Nel-Peters beat out first runner-up Miss Colombia Laura González and second runner-up Miss Jamaica Davina Bennett for the crown Sunday night in Las Vegas.
Nel-Peters, 22, recently earned her degree in business management at North-West University.
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.”
Miss Colombia and Miss Jamaica also impressed the judges during the Q&A segment, answering questions on how to talk to children about terrorism and sexual harassment, respectively.
“Sexual harassment is a form of abuse and no abuse should be tolerated whether in the workplace or in society,” Bennett said. “I believe that men and women should come together and be professional.”
The competition's top 13 finalists were Thailand, Sri Lanka, Ghana, Spain, Ireland, Croatia, Great Britain, USA, Brazil, Canada, Philippines, Venezuela and China.