What does it mean to be blessed?
A “blessing” in South Africa is a lot like a sugar daddy. He is an older man who often has several girlfriends whom he lavishes on gifts in exchange for sex and companionship.
The term “blessing” first appeared on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.
In 2015, South African girls and women started posting pictures of expensive shoes, clothes and stacks of cash while tagging the photos #blessed. What they meant was that a man had given them the luxury items.
And these men have come to be known as the “benitres”.
Yes, this kind of arrangement exists all over the world. But here’s what’s different: 20 percent of the adult population in South Africa has HIV. New infections are mainly in girls and young women. Thus, younger women having transactional sex with older men contribute to a larger problem.
One of South Africa’s most prominent benefactors is a man named Serge Cabonge.
Cabonge appeared in a television documentary titled “MTV Shuga: In Real Life”.
In the documentary, he shows his lavish lifestyle and presents it to the audience.
Cabonge considers himself a celebrity here. He flaunts the fact that he’s a blessing – on TV, in newspapers and on social media. He says he has 10 or 11 girlfriends at a time.
Cabonge is a short, nervous man in his mid-forties. He shows up at a hotel bar for an interview wearing jeans, a leather jacket and Versace running shoes with giant golden angels strapped to them. The shoes cost him $ 1,500, he says.
“OK, I grew up in a very wealthy family,” explains Cabonge. His recently deceased mother was Congolese. Her father is Angolan. Cabonge was born into a wealthy lifestyle. And he likes to share it with women he calls his “blessed”.
“I can’t date any ugly girl,” he explains. “I need a sexy girl. I’m sure you understand what I mean by hot. It’s like big hips. Cabonge is frank about what he expects from women. “Let the money come for you. Pay attention to me. Show me that you are the person I want.
What he gives in return depends on the girl. He says there are different levels.
“The first level is the students. Young people. “But Cabonge says he never sleeps with underage girls. He buys data from young women’s cell phones and gives them money.
Cabonge’s levels go up to five. If you’re a five, you could go to Paris or Los Angeles. “In order for you to reach this level, you really have to do a lot at this level. You have to prove yourself.
Cabonge hasn’t invented anything new here. This type of arrangement is old and happening everywhere. But in a country struggling with an HIV epidemic, it’s a big problem for young women. Suppose you are a student and you really need the money. Or maybe you really like the beautiful things you couldn’t afford while growing up. This guy comes and gives you everything. Can you really ask her to wear a condom?
Cabonge says yes.
And he says he gets tested for HIV a lot. “I do this several times. I am free you know, I am very free. I protect myself.
The blessed who accompanies Cabonge that evening is a woman named Gao. She is 26 years old and does not want to be identified by her last name.
Gao says she met Cabonge a year ago at a bar. “A waiter came to me and said someone wanted to buy me some champagne so I was like, ‘A glass of champagne?’ “No, it actually says you can order as many as you want.”
Gao is the epitome of grace. She is statuesque, gorgeous, wearing this gorgeous, modest jumpsuit. When her blesser walks away to chat with her friends, she talks about their relationship.
“Behind closed doors, when we drive the car, he’s a funny person. We laugh, we dance and he makes jokes. People don’t believe me, but he does. But he does that you know? He’s a much cooler guy.
She says the financial arrangement is not a structured weekly payment. It’s a more ad hoc agreement. “If I see something that I like right now, I call her and say, ‘Hey I’m in a certain place, please help me, I have to buy some things – makeup, whatever – please help me, ‘and he would.
Gao has a soft voice, but she wants to make it clear that she practices safe sex. “We have to use protection,” she said, as Cabonge has multiple partners. She says they are both tested and are both negative.
But the blessing / blessing relationship is one in which the power is distorted.
“The blessers are high risk men because they are men who are probably married and have multiple partners,” says sex therapist Dr. Marlene Wasserman. “You know young girls are young girls, and today, with social media, they want to be Kim Kardashian.”
To achieve this ambitious lifestyle, they may have to compromise their principles of safe sex.
Anthropology student Lebohang Masango studies the culture of blessing. She says that while some may view the blesser / beneficiary relationship as an exploitation of women, she says that many blessed young women are educated and ambitious and consider their time to be precious. She says that for them it is a form of empowerment of women.
“They understand the risk of HIV, they understand the risk of multiple simultaneous partnerships, but there is this post-feminist sensibility that is starting to take hold especially among young, middle-class women where they choose to do so, even against all odds. other stigmas that exist. “
Back at the upscale Johannesburg bar, Gao says that she and Cabonge are openly talking about things. She’s being honest that, for the most part, it’s a financial relationship. When asked if she loves him, she pauses for a long time.
“Here’s the thing – it makes me happy. I don’t really know how to say that I am [in] love, or what. I care about him a lot, ”she says.