Miss South Africa Top 12 finalist Levern José has made the decision to withdraw from the 2023 Miss South Africa pageant in light of the baseless bullying allegations and attacks she has faced in the past week on social media.

“As a survivor of bullying I learned how to protect myself from bullying during my school years. If my actions in protecting myself caused harm to anyone, I offer my sincere apologies. The pain of being a target has left an indelible mark on my heart, and I would never intentionally cause hurt or contribute to someone else’s suffering.”

“Kindness, respect and empathy have always been my guiding principles and I have unwaveringly worked to adhere to these values. It deeply troubles me that such grave accusations could be levelled against me. While I firmly believe in my own accountability and responsibility, I also hold steadfastly to the principles of fairness and justice.

“All forms of abuse and bullying are unacceptable and have no place in our society. Please know that I am determined to work against bullying and to bring about wider awareness about this issue. I am unwavering in my stance to upholding what is right and just. I am human; the pressure has been immense and has taken its toll on me. Together, let us strive for fairness and compassion in all our interactions with others,” she concluded in a statement.

José has been supported by the Miss South Africa Organisation’s mental health partner, the South African Depression And Anxiety Group (SADAG) who have provided counselling to her.

“Bullying is a complex issue with a multitude of underlying causes. All forms of bullying are harmful and unacceptable. It is essential to acknowledge the profound impact bullying has on the mental health of everyone involved; statistics have shown that 57% of South African children experience bullying during their school years. The consequences of this behaviour reach far beyond the immediate impact, as survivors often carry emotional scars into adulthood. In today’s South African climate, it is not enough to simply prevent bullying, we must provide assistance to those who have been affected. It is crucial for individuals, communities and institutions to come together to address this pressing issue. By creating safe environments, raising awareness, and implementing effective prevention and intervention strategies, we can take significant steps towards reducing the devastating consequences of bullying on mental health,” says Cayley Jorgensen, founder of Ingage Support, registered counsellor and SADAG spokesperson).

Says the Miss South Africa Organisation: “The Miss South Africa Organisation does not condone bullying of any kind. We accept Levern’s decision to pull out of the competition and respect her for owning her truth and taking this time to focus on her own healing”.