The Royal Bafokeng Nation in north west South Africa has an estimated worth of more than R40 billion ($3.76 billion), with stakes in platinum mining, telecommunications and shares in the Rand Merchant Bank Holdings. It listed on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange in 2011.
But, many on the ground claim this vast wealth is not trickling down to the people; that millions have been wasted on white elephant projects. At the sharp end of this discontent is Luka in Action, a group representing youth in Bafokeng.
The group is based in Luka, a village lying 10 kilometers north of Rustenburg in the North West province. The youth say the Bafokeng administration has failed to deliver on promises of employment, despite its vast wealth. These days, Luka, once a fertile farmland with livestock, resembles a township dotted with shebeens and youth hanging around on street corners.
Luka in Action claims it has companies; Sediba Sa Kwena, involved in renewable energy and Refetogile Moral Regeneration, which seeks to train ex-offenders, which are yet to get off the ground because there is no money.
The youth claim the money was wasted on sports development programs involving a team of Brazilian football coaches. They say, without their knowledge, the Brazilian team called Samba was brought in to train coaches and young players. After a five year contract, little has happened.
“Those Brazilians have come and gone with millions of rands but there’s nothing to show why they were here except t-shirts and soccer balls they handed out. If they can pay the Brazilians for doing nothing, surely they have funds to sponsor our projects,” says youth representative Otlile Thlapane.
In Luka village there is a state-of-the-art youth center, equipped with computers and games, as well as a radio station paid for by the Royal Bafokeng, but it is not working amid claims of mismanagement.
The youth further complain that the nearby mines, where the money comes from, are damaging their village. Blasting creates cracks in houses and underground vibrations, pollution and water shortages are the order of the day.
“The influx of migrant workers with their families had turned Luka to a slum township. Each year, locals erect dwellings to rent out. Our water supply is overused and the municipal refuse truck cannot manage. These people are causing stress to the limited resources, even clinics are not managing well because the mines are not providing adequate resources to their employees,” claims Thlapane.
“Royal Bafokeng Administration people have their individual agendas, they do not represent us, and worse, they don’t know their jobs.”
“Kgosi Lerou Tshekedi Molotlegi [the king of Bafokeng] desires the best for the Bafokeng community, making sure that we are getting the right education and we become employable, but the administration entrusted with implementing that is failing him,” says Thlapane.
He says the surrounding mines have encouraged many youth to drop out of school and go underground for low wages.
“We are the richest nation with seventeen mining shafts but we have nothing to show for that,” says Thlapane.
The youth in the 29 villages around Luka say their frustrations with the Royal Bafokeng Administration and mining company Impala Platinum, which have shafts nearby, have led to people taking the law into their own hands.
Twenty-six-year-old Kelebogile Diale, who is a partner with Thlapane in Sediba Sa Kwena, says there are three pending court cases implicating the community in arson and malicious damage to property, public violence and intimidation.
On an overcast summer’s day, FORBES AFRICA went in search of answers at the Royal Marang Hotel, in Rustenburg, a four-star hotel owned by the Royal Bafokeng. Here we met Kgosana Mojalefa Mogono, a headman in Mogono village and businessman, dressed casually in jeans and a t-shirt. The 36-year-old speaks for the older generation on behalf of the Royal Bafokeng.
“The youth’s claim about unemployment is valid but we are doing our best to have more youth trained and skilled so that they could be employable in the future,” says Mogono.
“The sense of entitlement is really killing our youth. Lack of communication has led to wrong perceptions that there’s nothing happening.”
“Bafokeng youth know where to get information but they choose to be ignorant and go around spreading lies. There are more non-Bafokeng people who have come to pursue jobs in the mines and they are the ones making the noise,” says Mogono.
“In our programs we align ourselves with youth because we have aging community leaders and in the next 10 years the Royal Bafokeng will be run by them. The nation will be shooting itself in the foot if they ignore youth.”
Mogono and Ditebogo Diale, a Luka resident and Mogono’s cousin, say Luka in Action’s claims that the nation spent R400 million ($37.6 million) on the soccer development project are ridiculous. They say the project budget could not have been far from the similar National Basketball Association project that cost the nation R10 million ($940,000).
Mogono says renting out houses to mine workers had been discouraged by Molotlegi. He says it is draining resources allocated to Bafokeng subjects.
Mogono says the Bafokeng Administration, which is independent from Rustenburg Municipality, conducts its own census and all the Bafokeng have proof of residences so they could get employment priority. But, outsiders manipulate the system.
“Unfortunately Kgosi cannot willy-nilly chase people off the Bafokeng land. It’s unconstitutional, but the government needs to create employment where these people come from,” Diale says.
Mogona says the Bafokeng Education Institute, which oversees a nursing college, a management school, as well as hospitality and artisanship colleges, promotes skills development. In 2009, King Molotlegi launched Lebone II College, a private school that sponsors tuition fees for Bafokeng learners.
“Lebone II College is a world-class school, whose main purpose is to afford talented Bafokeng children an educational opportunity that will hopefully assist them to transcend their circumstances and achieve their true potential. As such, it is equipped with the best infrastructure and educators in South Africa,” says Mogono.
Mogono dismisses Luka in Action’s claims that the Royal Bafokeng Administration is autocratic.
“If people were following the right channels of the Royal Bafokeng Administration they would not be making such noises. These are people who don’t attend makgotla (meetings). Many of them stay in Johannesburg for a long time and they come back demanding. This is not how we do things.”
Mogono also denies claims that the local youth are not given equal opportunities of employment in the nearby Impala Platinum mines.
He says the youth don’t seem interested in the youth center facility. The center is endorsed by the Love Life youth program.
The Impala Platinum management has acknowledged they have not done much to develop the community in the past, hence they have a social labor plan that involves the building of a technical school in the Luka village this year, says Mogono.
The future for the Royal Bafokeng, the wealthiest tribe in Africa, threatens to be as complicated as it is rich.