Modern-day fairy godmother takes on local 'blessers'
Johannesburg - A 21-year-old arts graduate is taking a stand against the culture of blessers and transactional sex in Gauteng.
Simangele Shabalala is the genius behind a project that collects "previously loved" evening wear, or shoes, beauty products and services and redistributes it to Grade 12 pupils who cannot afford to attend their matric dance.
She told GroundUP that she hopes her organisation will disable the power blessers have over South Africa's youth.
A blesser is usually an older man who provides the material needs and wants of a much younger person (usually a young woman), in exchange for sex. Females in the age group 15-24 are most vulnerable.
Shabalala first came to GroundUP's attention when she posted a request on Facebook for donations of evening wear and hairstylists and makeup and nail artists.
"These young girls deserve to be congratulated for choosing education over other lifestyle choices."
"You find yourself wanting all the glamorous and material things in life. I almost found myself dating older guys for financial security because there was a point where my mom didn’t have the means to support me any more. More than half the girls I've helped so far come from the same background. Their mothers are breadwinners and domestic workers and [they] have had no father figures at home."
"...thousands of South Africans by today itself [and] according to an average rate, [will] become HIV positive. It has also been proven that the first incident when the virus enters the body is between the ages of 15 to 24 because that is the age of the bound freedom; the age when people are vulnerable; a young girl at that age is exploited by an older man who brings the virus into her."
Shabalala, the daughter of a domestic worker, lives in Kaalfontein informal settlement in Midrand. Three months ago, her mother passed away from illness.
The recent graduate in arts from the Da Vinci Institute, Vega College and Umuzi Agency in Johannesburg, said she chose education and was awarded with a fully paid scholarship from Investec Bank.
Shabalala said she is the only graduate in her family and when her mother saw her graduation pictures, she said, "I can die any time now. I am ready to leave this world. You have given [me] the best gift in life."
Her mother's passing is the other reason she started the project, as a means to honour her sacrifice and hard work.
"My mom died at the age of 60. She was so looking forward to turning 60 and she left this world a few days after, so [helping] 60 girls and boys a year is my first target."
One of the girls she's helped is Grade 12 pupil Esinath Ndlovu from Hillbrow. Ndlovu's mother is also a domestic worker. The pupil had her hair, nails and make-up done free of charge at several salons who supported Shabalala's cause.
Shabalala said she tried to help all those who came to her, but she needed more outfits in all sizes. She had also given away some of her own clothing.
"Do I even have shoes left? I have given away everything. The only things I have left in my closet are a pair of dirty All Stars."