Pageant couple land in new row

THE catwalk claws are out for two high-flying model bosses who organise beauty competitions in Nelson Mandela Bay, with several pageant entrants claiming the controversial couple keep prizes and money raised for charity.

Juanita and Alwyn Smit who, in 2010 were involved in a sordid sex scandal, organise some of the city’s most popular pageants.

Although they moved to Cape Town last year, their company, Rolemodel Pageants, still runs competitions in the Bay. These include Mrs Port Elizabeth, Teen Miss and Mr Port Elizabeth, Mr and Miss Nelson Mandela Bay, Mr, Miss and Mrs Eastern Cape and, most recently, Miss Port Elizabeth.

The company is also behind the Mrs Cape Town, Mrs Kimberly, Mrs Tshwane and Mrs Durban pageants.

The Smits have been accused by Mrs Cape Town runner-up Anita Verster of stripping her of her title because she asked where charity money was going.

And the latest controversy has unearthed a slew of Port Elizabeth entrants who have also questioned where prizes and money have gone.

The Smits have denied any wrongdoing. Juanita Smit yesterday brushed off all claims of impropriety, saying people in the pageant industry became jealous and vindictive when they did not win.

"She (Verster) actually cannot prove a thing. Our lawyer is involved in the matter and I really do not want to comment on it,” Smit said.

Asked to respond to whether there were any organisations which had not received promised donations, Smit became angry and hung up the phone.

Verster said this week that she was dismayed when she was made to forfeit her title after questioning the couple’s motives.

"I became suspicious when one of the sponsors asked me about the product and vouchers they sponsored which neither myself nor any of the other contestants had received.

"I asked Juanita for clarity which is when she told me I had been stripped of my title.

"She was so defensive when I queried why the entry fee and the money the contestants had raised for charity had to be placed into Rolemodel’s bank account and why it could not be handed directly to the charity.”

Verster said that after asking more questions, she received letters from Smit threatening legal action.

"Their reaction raised more suspicions and really made me query what happened to the money the finalists raised. Each one had to put R2 000 into their bank account. What happens to it?”

Former Port Elizabeth charity director and former Algoa FM DJ Elise Fish said her dealings with the Smits five years ago had been extremely distressing.

She had even considered taking legal action after money promised to her charity – which she did not want named – failed to materialise.

"At the time the organisers approached our non-profit organisation and asked if we would like to be the beneficiaries of the pageant. Obviously we were pleased and thought it would a wonderful idea.

"There was nothing untoward in the beginning but after a while the money did not come in and they started giving us different stories,” Fish alleged.

She said Smit had promised a substantial amount but eventually the charity received only a few "half-broken” toys from sponsoring companies.

"I sent the Smits e-mails inquiring about the money and they responded and then it became ugly and the e-mails became more threatening.

"I wanted to take it further but decided it would be damaging to the reputation of the organisation so I dropped the matter.”

A former 2010 Mrs PE finalist, who asked not to be named, said she had decided to pull out of the competition after she found that, for several months, Smit had been making use of the vehicle meant for the winner.

Mrs PE 2007 winner Susan de Kock said she had heard various rumours but could not confirm whether any were true. "I know she (Smit) is allowed to take 30% of what is raised but I cannot tell you how much actually goes to the charity and which charity receives what.

"Much of what is collected is not only cash but food, clothing and toys. We would simply do the ground work but Juanita would allocate the donations,” De Kock said.

Meanwhile, the mother of a former Little Miss Port Elizabeth winner, who became close to the Smits when she worked with them, alleged the couple would take "all the nice sponsored goods for themselves”.

Celeste Robson said after noticing this and asking questions, the Smits threatened to take her daughter’s crown away. The little girl, who is now 10, was seven at the time.

Shortly after that the Smits made headlines when pictures of them engaging in an orgy made the rounds in Port Elizabeth. The couple alleged Robson had made the photographs public, and stripped her daughter of her title. Robson said: "I became very close to Juanita . . . I saw that all the nice prizes and sponsorships went to them and the crappy ones went to charity.

"It’s hard to know how much money she raises but each finalist pays a R2 500 entry fee and then also has to raise money for charities.”

A woman who works in the industry said she became suspicious when she discovered a charity meant to be a beneficiary of one of the Mrs Port Elizabeth events did not receive anything.

She asked questions and was eventually told the money had been paid over to Wings and Wishes.

The woman, who asked not to be named, said after questions were raised, Smit started harassing her with nasty e-mails and SMSes.

"I found it very suspicious that the money was paid so many months later and only after lots of questions were asked,” she said. "Those people are only in it for the money and the modelling industry in PE is hurting because of her.”

Wings and Wishes spokesman Louise Day said the organisation had never had any dealings with the Smits or Rolemodel.

Mercia Vlok, whose daughter Chezrey, 15, recently took part in the Miss Teen Cape Town competition, said she found it strange that prizes they were asked to secure had not been handed to winners.

"Anita (Verster) helped my daughter get prizes but when it came time for these to be handed out no one received the eight Indian head massage vouchers, each worth R1 000. We do not know what happened to those.”

This is a version of an article that appeared in the print edition of the Weekend Post on Saturday, May 4, 2013.