Across Africa, wealthy men are willing to spend vast sums just to spend time with a woman who otherwise wouldn’t give them the time of day.
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.
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.