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Bafokeng: Africa’s richest ethnic group

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Bafokeng: Africa’s richest ethnic group

Getting the land

Getting the land was only half the battle, according to Mpueleng Pooe, a lawyer and spokesman for the Bafokeng nation. What followed in the 1990s was a “David and Goliath” battle between the nation and Impala Platinum Holdings.

After nearly five years of “very acrimonious” court battles, Pooe explains, the corporation settled and the Bafokeng won 22% of the platinum royalties in 1999. Their next smart move was to convert this into equity, making David the largest shareholder in the empire of the Goliath of Impala.

The value of the Bafokeng’s stake in Impala tripled to more than $50 million by 2001, and they receive annual royalties of approximately $63 million from platinum mining. Much of the terrain is rolling grassland, and farming was the primary occupation until the discovery of the Merensky Reef in 1925, a foot-thick layer of platinum-rich rock, one of the richest platinum deposits in the world.

The RBN has established a sovereign wealth fund, Royal Bafokeng Holdings, an investment entity in Johannesburg, which is responsible for overseeing the growth and maintenance of the community’s income streams.

It is considered to be Africa’s most progressive community investment model, with total assets under management at approximately $4 billion. The RBN has invested royalties and dividends in a number of projects, and in civic administration and social services. These include:

Royal Bafokeng Sports, which is in charge of sports development among the residents of the area. A 45,000-seat stadium and athletics complex was built in Phokeng in 2000. The Royal Bafokeng Sports Palace was an official venue for the 2010 FIFA World Cup, where the England team was based.

Royal Bafokeng Administration (RBA), which is principally a town planning unit charged with service delivery and monitoring the progress of a Master Plan across all the regions, looks after the various wards 

(kgotla) within the Nation to ensure that infrastructure and services are in line with the long-term vision.

Royal Bafokeng Institute (RBI), whose goal is to improve education and learning in the Royal Bafokeng Nation.

RBN has also recruited several manufacturing companies to Phokeng as part of a drive to expand the nation’s exports beyond raw materials.

The national government model

Successive ANC governments since 1994 have sought to empower blacks through partnering with big mining companies in what is called BEE (Black Economic Empowerment) deals, where these companies are compelled to sell a significant stake to black consortiums.

BEE has been severely criticised in that it has only enriched a few politically-connected blacks, and is financed by white capital to blend companies and assets. Such deals have been far from representative as they have not enriched a broad base of poor blacks.

Now the Bafokeng, flush with their own cash, and easily  recognisable as a broad-based community, have become an attractive suitor for the mining giants in their bid to blend and keep their new order mining licences.

In a deal in December last year, Anglo Platinum fully concluded a BEE transaction with the Bafokeng, who are also known as Bakgatla-Ba-Kgafela.The deal was Anglo Platinum’s sixth BEE transaction, four of which have been 50:50 joint ventures, with politically-connected black consortiums.

The transaction was first  announced in November 2006, in terms of which the Bakgatla acquired a 15% interest in Anglo Platinum’s Rustenburg Platinum Mines’ Union section. At a general meeting of the Bakgatla community in November 2006, the community members voted in favour of the transaction.

Anglo Platinum and the Bakgatla have established an exploration joint venture to further develop the other properties. The Bafokeng’s initial stake in the exploration joint venture will be 26%.

Further, Anglo Platinum has ceded a 55% interest in the prospecting rights of Rooderand, a major mine. Anglo Platinum expects the deal to have contributed between 2% and 3% towards the achievement of the historically disadvantaged South Africans’ ownership participation targets.

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Written by Pusch Commey

Pusch Commey is a Barrister of the High Court of South Africa, Award winning writer and associate editor of New African Magazine since 1999. He is based in Johannesburg South Africa. He is the author of 9 books including the best selling 100 great African kings and queens, and Tofi's Fire Dance. He is also the CEO of the South African based Real African Publishers, and the founder of the Real African Writers  series.

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