These words were from an 18-year-old young lady I interviewed about the Sugar Daddy issue in South Africa. This statement jolted me from my complacency; and it has never stopped haunting me.
My curiosity about the Sugar Daddy issue was rudely awakened when a friend of mine suggested that some young South African girls were ambitious, yet weren’t motivated enough to put in the hard work necessary to achieve their goals; so they chose Sugar Daddies who would give them instant gratification instead.
A while later, I noticed the KZN Department of Health’s Anti Sugar Daddy billboard campaign and decided that this was a topic worth investigating for my honours paper. What unfolded in this process was a confusing social issue that often had me frustrated and angry at the way that it steals young, impressionable, life.
Girls are as young as nine
“Why are Sugar Daddies really an issue?” you might ask. Well, it isn’t an issue if the benefits outweigh the negative effects. But what is not widely known is the fact that some girls as young as nine or 10 have been damaged by this issue, having illegal sexual relationships with older men. Through the people I have interviewed on this topic, violence against women arises time and time again. One young women mentioned that her Sugar Daddy “showed me his true colours; he BEAT me!” Other young women find themselves forced, by their Sugar Daddies, into sexual relations with other men, resulting in rape, shame and distress.
This issue is not just bound to a particular area, class, or racial group in South Africa. From the discussions I have had, it has become apparent that this issue has a much larger spread than I first thought.
One well-known private school in Durban came up in my research as having had reports of Sugar Daddies involved with its pupils. Another trend that surfaced was the ‘Muslim Daddy’ and Amaqola (women who have Sugar Daddies, and who pursue a gold-digging lifestyle). These men are said to pay substantially for a sexual ‘quick-fix.’ The woman who brought this to light expressed a deep disappointment with the double standards of some religious people, and indicated that she saw it “too often” in dealings with her Amaqola friends. Every such encounter left her “speechless.” Her stories reinforce the insight that the Sugar Daddy issue is not only found in one segment of society, but that this issue is a relevant one for all cultural and social spheres of South Africa.
Enjoying the moment
The infamous Hiv/aids consciousness in our country can also be said to be a type of driver in this issue. In Suzanne Leclerc-Madlala’s paper, Transactional Sex and the Pursuit of Modernity, she suggests that with so many young people being exposed to death due to aids, they just want to live in the moment, because they don’t know if they will be the next victim. This came as a sad realisation for me because this mindset will push individuals to acquire many more Sugar Daddies to “enjoy the moment” – but at the same time increase their chances of aids.
Where did this “syndrome” come from? It is evident from the name Sugar Daddy that these relationships are concerned with the relationships between young people and their father figures. Have our father figures become exploiters? Are our South African daughters searching for love they never felt from their fathers? From my investigation into this topic, the individuals I interviewed all came from backgrounds where they lacked the love of their father, their uncle, or significant others in their lives. “I never experienced my father’s love,” was the story that these young ladies told.
Not every story is the same, there are some fathers that genuinely love their children, yet still seem to lose them to Sugar Daddies. Is there something else at play here?
Coming from a branding and marketing industry it is sad for me to even think about the fact that this industry’s actions have influenced this issue, yet what has come up time and time again in this investigation is the disproportion between the need for survival and the ‘need’ for consumption and materialism. It makes me wonder if this industry has a bigger part to play in social issues than we allow ourselves to be conscious of. What marketing should be communicating and brands creating, is value, yet in this issue I have found that an intense preoccupation with modernity is what my young generation strives for, and an unrealistic expectation of what our lives should look like is portrayed in celebrities, fashion and the idealistic image that society is saturated with.
I don’t mean to say that all fathers and all marketing is what drives this syndrome; yet these two aspects are noticeable. This twisted, complicated issue is truly reflected in many facets of society that seem to be falling apart. Poverty drives people to extreme measures to survive, and the lack of education, is a sure fuel to any social issue. The need for leadership is inevitably a hugely underrated tool that perhaps the leaders in our families, community groups and even our government are unaware of. True leadership will ultimately transform and teach society to embrace holistic freedom.
Is it modern day slavery?
Another question that has repeatedly occurred to me, in this research paper has been: Is the Sugar Daddy issue part of a bigger global social issue? I can’t help paralleling the Sugar Daddy phenomenon to modern day slavery. Nefarious, a recent documentary on human trafficking, quotes John Ruskin when it highlights the idea that “a distinguishing sign of slavery is to have a price, and be bought for it.”
If someone has a price on their love or their body, and is bought for it, then they are caught up into a slavery of a different kind. I saw this clearly when I asked some women in Sugar Daddy relationships if they would stay with their Sugar Daddy when they were able to ‘provide’ for themselves, and the answer for the most part was “No.” Are we caught up in slavery to Sugar Daddies, modernity, or poverty? Is this phenomenon part of a bigger social problem, a brutal thirst for selfish gain, or is it simply a search for love and support that has never been met?
What has been one of the biggest and toughest journeys of my life still seems to be frustratingly incomplete. In my naivety, or rather my passion to see the injustices of this world healed, I set out at the beginning of this research to understand who plays a part in this issue and what can be done to counteract the wrong in it, yet I have found that it is intricately woven together in such a way that each strand of this social situation is tangled alongside another creating a webbed knot that leaves you wondering how to start unraveling it.
“When I have to sleep with him, it’s like I’m sleeping with my Dad.” Again these words repeat themselves in my consciousness, and I can’t help but wonder if this drive to sleep with a man that acts as one’s father in order to ‘feel you are loved,’ or in order to acquire adornments that provide a sense of self security, stems from a deep social fracture of the self.
Rise up and honour women
Surely the need for adornments and material gain that has recurred in this study, reinforces the brutal reality that most of the world lives by today; the myth that outward beauty is the only beauty that really counts. You have got to be the most beautiful girl to get the most money from a man who is seen to be the most successful when he’s with you. Perhaps it is because of the fallacy of outward beauty that young girls see themselves as only worthy to be loved if they are beautiful.
It is from the eyes of desperately wanting to see this world honouring itself and seeing its worth that I write. I conclude with a question: How do we encourage the men in South Africa to rise up and truly love and honour the women in their lives, and where do we start to educate the daughters of South Africa to fight for their dreams, their love, their worth and their future without having to degrade and compromise their bodies to get what they want?