Mr. Gay SA 2009 Charl van den Berg (Pic: Trevor Kleinhans)

Capetonian Charl van den Berg was crowned Mr. Gay South Africa at a slick awards show on Saturday night in Pretoria.

Van den Berg was chosen by the judges, along with earlier voting from the public (which accounted for 25% of the score), as the man to represent the South African gay community for the next year.

Twenty seven year old Van den Berg is a restaurant manager in Cape Town who says that he tries “to live a balanced lifestyle and aims to take care of both body and mind through exercise, reading, music and enjoys the challenges of the human experience”.

The first runner-up was Jose Rodrigues from Benoni and the second runner-up was Iggi Mnisi from Pretoria.

A favourite for the title, Chris Macgregor, scooped the Bone Wear Model of the Year award as well as the Look of Jean Paul Gaultier, while Mr. Personality was Du Preez Strauss and Mr. Kempinski South Africa 2009 was Jose Rodrigues.

Produced by previous Miss South Africa director Anne Williams, and hosted by Jason Greer, the glitzy finale event featured performances by legendary stage diva Judy Page, crooner Tim Moloi and drag entertainers Cathy Specific and Kevin Ellis.

Revelations in the last week that van den Berg, and two other contestants, had appeared in solo nude photo shoots for adult video company Liberate Studios did not affect the judge’s decision.

According to the organisers of the event, they and the judges, who included the Director of Africa of Mr. Gay World, Brian Merriman, were informed of the pictures by the finalists well in advance.

In a joint statement, they said that did not believe that the photo shoots, which did not include sexual situations with other people, reflected negatively on the contestants’ characters.

They added: “The winner and all finalists were thoroughly questioned by the international judges including Mr. Brian Merriman from Mr. Gay World over four days… and they were blown away by Charl’s character and involvement in the community such as with Health4Men and HIV issues.”

In a statement to the judges, van den Berg said that he did not feel that the pictures impacted on his ability to be a role model nor that he needed to apologise for his actions.

“I was raised to not be judgmental or prejudiced towards anybody, no matter their background, race, sexual orientation, status in society, or jobs they hold for that matter.”

He added that some people might think “this was a terrible mistake to have made” but that “just because I did a nude shoot, it didn’t make me less of a person, or mean that I had ‘stooped down’ to a substandard.” Read the full statement here.

Another international judge, Bruce Tallon (CIO of Kempinski Hotels) from The Netherlands, told Mambaonline that he and the other judges stood behind their decision and were delighted with Van den Berg, adding that they chose not to vote for “a gay cliché” but someone that could effectively and positively represent real gay men in South Africa and internationally.

Speaking at the finale, Merriman, who flew in from Dublin for the event, hailed the organisers of Mr. Gay SA and said that the function was possibly the best national Mr. Gay awards show that he had seen.

Van den Berg will represent South Africa at the Mr Gay World 2010 competition in Oslo in February next year.

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