• Many women in South Africa are going online to find wealthy men to '#bless' them (Instagram)
Many young girls in South Africa are looking for a #blesser, an older man who will give them a luxury lifestyle - but at what cost?
By
Sophie Verass

26 May 2016 - 3:54 PM  UPDATED 26 May 2016 - 3:59 PM

The word "blessed" has acquired a new meaning in South Africa. The universal social media buzzword, is still stamped on Twitter and Instagram signalling that the person behind the #hotdogsorlegs lying on a tropical beach isn’t taking anything for granted.

But across South Africa being #blessed denotes giving thanks to the person behind such blessings as holidays, designer handbags and even cash.

They’re typically showered gifts from sugar-daddy types, creating a culture of #blessers and #blessees - mostly older men providing for younger women in exchange for sex.

In the past month, South Africa has buzzed with conversations about men with money and women who want expensive status symbols. The words "Blessed", "Blesser" and "Blessee" have been so widely used that people are making jokes about it - that you can't say "bless you" to a girl when she sneezes because she might get the wrong idea.

Unfiltered, a youth production company based in Johannesburg took to the streets of South Africa to get a sense of the popular trend.

 

 

A Facebook page cropped up in April called BlesserFinder Mzansi to facilitate contact between women responding to the messages sent in by eager men. An early post reads: "Are you a Blesser looking to bless a Blessee? Inbox us. We have hundreds waiting to be blessed."

 

“Money is always a factor in relationship. This is just an upfront and honest way of dating for our modern times.”

 

“Money is always a factor in relationship. This is just an upfront and honest way of dating for our modern times,” Blesserfinder’s bio reads.

BlesserFinder markets itself through slogans such as #upgradeyourworth and #yourp****isnotacharity, in an attempt to present itself as a source of female empowerment.

But overtly introducing money has spurred an added dynamic to the dating culture. Being Blessed is no longer a one-size-fits-all activity, with Blessers categorised into stages or levels, depending on their income and generosity.

Instead of climbing the corporate ladder, Blessees are suggested to work their way toward a different kind of rewarding labour and find a charitable Blesser to financially support them.

 

The increase in the rate of inter-generational sex has been reported as creating havoc in South African society, with young women the most at risk of new HIV infections - with teenage pregnancies also increasing.

South African health minister Aaron Motsoaledi recently announced a three-year campaign including measures to protect young girls from these imbalanced relationships. Motsoaledi told the BBC that girls between 15 and 24 from poorer backgrounds are at most risk of being targeted and exploited by Blessers, especially those who have lost a parent to the national HIV/AIDS epidemic.

"Apart from the issue of who takes care of you... It's just the issue of who mentors you, who speaks to you every day," he said.

University of KwaZulu-Natal's Professor Deevia Bhana, an expert in gender and childhood sexuality, told a Teen Pregnancy conference in Durban that the abject poverty of many young girls in South Africa makes it easier for the Blesser phenomenon to boom.

"Blessers will thrive because young women’s aspirations toward those middle-class lifestyles are easily accessible through Blessers."

“As long as we have these kinds of inequalities, Blessers will thrive because young women’s aspirations toward those middle-class lifestyles are easily accessible through Blessers. So, we need to address unemployment,” Bhana said.

The frenzy of online inter-generational match-making and prostitution promotion has been met by a protesting viral hashtag #antiblesser which calls for a culture that highlights women’s independence.

Ditshego, the founder of BlesserFinder, has said the site is not a form of sex work and they do not charge for the service. Instead, they claim to be an “online digital mall” or “a portal” just like Facebook and Twitter.