Eldorado Park - Liesl Laurie needed to stand proud for the cameras at Sun City with her brand-new Miss SA crown. She’s also fallen straight into a whirlwind tour of projects, while quietly hoping for a little break after a busy start.
In the meantime, the whole of Eldorado Park is preparing for the homecoming of its own Cinderella.
Liesl, 24, grew up in the home of her grandmother Lorraine, 68, with her half-sister Micheala, 13.
Granny’s house now sports a brand-new poster bearing photos of Liesl wearing the crown. A neighbour made it for the family.
Three men from the neighbourhood are standing with a lawnmower, a garden hose and a rake to fix the grass verge outside the home.
"For the homecoming," they say.
Other residents drive past the house to take photos of the poster.
(Jerome Manuel, Keanu Jegels and Jerniel Manuel tidy up the verge outside Liesl Laurie’s home in preparation for her homecoming. Photo: Simone Kley)
Liesl’s mother, Karen, 43, says: "Some wave and shout hello. Others say nothing, get out and come to congratulate us."
Karen, a teacher at a local high school, lives alone in a flat nearby. Her eyes shine with excitement.
"The people are hanging posters everywhere," she says. "Even the Shoprite had its own poster. All the churches are going to hang their posters of Liesl tomorrow [Good Friday]. Man, everyone is excited."
Lorraine and Karen have pasted a wall in the living room with photographs of their entire family, but particularly those of Liesl. They page through an album and point out how she used to pose.
"Hey, she always used to dress," says Karen and points to a photo of Liesl at three years old.
"Always in a dress and always in shoes. And she hated being dirty even then. If there was a spot on her clothes, she wanted to change."
The two women say life wasn’t always easy.
Tears well in Karen’s eyes when she says: "Liesl is a very sweet-natured child. She is disciplined and hard-working. Particularly in the four years when I was unemployed while studying to be a teacher. She had to get accustomed to having nothing and knowing she could get nothing for free.
"Liesl is 24, but her father has been missing in action for all those years. She never complained, she’s never thrown a tantrum in her life."
(Lorraine Laurie, Karen Laurie and Micheala Laurie with a collection of landmark photos of the new Miss SA, Liesl Laurie. Photo: Simone Kley)
Meanwhile, Liesl started her own programme – The Pearl Project.
"It’s a motivational programme for young women," says Lorraine. "Liesl works very hard to teach the girls from Eldos self-confidence.
"With The Pearl Project, she tells them straight: each girl is a pearl. Pearls are unique: none of them looks the same and each pearl has its own colour."
Her family couldn’t be prouder of her, but so are her neighbours.
Down the road, Abdul Johnson says: "This is a very good thing for Eldos. The situation is that not much happens in Eldos and there aren’t many opportunities for children here.
"The fact that someone has won such a title will inspire the girls here to do something with their lives, you know, instead of drugs and stuff. It’s a big problem in this area."
On the pavement alongside, sits little Jamilla Khan, 8, with her one-year-old sister, Dahrashaan, on her lap.
Jamilla’s face brightens up at the mention of Liesl’s name.
"Do you want to be a beauty queen, Jamilla?" we ask.
"Yes," she answers shyly.
"Yes!" she says emphatically.
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