England could not have asked for more generous hosts. The Royal Bafokeng Nation has provided Fabio Capello’s men with a pounds 327m sports campus, including a state-of-the-art gym and medical centre and luxury bedrooms.
The hospitality has earned the Bafokeng huge international media attention, most of it overwhelmingly positive as the story is told of an African kingdom that won its autonomy – and the right to mine the
world’s richest source of platinum.
But among the praise-singers for the Bafokeng there are dissenting voices. Local communities accuse its royal family of evicting them, polluting their water and looting their wealth – some of which was poured into England’s training camp and the stadium where they faced the United States last night.
The dispute is heading for court as these communities resist an attempt by the Bafokeng to have new tracts of land in South Africa’s North West province registered in its name.
“Over 60% of the land is underlain by platinum and other reserves,” said community representative Thusi Rapoo. “They want the farms, the land registered in their name. We want the land registered in the community’s name.”
Far from the benevolent hosts portrayed by a skilful PR operation, the Bafokeng can be ruthless in getting what it wants, according to Rapoo, of the Bafokeng Land Buyers Association.
“The employment of security to guard the family and its mining operations, we call platinum looting,” he said. “They have literally assaulted community members. Communities have been evicted from their homes because of mining. They have polluted our waters, taken our grazing areas. Our farmland is occupied by mining infrastructure. We are landlocked by it.”
Rapoo argues that there is a wide gulf between the Bafokeng royal family, headed by king Kgosi Leruo Molotlegi, and the ethnically diverse communities that fall under its jurisdiction, often inaccurately described as part of the Bafokeng nation.
“We have families who go to sleep on hungry stomachs in Bafokeng ,” he added. “There have been demands for government houses, but the royal family are not really supportive of government assistance. It is an incorrect view to say the Bafokeng people are doing well. The Bafokeng family are doing well for themselves.”
Bafokeng lore states that in the late 19th century, king Kgosi Mokgatle embarked on a land acquisition programme to secure his community’s rights under pressure from Boers, hunters and traders moving into the rolling bushveld plains broken by small hills.
The king sent regiments of Bafokeng men to the Kimberley diamond mines to earn cash wages to buy the land, which was then held in trust by Lutheran missionaries, in the era before black people could legally acquire land. In the 1920s, platinum deposits were discovered.
After the fall of racial apartheid, the Bafokeng fought and won a legal battle with mining giant Impala Platinum in 1999. It is now entitled to a 20% share of all the platinum mined in the region.
But critics say that the Bafokeng has become authoritarian and greedy. Although the king has reportedly invested pounds 150m on infrastructure, including improvements to clinics, schools and roads, four in 10 people are unemployed and see little of his riches.
Last October the Bafokeng tried to gain exclusive control of all land under its jurisdiction in an application to the Mafikeng High Court. This is opposed by communities who claim they fall under the political control of the Bafokeng only because of a quirk of colonial and apartheid history.
Eric Mokuoa, a co-ordinator for the Benchmarks Foundation, an organisation monitoring corporate social responsibility, said: “Some communities are not originally Bafokeng . This has been overlooked. In general, people are not happy about the way money has been spent. They feel they deserve a share of the wealth. In the areas where mining takes place there is poverty and unemployment. It is our view as a community the Bafokeng have been greedy.”
Mokuoa feels that the Bafokeng ‘s positive reputation deserves closer scrutiny. “The administration is very powerful and has a way of attracting western media and showing them one side,” he said. “It’s
short-sighted to call it a success story when there are people in the system saying it’s flawed. These people are voiceless and unable to express the alternative.”
This view was echoed by Henk Smith of South Africa’s Legal Resources Centre, which is representing the communities in the court case. “The Royal Bafokeng Nation has excellent PR,” he said. “One would like to say it’s a success story, but unfortunately there’s a significant proportion left out of it. We have to look at the broader picture. There’s a clear division between those who benefit and those who do not. A large majority are simply excluded. It depends on your status, which is related to your historic links with the royal family.”
A spokesman for the Bafokeng denied that it serves only a narrow elite. ” Bafokeng land is communal land, not owned by any individual but the community as a unit,” Mpueleng Pooe said. “It was purchased through communal use of resources and that history is documented.
“The investments are made on behalf of the nation as a unit. The benefits flow back to the community and are deployed for the common good of the community. These pockets of people who want something different are missing these key issues.”
On the imminent legal action, he said only: “As citizens of this country, anybody is entitled to approach the courts if they feel aggrieved about one situation or another.”