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  REPORT - SOUTH AFRICA Part III Royal Bafokeng Nation
 

WHEN DESCENDANTS OF THE SOTHO-TSWANA PEOPLE TRAVELLED SOUTH FROM CENTRAL AFRICA IN THE 12TH CENTURY, SOME SETTLED IN WHAT IS MODERN-DAY BOTSWANA AND ZIMBABWE. OTHERS, HOWEVER, JOURNEYED FARTHER SOUTH, FINALLY PUTTING DOWN THEIR ROOTS IN WHAT IS KNOWN TODAY AS THE ROYAL BAFOKENG NATION
Fertile land and visionary leadership key to stability

The Royal Bafokeng Nation (RBN) is a self-governed tribe of 300,000 people in the northwest province of South Africa. Having migrated there more than a thousand years ago, according to legend, they initially settled in the Rustenburg valley region. After a night in the forested valleys, the following morning the hills were covered in a thick dew, a clear sign of fertile land and thus the makings for a prosperous community. They settled in the area and called themselves Bafokeng, or, “people of the dew”.

After an unstable period of war in the 19th century, the Bafokeng entered into a policy of land acquisition, as ownership of land now entailed its purchase, and Afrikaner farmers, called Boers, had claimed complete ownership of the land. The then king, in an act of incredible foresight, sent the Bafokeng to work in the diamond mines in Kimberly to make money to buy back their lands. With the help of missionaries, they did so over a 20-year period, and later discovered their farms were rich in minerals, boasting the world’s second-largest platinum deposits and other valuable platinum group metals.

Mining companies came to the area to demand underground rights to the land. The Bafokeng, however, own the surface rights, thus obliging the mines to pay annual royalties to the tribe and provide jobs, which has made them the richest community in all of Africa today. While the nation has never had corporate management over their mines, the royalties have been immensely profitable, making the RBN politically and economically influential in South Africa. The kingdom eventually formed Royal Bafokeng Holdings (RBH) to manage its mining interests.

Royalties from the mines have been immensely profitable, making the RBN politically and economically influential in South Africa

The kingdom likewise formed the Royal Bafokeng Administration (RBA) to work as the principal administrative and developmental structure for the nation, whose tasks range from setting up welfare systems for senior citizens to creating youth development centers. Meanwhile, the Royal Bafokeng Economic Board (RBEB) was created to drive economic growth in the area.

The RBN has used the money to build schools, houses, roads, clinics, sports complexes, electricity and water reticulations and other infrastructures, all of which are planned and designed by the RBN with little help from the public sector. Over the last 20 years the kingdom has invested over $280 million.

In August of 2003, King Leruo Molotlegi was enthroned as the 36th ruler, and he implemented Vision 2020, an economic and social development program designed to foster sustainable development. Through ambitious, multi-level strategies and an effective use of resources, the RBN hopes to create more jobs and transform the economy from resource-based to knowledge-based. “We want to move from a single resource, platinum, to a diversified resource base that continues to steward our natural assets but is underpinned by education,” the king says. Vision 2020 envisages the kingdom as self-sufficient by the second decade of the 21st century and aims for the economic empowerment of individuals so that everyone will have the skills and the opportunity to be en employer or employed.

Plans also include rebalancing the kingdom’s portfolio with a focus on more industry exposure and diversification. This variation in assets looks to generate a more stable cash flow to meet the community’s growing needs. The RBN is looking to expand into services, agriculture, new financial projects, and cultural and heritage tourism.

Between the thrills of the exotic wildlife and the RBNís remarkable culture, heritage and hospitality, tourism is one industry which is truly taking off.

Tourism is a potentially lucrative market for the Bafokeng. First, they are conveniently located close to the Pilanesburg National Park and the Sun City and Lost City gaming and golf resorts, which both draw visitors to the region. As the RBN exploit their attractions, their tourism numbers could increase significantly. Similarly, the Royal Bafokeng Sports Palace hosts provincial, national and international events, and there is a boom in accommodation construction. Training courses are under way to prepare a work force specialized in hospitality, and a heritage trail which covers key historical landmarks in the area is also being established.

Today the RBN’s 44 farms span 70,000 hectares and are sub-divided into 72 dikgoro, or wards, which are regulated by a headsman and his wife, proving that even after decades of changes, the kingdom is still able to maintain its traditional leadership structures and unique cultural identity.