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The crowning of 18-year-old Gamuchirayi Kujeke as Miss Carnival has led to some questions as to whether the pageant’s processes are really as transparent as they ought to be.

No one disputes that everything went well including administrative details, attendance and prizes. It is the make-up of the team that is behind the event which leaves one wondering if everything is on the up and up.

It is the involvement of the head of a modelling agency whose models seem to always win the crown that has set tongues wagging. Participants from the current and previous editions who refused to be identified for fear of victimisation in the industry say that they feel that the playing field is not level.

For starters, Mercy Mushaninga, founder of Zim Gossip Models agency was amongst the team that screened Miss Carnival finalists that came for the Harare castings.

She is also part of the Zimbabwe Tourism Authority (ZTA) organising team in charge of the Harare International Carnival Street March taking place this Saturday and the carnival fashion show that was held on Tuesday.

Reigning queen Kujeka and second princess Yvonne Nyamutsamba are from Mushaninga’s modelling stable.

However Mushaninga credits the models’ success to their agency’s bold stance on grooming and not any behind-the-scenes manoeuvres.

“We teach models the importance of good behaviour and how it makes them stand out during boot camps. What happens on stage is secondary because the real judging happens before the show,” she said.

Mushaninga’s stable has built a formidable portfolio of success in the form of Malaika Mushandu Miss Tourism 2011, Tanya Chikuni, Miss Curvy 2011, Miss Teen 2010 Clara Matenga, Sharon Andrew, Miss Valentine 2014 among others.

Asked whether there is no conflict of interest because of her involvement with ZTA, she said she was not part of the judging team.

ZTA spokesperson Sugar Chagonda also dismissed the claims saying there is nothing untoward in the competition. He stated that in future Mushaninga will be running the prestigious pageant and there would not be a conflict of interest if models from her agency took part.

“We do not turn away people who want to work with us. We have problems with getting sponsorship and when people in the private sector approach us with their concepts, we are happy to work with them. This is the case with Mushaninga, whose passion and experience in the industry drew us to working with her. The most important thing is that she was not part of the judges as we appointed an independent and credible panel,” he said.

The list of judges could not be established yesterday but former model Mary Mubaiwa was on the panel.

Chagonda also shed light on the appointment of other issues, particularly the selection of pageant patron, Barbra Mzembi.

“We have no criteria that we used for selecting our patron. We identified people who add value and have the same vision of growing the pageant. That was the case with Barbra Mzembi and we are proud of her. We cannot think of anyone else who could have done this job better given the circumstances,” he said.

He added that Mzembi was qualified for the task and was volunteering her services.

But Chagonda would neither confirm nor deny claims that Betty Kaseke wife to the ZTA boss Karikoga Kaseke was a supplier of carnival outfits.

“I will check the full list. No screening was done on designers that approached us because we worked with everyone. If Mai Kaseke approached us were we supposed to turn her away because she is Kaseke’s wife?” he said.

It is also not clear whether the various carnival supplier contracts had gone to tender before the State.

Source : The Herald