old Catherine Makaya was crowned as winner in her place thereby becoming Zimbabwe’s representative at this year’s Miss World pageant thereby completing a tumultuous week for Phiri which saw her tumble from hero to zero.
Details have since emerged to clear the mist on the personal and peculiar reasons behind Phiri’s downfall. Phiri had taken nude pictures which she shared with her boyfriend who in turn “leaked” them on social media. As the Miss Zimbabwe crown demands that its bearers observe nun-like discipline and utmost respect for one’s body, Phiri decided to step down to avoid tarnishing the image of Miss Zimbabwe Trust.
It is perhaps ironic that exposing too much flesh, albeit in pictures meant only for the eyes of her better half, brought Phiri’s downfall yet the same exposure had helped her win the crown.
Phiri’s case brings to the fore the dangers that face female celebrities that slip up on social media platforms through exposing either pictures or videos that capture them in compromising positions.
It is probably good that Phiri chose to jump before she was pushed. Last year actor and radio personality Tinopona Katsande was fired from ZiFM after a sextape she had made with her boyfriend leaked and spread like wildfire on social media. After the exposure of the sextape, Katsande was lynched by various commentators on social media platforms for her questionable morality.
At the time, Katsande begged members of the public to separate her professional life from the leaked content which she said was of a private nature.
“It breaks my heart that something that I did in my past is what cost me my source of livelihood today. It is unfortunate, I am not perfect and have a past that has nothing to do with my work performance.
“It would be hectic if everyone had their private life dictating their jobs, but then again I am not everybody,” she said at the time.
Former Big Brother contestant Pokello Nare was subjected to a similar scrutiny and persecution after she also had a sextape with then rapper boyfriend Stunner. For her role in the infamous tape, Pokello was criticised as Zimbabwe’s choice at last year’s Big Brother reality show. She however managed to turn her situation around during the reality show by providing a compelling performance that disproved the image about her that had been constructed in the public’s mind.
One then wonders if the public would have continued to characterise her as the girl who had a sextape with Stunner if she had not entered the reality show.
Phiri, Katsande and Pokello can confirm the vulnerability of female celebrities and public personalities to pitfalls of social media. On a positive note, social media can be an ideal platform for celebrities to interact with their fans and increase their fan base. However, as the cases of the three have shown, it can also be a slippery slope for them as well. Due to the fact that social media like Whatsapp and Facebook are ideal image and video sharing platforms, incidents like the one involving Phiri and others are becoming more and more common.
Female celebrities should tread carefully with the knowledge that the public is still unforgiving of females that flaunt the unwritten rules of morality. Once an image or video has been sent, the damage cannot be avoided. Jilted or bitter boyfriend or partner can therefore use the social media to soil one’s name.
The scandals involving Phiri, Katsande and Phiri also show how females, be they performers or ordinary folk, are still held to a different standard of morality compared to their male counterparts. While those who live their lives far from the spotlight have to piece together their social lives, which is in itself a tall order, celebrities also have to repair their professional reputation after the outbreak of a social media generated scandal.
In the case of Pokello, Stunner came relatively unscathed from the scandal while she was attacked from all angles. Phiri’s stepping down was not only devastating to her but but affected even those that had helped her during her rise. Miss Zimbabwe chairperson Mary Chiwenga broke down as Phiri handed over the crown to Makaya.
“I put so much effort in preparing her for Miss World. She is an orphan and I wanted good things for her. I was heartbroken because she has a good heart,” she said.
Unfortunately for Chiwenga, the world will not get to see more of that heart. Phiri’s next worry is now how to restart her life and career as a lawyer in light of the recent scandal.