The announcement was made in the USA late on Sunday (early Monday morning South African time) that Nel-Peters has been crowned Miss Universe. She becomes the first Miss South Africa to take this prestigious title since Margaret Gardiner in 1978.

At the pageant, held in Las Vegas, Nel-Peters competed against 91 contestants from around the globe – the biggest number of entrants in the history of the competition – and justified the faith thousands of South Africans had that she would win.

The runners-up were Miss Colombia (first princess) and Miss Jamaica (second princess).

The 22-year-old from Sedgefield in the Western Cape was one of the hot favourites going into the pageant and outdid the top 16 comprising of four entrants from Asia Pacific and Africa; four from Europe; four from the Americas and four wildcards voted in by the judges.

In her acceptance speech, Nel-Peters said she was both proud and humbled to have won and that her dreams had become a reality.

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“I resonate with everything that the Miss Universe organisation stands for, especially empowering women across the globe. I have always tried to be the example of the change I want to see in the world, and this platform will give me the opportunity to make a difference. I hope I have made South Africans proud and that I will continue to do so during my reign,” she said.

During her time as Miss South Africa, Demi-Leigh launched her highly successful “Unbreakable” campaign to empower thousands of young girls and women in her homeland, by teaching them skills on how to handle difficult situations like hijackings, muggings, robberies and toxic relationships.

She partnered with specialists to give women the necessary knowledge to be able to handle any unwanted situations. She held six workshops around South Africa and has said she would like to promote this campaign internationally.

Nel-Peters wowed both the judges and the audience in a sheer flesh-toned, long-sleeved hand beaded dress by Anel Botha. It was inspired by the constellations and consisted of 50 000 hand-placed Swarovski crystals, which took a team of eight people 168 hours to complete.

The Miss Universe pageant was hosted by Steve Harvey and Ashley Graham.

Judges for the finale included Wendy Fitzwilliam (Miss Universe 1998 from Trinidad and Tobago); Jay Manuel (TV host, creative director and makeup artist); Ross Mathews (TV personality); Megan Olivi (Fox Sports 1 host and reporter); Lele Pons (Vine and YouTube personality) and Pia Wurtzbach (Miss Universe 2015 from the Philippines).

Before she was crowned Miss South Africa, Nel-Peters completed a BCom in business management and entrepreneurship and was a part-time model.

Demi-Leigh’s family including, father and stepmother Bennie and Elzabé Peters and mother and stepfather Anne-Mari and Johan Steenkamp, were in the audience.

“Demi-Leigh has worked incredibly hard for the past few years to achieve this goal and we are all so proud of her,” said a tearful Elzabé.

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Jose Dos Santos, CEO of Miss South Africa sponsor Cell C, said: “We at Cell C could not be more delighted with Demi-Leigh’s win at the Miss Universe pageant.

“We know that she will make South Africans proud and will leave a tangible legacy for the Miss Universe brand as she continues to empower and inspire women all over the world. She is living proof of our brand values, that if you dream it and believe it you can achieve anything with hard work and passion.”

Sun International PR Manager Claudia Henkel: “We at Sun International are very proud of Demi-Leigh. It has been an exciting few years for us, as the licence holders of Miss South Africa, as we have had two international pageant winners crowned. First with Rolene Strauss winning Miss World and now Demi-Leigh as Miss Universe. She is most certainly going to make South Africa proud”.

– African News Agency