Nel-Peters was honored on-stage along with first runner-up Miss Colombia Laura González and second runner-up Miss Jamaica Davina Bennett Sunday night (Nov 26) in Las Vegas.
Demi-Leigh follows in the footsteps of Margaret Gardiner, who won the first Miss Universe title for South Africa in 1978. The country waited for 39 years.
Along with the title, Nel-Peters earned a yearlong salary, a luxury apartment in New York City for the duration of her reign and more prizes.
The 22-yar-old model recently earned her degree in business management at North-West University.
Nel-Peters is from the South African coastal community of Sedgefield in the Western Cape province.
During a pre-taped interview, the Western Cape native talked about how her experience being held at gunpoint made her passionate about training women in self-defense.
She plans to bring that passion, along with a self-defense program she helped develop, to the Miss Universe platform.
During the competition’s Q&A portion, the newly crowned Miss Universe was asked about the most important issue she thought was facing women in the workplace.
“In some places, women get paid 75% of what men earn for doing the same job, working the same hours — and I do not believe that this is right,” she said.
“I think we should have equal work for equal pay for women all over the world.”
Earlier this year, when Demi-Leigh won Miss South Africa 2017, she made a promise to speak up for “those who are afraid.”
“I vow to dedicate the next 365 days of my life to serve the people of South Africa, to be a voice to those who are afraid to or cannot speak up and to represent the whole of our beautiful nation,” she said.
“I vow to listen, to be there, to help where I can and to recognize that we all want to be heard, we all want to be validated. I hear you, I see you, I am you!”
In her Miss Universe introduction video, Demi-Leigh shared her involvement in promoting self-defense in her country. She recounted an instance where she found herself in danger as she was held at gunpoint.
“I think the important thing is to know that we all have things as humans that we go through. It’s okay not to have a perfect life and it’s okay to have emotions and to have feelings. If we are able to express our feelings more and share them with others, it’s so much easier to work through when you know that there [are] people holding your hand and walking through this with you,” she said.
The competition’s top 13 finalists were Thailand, Sri Lanka, Ghana, Spain, Ireland, Croatia, Great Britain, USA, Brazil, Canada, Philippines, Venezuela and China.
Ninety-two women from around the world participated in the decades-old competition.
This year’s edition had the most contestants ever, including the first representatives in its history of Cambodia, Laos and Nepal.
Steve Harvey returned as the show’s host despite botching the 2015 Miss Universe crowning. On Sunday, he poked fun at his mistake throughout the night. Three days after people in the U.S. celebrated Thanksgiving, Harvey told the audience he is “grateful for the Oscars,” referring to the best-picture flub at this year’s Academy Awards.
Grammy-Award winner Fergie performed her new song “A Little Work” while the contestants walked down the stage wearing evening gowns.
This year’s judges included YouTube star Lele Pons, former judge of “America’s Next Top Model” Jay Manuel and Wendy Fitzwilliam, the 1998 Miss Universe winner from Trinidad and Tobago.
President Donald Trump offended Hispanics when he made anti-immigrant remarks in announcing his bid for the White House in 2015. At the time, he co-owned The Miss Universe Organization with NBCUniversal, but the network and the Spanish-language broadcaster Univision quickly cut ties with him, refusing to air the show. Trump sued both networks, eventually settling and selling off the entire pageant to talent management company WME/IMG.