It’s a transaction that happens across Africa every day. In South Africa they call them blessers; around the world they’re known as sugar daddies. Men with deep pockets exchange money and gifts for sexual favors.
It may be a transaction as old as time but it acquired the euphemism of blessing.
It all started on social media: where women post about their expensive lifestyles on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.
Last year, a Facebook page called BlesserFinder Mzansi (the nickname of South Africa) started – labelling itself as a travel/leisure page. This is one of hundreds of matchmaking sites for male and female blessers. And this is how it works.
The blesser sends an inbox message to the page describing the kind of person they want. They then explain the body features, age and how much allowance they are willing to pay.
The name and profile picture of the blessers are not revealed. The posts start with the words “Advert Alert”, then a screengrab of the description of what they want. Those interested, respond and are hooked up. Most of the men on the site describe themselves as travellers, who go on domestic and international trips and need women to go with them. They promise expensive clothes and shoes in return.
The administrators of the site, which has more than 50,000 followers, call for “morals to fall” and it is also open for same-sex hook ups.
Danger lurks in these sites as many are unregulated; women who respond to the Facebook messages could fall into the trap of human traffickers disguised as blessers.
A blesser can have up to 10 women.
“I did not choose to become a blesser; God appointed and blessed me to be a blesser,” says Serge Cabonge, a Congolese blesser, in an interview with South African news channel, eNCA.
Nothing is for free.
“When you ask for my number, I tell you straight away I can’t give you my number for free. You need to pay tax before you get it or you need to show me that you can do certain things. Why do I feel the need to do things for the girls? If you don’t do it, you’ll never be around them. For 75 percent of women in this country, without money there’s no love,” says Cabonge.
Cabonge takes the women on extravagant shopping sprees for perfume, designer shoes and clothes. He also takes them to fancy restaurants and pays their rent.
“When I pay for your rent, I expect to get benefits. I look for sex, nothing else,” says Cabonge.
But not all the women would be counting their blessings when they return from those expensive shopping trips.
According to a 2012 survey conducted by the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC), the blesser-blessee phenomenon is also considered be a key factor in the high HIV/Aids prevalence in young women, with the rate of new infections being four times greater for women between the ages of 15 and 24 than that of men.
These relationships thrive on gender and economic inequalities.
“It is also important to note that it is not only indigent women whom are affected but also educated graduates who are unemployed. This is also compounded by the fact that women are more likely than men to be unemployed,” says Kerry Oosthuysen, a lawyer for the Commission of Gender Equality.
“The economic and discriminatory environment faced by young women provides the optimal breeding ground for desperation, for quick means to a glamourous lifestyle of high-end bags and expensive dinners. We urge societies to instill a value system and ripe economic arena where young women are empowered to demand their rightful place within the labor force and relationships,” she says.
Churches are also against it.
“Transactional sex is an abomination to God. It never was his design for sex. Sex is to be enjoyed, not endured for financial gain, by the heterosexually married only. Fornication and adultery are spelled out clear as sins in many parts of the Bible. The Bible is not in support of the blesser-blessee phenomenon. The call for support of those in need is extended to Christians and everybody that has been blessed with riches but never in exchange for anything but blessings from God (Deuteronomy 15:11),” says Musawenkosi Dube, a believer from an Evangelical church in Swaziland.
Amanda Cele is an unashamed blessee. She vows to never date a penniless man.
It’s around 6PM on Friday at Booth Night Club in Sandton. A petite woman, in Valentino stilettos, a sequin silver dress and a Peruvian weave, walks in. Her name is Amanda Cele, and she is blessed by a man with money.
“I bought these shoes for R6,000 ($450) the dress was R1,800 ($135) and the hair was just too cheap, it was R2,500 ($190),” says the 27-year-old Cele.
Cele is one of thousands of blessees in Africa. She was born in Umlazi, just outside of Durban. She moved to Johannesburg at the age of six. Money makes her tick.
“I also like tidiness and intelligent people who challenge me to think and learn,” says Cele.
Blessee is a hard label to bear and one that she will likely carry for the rest of her life. She has been called all the names under the sun, including: gold digger, slut and prostitute. She is unashamed.
“I don’t care about critics. I’ve heard the worst comments on social media, even when I walk into a shisanyama or a mall I get nasty comments from people. I’ve heard people actually talk s**t about me and I let it go. Negative comments don’t bother me,” she says.
“I do get emotional sometimes and like any other woman I do scream, kick and shout. But then what makes me get up in the morning is the negative energy that I get from people, if I had it easy in life I wouldn’t be as strong as I am.”
“The only thing that bothered me was when the media published a story saying I was shot and found dead, when I was actually sitting at home watching TV.”
There’s no doubt her life has been tough. A few days after her 13th birthday, both her parents died. Cele was raised by her older sister.
“She had a baby and wanted to go to university but couldn’t. It was tough but it is things like this that make me not give up. Just because I grew up in a tough situation doesn’t mean I can’t be a better person.”
As if that was not enough, at 19, she became a mother.
“I had just finished school, I was staying alone and worked as a bartender, I did everything for myself; shopping and clubbing. I would steal money at the bar like nobody’s business. Then I fell pregnant, but I don’t have any regrets about it.”
A turning point was when her then boyfriend abused her physically and emotionally.
“I was like screw this relationship thing, I am done. There were times when I would look in the mirror and hated myself because I couldn’t see anything beautiful about me. I was 24 years old with a child; I couldn’t sit down and cry forever, I had to pick myself up, put on make-up and continue with my life.”
“I’m grateful I went through that relationship because now I look at men differently. I still think that I never really fully healed, I just need to get rid of the anger I have for men. There’s still bitterness inside me.”
“I had different types of men approach me and most of them would play with my feelings, fool around with me and after having sex they’d dump me. This got me thinking, ‘why can’t I get something out of this as well?’ We always have sex for mahala (free), why don’t we do it for our own gain?”
She has one main blesser and others on the side that she sees less frequently.
Cele met her first blesser on her way from work to a taxi rank. Her blesser agreed to give her R5,000 (around $400) a month.
Today, she receives an allowance of R20,000 ($1,500) a month. The oldest man she has dated was 72 years old.
“He’s dead now. He died a few months ago,” says Cele.
“I like them older. I can have a civil conversation with Jacob Zuma and we’d get along so well. I can’t stand men who are in their 30s.”
Cele knows her blessers are married.
“I know that they are not going to leave their wives for me, so let me eat their money. I’m happy with that. You need to be understanding when he’s not able to spend time with you and that’s the painful thing about it, especially when you start catching feelings.”
It can be dangerous.
In May last year, she was reported to have been assaulted by her blesser’s wife at her apartment in Sandton. Another myth, says Cele.
She calls what is frowned upon for being equivalent to prostitution a lifestyle choice – with no strings nor regrets. If Cele grows tired of one blesser, she replaces him with a new one.
“If I see that the insecurities are becoming a problem, I’d rather we stop seeing each other, but obviously I have to find a replacement before I leave. I wouldn’t leave just like that. I’ve been in a situation where the man got attached and the insecurities were getting too much,” says Cele.
“I know people who work seven-to-five and still have problems; you find that they have been working for years but still can’t afford a simple Toyota Corolla.”
“If I had to open my Facebook page now, 90 percent of the women there are people who are saying that they want blessers, and its working women, some are even married but going through a tough time.”
In the world of blessers, there are four levels. Cele is a level three blessee and her favorite holiday destination is Langkawi in Malaysia.
All she has to do is to be on call 24/7.
According to reports, some blessers are abusive and refuse to use condoms.
Cele has a certificate in beauty therapy that she says is lying under her mattress waiting for a rainy day. She wants to become an entrepreneur, like South African media mogul, Basetsana Kumalo.
“People don’t know that I have dreams and I’m actually working on them now. Being independent won’t mean I’ll stop being a blessee, that’s the part that people don’t understand.”
She vows to never date a penniless man.
“I have fallen in love with broke niggas because of the good sex. I don’t care about how he treats me; I am not going to eat good treatment. Now, I have to prepare for a gig and dress smart. Am I going to wear treatment? What will happen when the weave is worn out and needs to be changed?”
“Here’s my phone I got from a blesser who makes things happen,” she says picking up her black iPhone 7 worth R22,500 ($1,700).
Cele’s dream husband is Africa’s richest man, Aliko Dangote; she hopes he will read this article.
Level one: A blesser buys you airtime, data and gives money for transport.
Level two: Buys you handbags; shoes from brands such as Louis Vuitton; Peruvian and Indian Remy weaves, as well as lace wigs.
Level three: Holidays to Dubai and Thailand, a monthly allowance of R20,000 ($1,500), a car and an iPhone.
Level four: Buys you a house under your name and gives you money to start a business. If you are lucky, he will introduce you to his wife.
Colors For Mandela
The world of comic books is dominated by stories from the West. Two South African brothers are helping reshape that narrative with a central character inspired by the iconic hero.
Nelson Mandela had his own following at the recent Comic Con Africa convention at the end of September in Johannesburg.
At the center of all the organized chaos at the event at the Gallagher Convention Centre attended by 71,000 visitors over four days was a comic book bearing the late South African president’s name created by brothers Phemelo, 28, and Omphile Dibodu, 25.
The comic book, Young Nelson, features an African superhero, for readers in the continent and beyond.
Co-founders of Rainbow Nations Comics, a black-owned comic book and publishing company established in 2018, the Dibodu brothers were born and bred in Rustenburg, known as ‘platinum city’, in South Africa’s North West province.
Far from their hometown, the duo were in the big city for the event, showcasing their creations to an adept audience – people dressed as superheroes, cyborgs and zombies – who crowded around their stand and were as colorful as the comic books they were thumbing through.
“Wow, that looks cool, who is Young Nelson?” asked a curious bystander.
Phemelo was ready with his answers even as his brother assisted with more queries.
“Young Nelson is a proudly South African black comic book inspired by the late Nelson Mandela,” responded Phemelo.
In front of him, on the table, a large poster of Young Nelson, featuring a young black male with the South African flag over his shoulders and a gold-colored map of Africa emblazoned on his shirt.
This day saw the launch of the very first issue of Young Nelson titled An Act of Kindness, for R20 ($1.3) a copy.
Phemelo, the writer, and Omphile, the illustrator, say they were inspired by Mandela and some of their own life experiences growing up.
“I think I wanted to pay tribute to the old man in a way that it would hopefully inspire others to look at him in the way that many South Africans see him,” says Phemelo to FORBES AFRICA.
In the story, ‘Young Nelson’ gets his nickname when he volunteers at a local boxing gym. The people watching him witness his skills and ability to solve problems, so they equate him to the young Mandela, who was famously a boxer in his youth.
“[The lead character] doesn’t like the nickname at first but once he sees the significance of it and his heroics, how they are taken up by the community to represent who they are, he takes the name and rolls with it and that’s his superhero name going forward with the series,” Phemelo explains.
Young Nelson’s real name in the comic is actually ‘Thabo Mo Afrika’, inspired by South African president Thabo Mbeki, who succeeded Mandela.
“ ‘Mo Afrika’ is a generic surname [which] translated into English is ‘an African’. So I wanted to see every African seeing themselves in Young Nelson,” Phemelo adds.
The young writer’s plan is to take his product to bigger markets, but for now, the African comic industry is a tough market to capture for lack of any funding.
“Imagine getting paid for what you are doing. That would [make a] big difference. Once people realize that their art can be compensated, more of us will actually start creating content the world would want to start reading,” he says.
Bill Masuku, a speaker at the Comic Con event and who is also a digital artist, shares the same sentiments.
“In Zimbabwe, where I am from, it is pretty grassroots. Everyone is self-publishing and if you don’t really have a passion for it, the book won’t come out,” says Masuku, who has been a part of the African comic industry for over three years. He is the founder of Enigma Comix Africa, and creator of Razor-Man and Captain South Africa.
“As much as new creatives are coming out every day, what really makes the comic book industry is distribution. And seeing that [Young Nelson] has such widespread potential really makes me hopeful for where we are going,” says Masuku.
For comic books to thrive on the continent, they need a big financial push from publishers, distributors or investors, unlike any other medium.
The Dibodu brothers were fortunate to have been sponsored by the Rustenburg Herald, a weekly local newspaper in Rustenburg.
“The problem with creating by yourself is that you can only create at a certain rate and you do burn out. So you find people who have been making comics who have three or four issues out and it’s easy to forget about them as a consumer,” he adds.
Globally, platforms like Weekly Shōnen Jump in Japan make it easy for Japanese creatives to publish their work as the comic book and manga industry is thriving there, making it one of the best-selling magazines. Weekly Shōnen Jump has sold over 7.5 billion copies since 1968.
But the African comic industry has a long way to go.
Kugali, a digital platform founded by three entrepreneurs and friends from Nigeria and Uganda, is designed to help people find and share the best African narratives and comics. It is an entertainment company that focuses on telling stories inspired by Africans, offering much-needed exposure to young creatives such as Masuku and the Dibodu brothers. For now, the reception the Dibodus are receiving give them some hope.
“It’s been awesome and inspirational. I didn’t know people felt the same way as me. It’s amazing when people are [reading] the story of the character and people are saying ‘you know what, that’s what we need’,” says Phemelo. At the end of Comic Con, they managed to sell over 300 copies of Young Nelson.
“People are catching onto the culture. I think it might even grow bigger than the American industry only because I think we are a very artistic community… Whether you look at the hieroglyphics in Egypt or the cave paintings by the bushmen in South Africa, we draw,” he says.
He also plans to sell his comics to local book stores in the country.
The team is currently working on their next creation – a black African female superhero called Imbokodo.
“We are looking for new creators we can partner with and create our own justice league, our own Avengers, to actually have young kids in South Africa look at their heroes the same way Americans look at their heroes in the Comic Cons to come.”
Young Nelson is a refreshing reminder that not all heroes wear capes.
Conscious Fashion: ‘So Much More You Can Do With Discarded Clothes’
Fashion is about creating beauty, but its ugly side is the carbon emissions. Designers are now looking to play it safe, even if it means going to dangerous lengths for the sake of greener fashion.
In South Africa, the fashion industry is now starting to do its bit to negate the effects of climate change, with some designers going green, in interesting, creative and even lucrative ways.
Ayanda Nhlapo, a stylist and entrepreneur, is one of them.
She hosted and co-produced her own TV fashion show, Ayanda’s Fashion House, where she explored the work of some of South Africa’s most prolific designers and creatives in the fashion industry. The fashion aesthete says the influence of the industry is far-reaching, and therefore, must be more responsible about the environment and preservation of resources.
“I’ve always had a knack for creating, whether I’m creating from scratch or recreating something that already exists,” says Nhlapo. So, upcycling, or repurposing, is what she is into.
“However, recreating or upcycling has always given me much more excitement and a deeper sense of purpose.
“Upcycling can be challenging but rewarding in the sense that it’s not just about the creativity but it’s more so about contributing to solving the effects of fast fashion on the environment and the economy. It is very important that we preserve our culture, identity and resources,” she says.
Fascinated about culture as well as traditional wear, some of her design ideas are fairly unconventional, such as Zulu sandals made of tyres. Besides clothes, she also designs accessories, such as earrings and key-holders. One of her designs is earrings shaped like water droplets to highlight the importance of saving water, whilst also bringing forth the beauty and importance of recycling and upcycling.
Her market is largely young women, but the brand is also for those who love and consume fashion consciously. Nhlapo uses fashion as a tool to influence people and encourage them to think carefully about how they use it.
“Fortunately, through traditional media and social media, I am able to reach thousands and thousands of people, not just in South Africa but across the world. If we consume fashion correctly and consciously, we have the power to reverse certain cycles and change the direction of our future,” says Nhlapo.
She goes on to say that the fashion industry is among the highest polluters in the world, however, thankfully, it is gradually moving towards a more responsible way of operating.
“In fact, green fashion is the next big thing. Designers and consumers are finally becoming more and more aware of the damages and negative, rippling effects of fashion and are now beginning to take such issues seriously. We are starting to see more sustainable fabrics on the runway and more eco-friendly brands launching into the market, while well-established brands are also moving in the direction of going green. Before we know it, green fashion will be the only thing we know.”
South African designer JJ Schoeman elaborates on ‘fast fashion’ and ‘green fashion’.
“I think we need to still go on a robust campaign on the implications of fast fashion, where we create more awareness around its consumption, as I feel that most consumers are still a little blasé about their purchase.
“There was a call for green fashion, because of the wasteful nature of production lines within our industry. This call was made to encourage designers like myself to use environmentally-friendly fabrics and methods in the production line.”
One of the ways he implements this in his production line is to cut material in a way there is less wastage.
“Over and above this, I also found ways in which to ‘get rid’ of the waste we accumulated over a season – these included donating to the trade, for reuse. I also try my absolute best to use fabrics that are more environment-friendly, but of course, I always need to take into consideration what the client wants.”
Schoeman opines the green fashion trend is growing.
“Absolutely, if we just take into consideration the amount of international names that have agreed to not using real fur in their collections. Recently, I read about the #G7Biarritz movement, which saw the Prada Group, Ralph Lauren and 30 other fashion industry brands sign the pact. The Fashion Pact is going to change the game in sustainable fashion all over the world.”
Yet another trend is ‘thrifting fashion’ that has become the cornerstone of shopping trends popular among the youth.
Vathiswa Yiba is an employee at a vintage thrift store in the lively Braamfontein area of Johannesburg. She has immersed herself in the culture of thrifting.
The store is one of several thrift stores in the city, and among the popular ones at the thrift market not far from Africa’s largest railway station, the Johannesburg Park Station.
“Thrifting is buying clothes that people think are not good enough anymore and those that they have discarded,” says 22-year-old Yiba.
“It’s interesting with thrifting because the most dangerous places are where you find the nicer things”– Vathiswa Yiba
The lower prices also offer financial reprieve and more options for the buyer.
Yiba has been thrifting since her high school days when she started with her own clothes.
“I don’t step into retail stores unless I am buying shoes,” she says.
“My first thrift was buying from people who sold from their bags, then from their car boots, then I leveled up and started going to the biggest market in the Johannesburg Central Business District; MTN Taxi Rank, known for its pavement crimes, despite the danger in that part of town, they have the best clothes.”
The street-savvy Yiba offers advice to those who are novices in the industry.
“It’s interesting with thrifting because the most dangerous places are where you find the nicer things, and here is a tip when you are going thrifting – make sure you have loose change and put it in safe pockets, away from pick-pocketers. That way you will be able to shop safely. However, you can find good-looking items but it’s not in your size; which is where the community comes in.
“We have tailors to alter the garments for you and it will be exclusive because it’s thrifted, no one has the same clothes. There is so much more you can do with discarded clothes. With the littlest things, you can make an amazing thing and you’ll be the only one who has it.”
Of course, there is a tinge of stigma associated with thrifting. Yiba says people think the clothes could also have belonged to those who have passed away, but she’s of the view that thrifting creates other opportunities.
“The [thrift clothing] may look messy and seem dusty, but once cleaned or altered, they will look retail. So it’s not just the connotations, it can be something perfect and the next person wouldn’t even know.”
These are sentiments also echoed by Leago Nhlapo, a content creator for fashion brands like Adidas, Sportscene and Skechers, who began his journey as thrifter.
“It started with thrifting because it makes you unique; there is no similar garment, every single garment is different from the next. So, I jumped from really cheap clothes [recycled clothes] to really expensive clothes,” he says.
However, Leago encourages green fashion because he says the fast fashion industry is the second-highest contributor to carbon emissions.
“The more people buy clothes, the more we contribute to global warming and we all know the global crisis, so if we recycle clothes, there will not be a need to make clothes, there are enough clothes for everyone existing. I am proof that second-hand clothes are cool and look better than people paying tons of cash.”
Seventy kilometers south of Johannesburg’s Central Business District is Nokwakha Qobo, who was born in the squatter camps of Phuma Zibethane in Sharpeville. And in the garbage dumps of these camps, the fashion designer in her emerged.
Qobo currently has a clothing line with an international reach. She fashions garments out of wastepaper she collects from rubbish dumps.
“I’m a self-taught designer from a dump in Vanderbijlpark, that’s where I learned everything– Nokwakha Qobo
As a young girl, Qobo had to walk to school, and through the course of her journey home, she would pass a garbage site where old fashion magazines and newspapers were discarded.
It is often said that ‘one man’s trash is another man’s treasure’. This adage was not lost on her because she took inspiration from the articles in those magazines and now creates pieces that are sought after.
“That’s where I learned about fashion trends, that’s where I learned about different colors for different seasons, that’s where I learned about the body structure of a woman, actually, I’m a self-taught designer from a dump in Vanderbijlpark, that’s where I learned everything,” she says.
Inadvertently, she too is contributing towards a shift in culture based on conscious consumption.
Perhaps, with the benefit of time, green fashion will be the norm as many believe we already have all we need.
– Motlabana Monnakgotla
HUGO BOSS Partners With Porsche To Bring Action-Packed Racing Experience Through Formula E
Brought to you by Hugo Boss
HUGO BOSS and Porsche have partnered to bring an action-packed racing experience to the streets of the world’s major cities through Formula E.
Formula E is known for its fascinating races globally. The partnership will have a strong focus on the future of motorsport. In doing so the races will host a unique series for the development of electric vehicle technology, refining the design, functionality and sustainability of electric cars while creating an exciting global entertainment brand.
HUGO BOSS which boasts a long tradition of motorsports sponsorship – has been successfully engaged in the electric-powered racing series since the end of 2017.
In this collaboration, HUGO BOSS brings its 35 years of experience and expertise in the motorsport arena to Formula E, as well as the dynamic style the fashion brand is renowned for.
Mark Langer HUGO BOSS, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) says that though they have been working successfully with motorsports over the years, he is exceptionally pleased that as a fashion brand they are taking the cooperation to new heights.
“As a fashion brand, we are always looking at innovative approaches to design and sustainability. When we first encountered Formula E, we immediately saw its potential and we are pleased to be the first apparel partner to support this exciting new motorsport series,” he says.
The fashion group is also the official outfitter to the entire Porsche motorsports team worldwide.
The fascination with perfect design and innovation, along with the Porshe and Hugo Boss shared passion for racing, inspired Hugo Boss to produce the Porsche x Boss capsule collection.
Its standout features include premium leather and wool materials presented in the Porsche and HUGO BOSS colors of silver, black and red.
Since March, a range of menswear styles from the debut capsule collection is available online and at selected BOSS stores. In South Africa the first pieces of the capsule will come as a part of the FW 19 collection.
Alejandro Agag, Founder and CEO of Formula E says he is confident that the racers will put their best foot forward on the racecourse.
“This new partnership will see the team on the ground at each race dressed with a winning mindset and ready to deliver a spectacular event in cities across the world. As the first Official Apparel Partner of the series, we look forward to seeing the dynamic style and innovation on show that BOSS is renowned for,” says Agag.
Oliver Blume CEO of Porsche AG says Formula E is an exceptionally attractive racing series for motorsport vehicles to develop.
“It offers us the perfect environment to strategically evolve our vehicles in terms of efficiency and sustainability. We’re looking forward to being on board in the 2019/2020 season. In this context, the renowned fashion group HUGO BOSS represents the perfect partner to outfit our team.”
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