This past Sunday, I found myself bursting jaw wrecking, head-turning, and troubled laughter. This is caused by the utterance of the word—“be blessed”—in a congregation full of hundreds of millennials who know the well-meaning word has lost its original meaning. This gospel associated and previously unharmful word has become a pun associated with a deadly rampant social decay that has become popular among all South Africans. This word is now transactional and stained by a culture that glorifies dysfunctionality, statutory rape, fuels systems of patriarchy and misogyny.
I am 20-something-year old in “free” South Africa. Given the opportunities that I am often afforded, I am often bamboozled by my age mate—women—who drive cars worth more than their parents lifetime savings; young, smart, beautiful and talented women wearing lacy (hair) weaves that adorns their necks and shoulders—hair costing equivalent to someone’s university tuition. I eat in restaurants where older men with bellies big enough to incubate three new born babies lounge, wine and dine with young women so young to be their daughters. This life costing plague hits South Africa at the right time—a time where patriarchy is being questioned, a time where land is being claimed back and a time where young people are engaging in destroying an ongoing culture of rape that remains a taboo in many South African communities.
I am disappointed at the way which this “blesser-blessee” conversation is going. I am infuriated by the short-termistic, shallow and inhumane manner at which we are tackling this issue. The problem with the rhetoric around this issue is that we are not fully dealing with the root causes and we enjoy talking about it when it’s convenient to us.
Firstly, we need to acknowledge that South Africa is a country that silences women and we glorify the culture that fuels statutory rape. We remain tight-lipped when teachers take advantage of young girls. How can a 40-something-year old man be sleeping with a 14, 15, and 16, 17 years old and still calls him Sir? We have embraced this plague as a norm. As something that we know happens but don’t really talk about it. The only time we talk about it, it is when it’s convenient for us. It is when is convenient for us to slut-shame these young girls who have been sexually taken advantage of.
Secondly, South Africa is a country that sees women as a possession. We live in a South Africa that believes that “women are prostitutes in one way or the other”. Our beloved country perceives and treats women in a possessionary attitude—with an eye and erroneous idea that women have a price tag hanging on them somewhere.
The legacy of apartheid and HIV/AIDS has not been adequately dealt with. By feeding the lies of the rainbow nation, we have disadvantaged black people. Additionally, we have not dealt with the legacy of apartheid and HIV/AIDS concerning black women and millennials—there are less robust initiatives that have been put into place to economically advance black women. We live in a South Africa where during the apartheid regime (and even to date) most homes in black communities were poverty infested and run by mothers. With the excruciating and devastating economic conditions apartheid placed black people in, our grandmother and our mothers and their daughters have struggled to make ends-meet. How are we not acknowledging this generational burden? Fast tracking to 2016—“free” South Africa is having this plague due to apartheid. [The correlation might not be as clear but inquiry needs to be made into this matter.]
Now, our generation is intending to end this lack of financial security in their lives by engaging in “consensual” transactional relationships. Again, there’s a question of morals in play. Because South Africa is a patriarchal country, the only morals that are being questioned are those of the women—the blessees alias for gold diggers. Are these man being immoral when they woe girls who aren’t their wives with great amounts of money and pricey gifts? Are they being immoral when they use the money to woe all these young girls? Of course, we will not question because it’s a man’s world!
When HIV/AIDS and the lack of medication swept many black homes of breadwinners, the young ones were left in the care of other young siblings. By this, the older sibling—male or female—had to take the responsibility of the breadwinner. Given the patriarchal and heteronormative society, South Africa is, girls often take the responsibility and burden of fending for the young ones. Then we go around slut shaming these young girls without empathy—overlooking the reality of poverty and the pressure it puts on them.
I commend the national government and the Kwa-Zulu Natal government for acknowledging this as a problem that ought to be dealt with urgently. I am, however, greatly concerned with the messaging around it. Did it have to take us 22 years to acknowledge this as a problem? This is not a new phenomenon. We firstly need to question the shift from “sugar daddy” syndrome to blessers. This will help evaluate if the campaigns we put in place are relevant and targeted to the right audience. Moreover, is the R3 billion initiative that is meant to “keep girls in school and away from older men” enough? This campaign is useful but it is reactionary and not proactive as it should be. The government is dealing with this issue in a shallow and not specific enough. Girls will still be in school but are we guaranteeing those jobs afterwards that they need?
Campaigns and initiatives that are meant to curb social ills should not be exclusionary. In light of the aforementioned campaign, we need to acknowledge the problematic level of heteronormativity with regards to the rhetoric and plea to tackle this issue. Because homosexuality is a taboo in a “progressive” country like South Africa, this is why we are not fully acknowledging that older same-sex loving men are also perpetuating this issue with younger same-sex loving younger men. We need to acknowledge the height at which the HIV/AIDS is at within the LGBTQ spaces. By directing the conversation as a heteronormative, we are silencing many more people who might need help.