The state-controlled Sunday Mail newspaper said recently-crowned Miss Zimbabwe, Thabiso Phiri, sent the pictures to a boyfriend who loaded them on to social media websites.
Ms Phiri was selected out of 26 finalists to take the Miss Zimbabwe title at a black-tie ceremony in Harare on 14 June. The law student was due to leave Zimbabwe in November to attend the Miss World finals in London in December.
Zimbabwe’s Sunday Mail said: “Reliable sources said Phiri photographed herself while in the nude and sent the images to her lover, who in turn allegedly leaked them via social media platforms.”
The paper added: “It is understood that she stepped down to protect the reputation of the Miss Zimbabwe Trust ahead of the Miss World pageant.”
The Miss Zimbabwe event is closely monitored by the government of president Robert Mugabe. Entrants have to demonstrate that they are “patriotic” Zimbabweans who will be loyal to the regime.
This contest is run by Mary Mubaiwa-Chiwenga, the second wife of Mugabe’s army chief General Constantine Chiwenga. A former model herself, Mrs Mubaiwa-Chiwenga courted controversy by charging spectators £180 each to attend the Miss Zimbabwe final, an eye-wateringly high price in a country where the average monthly salary is less than £120. Critics complained then that the contest had been militarised.
The army general’s wife was said to be “in shock” at Ms Phiri’s resignation although she refused to confirm the reasons behind it. “These developments are still fresh,” she told the privately-owned Daily News.
A statement released by the Miss Zimbabwe Trust, which Mrs Mubaiwa-Chiwenga heads, said: “Due to circumstances unforeseen at the time of holding the Miss Zimbabwe pageant on June 14 and which circumstances are peculiar and personal to the winner of the pageant, Miss Thabiso Phiri, it has become imperative that she steps down as the queen.
“It must be emphasised that the decision by Miss Thabiso Phiri to step down is personal to her and no duress or undue influence [has been] brought to bear upon her in making this decision... The Miss Zimbabwe Trust regrets this turn of events after putting so much resources into the event leading to her being crowned,” the statement added.
Ms Phiri, who had already begun promoting a new brand of make-up in Zimbabwe, said: “Right now I can confirm that I have stepped down.”
Rumours also swirled on social media yesterday that Ms Phiri was pregnant. Miss Zimbabwe 2003, Linda Van Beek, was forced to relinquish her title after she became pregnant. This year, each Miss Zimbabwe contestant had to undergo a pregnancy test just before the contest.
Several Zimbabwean celebrities have fallen victim to sex tapes leaked to social media in recent years, including reality TV star Pokello Nare and radio personality Tinopona Katsande. At least 5.2 million Zimbabweans, nearly half the population, now have access to the internet.