Reinventing the Bakgatla-Ba-Kgafela

Bakgatla-Ba-Kgafela leader, Kgosi Nyalala Pilane

Determined and persistent, Bakgatla-Ba-Kgafela leader, Kgosi Nyalala Pilane, takes after his great-grandfather, Kgosi Kgamanyane, a humble man who stood up against Paul Kruger, and fought for the betterment of his people. 

When talking to Pilane, he quickly brings it to your attention that you must look at him as a servant of his people. A good and faithful servant he is indeed. Entrusted with the future of his people, he does not let an opportunity go by to add value to the Bakgatla-Ba-Kgafela. A man of many talents, always taking all the factors involved in the socio economic environment of his nation into account when planning ahead. With ahead he means, at least five steps ahead. He makes it sound much easier than that it really is; "I carefully considered what hand we were dealt with. The land, my people, their preference and experience in the agricultural sector, the mineral riches down below and the availability of capital. That was my starting point, doing the best with what we have and taking it further, one step at a time." Kgosi Pilane says.

It appears to be leaps and bounds, rather than one step at a time, if you take a look at where they have been a few years ago, and where they are today. It is quite mind-boggling.

The Bakgatla-Ba-Kgafela in Moruleng is a community of about 350 000 people, living in the North West Province, near the Pilanesberg in South Africa. The BBK headquarters based in Moruleng is phase one of the BBK Traditional Authority (BBKTA) offices, which services the 32 villages. The BBKTA plans to extend these buildings in order to accommodate other government departments and bring government services closer to the community. The construction phase created 200 jobs to local community members and currently employs 100 employees.

In about 1650, after the death of Kgosi Mogale, the Bakgatla tribe was divided between supporters of his daughter Mosetlha, from his great house, and his son, Kgafela, from his second house. That’s why today we’ve got Bakgatla-Ba-Mosetlha and Bakgatla-Ba-Kgafela.

It is easy to be fascinated by the history of this proud nation when Kgosi Pilane starts talking about the intricate details of how there was a dispute between Kgosi Kgamanyane (his great-grandfather) and Paul Kruger because he refused to let his people work for Kruger as unpaid labour. At that time Kgosi Kgamanyane was the only Kgosi of the different nations who stood up against Kruger. He paid dearly in that he was tried and found guilty, being given 78 lashes in public. This is where Botswana came into the picture.

"A lot of people are under the misperception that our people came from Botswana. It is not so. Kgosi Kgamanyane was taken to Botswana with a huge number of his people. After the South African Boer War came to an end in 1902, Paul Kruger recognized Kgosi Kgamanyane as a Kgosi of the then Botswana protectorate, but not as a South African Kgosi. My great-grandfather had two sons, of which Ramono was sent by his brother, Linchwe, to lead the rest of the nation that still resided in South Africa," Kgosi Pilane explains. Ramono was followed by other family members as Kgosi until Kgosi Nyalala Pilane was elected and appointed in 1996.

When asked about what he wants to achieve for the Bakgatla-Ba-Kgafela: "I want to leave a legacy. I want to secure a foundation for a brighter future. It can be done. Look at Malaysia. Such a small piece of land that today challenge huge economies. Dubai is another example. They used their natural resource of oil and not only turned Dubai into the business hub of the world, they are metre for metre turning their desert into a paradise. We have accomplished much in 2014 of which I am proud and we have huge projects in store for 2015."

It has not always been sunshine and roses in the Bakgatla-Ba-Kgafela nation. "People are scared of change. It is important that my people understand the processes of change. It is impossible to keep everybody happy all the time and sometimes unhappiness is caused because of a lack of knowledge. I also always ensure that my people know where we have come from and where we are going. We have regular information sessions with community members. We have our own publication which is very informative as to current matters,” he says.

A wise man once said: "Without counsel, plans go awry, but in the multitude of counsellors they are established." With this nation, long term planning and decision-making is not in the hands of one individual. The Traditional Council (BBKTC) was appointed in 2006 and it is comprised of 23 council members, 60% appointed by Kgosi, and 40% by Morafe. The BBKTC represents the interests of the community and acts in support of Kgosi Nyalala Pilane. Then there is the Council of Headman - one for each of the 32 villages. A Royal Council comprising of seven members was also established. They are obligated to ensure the proper administration of the community by those entrusted with the responsibility to administer the affairs of Bakgatla-Ba-Kgafela.

The Bakgatla-Ba-Kgafela is on the roll, ever expanding. They surely organised themselves or reinvented themselves as it may. They are holding hands with Government, the Moses Kotane Local Municipality and the mines, always ensuring that they move in the same direction and not against each other.

Ever since his appointment as Kgosi, Pilane fought for the betterment of his people. His determination and persistence finally brought Amplats to the table to conclude a deal in 2003. This deal vindicated Kgosi by confirming what he had always believed – that the BBK was entitled to participate as shareholders in the land of their own. The BBK acquired 15% of Union section (Swartklip Operations). The deal became a breakthrough for the BBK as it served as a source of revenue and as a result, Kgosi Pilane’s vision of improving the dire circumstances the community was living in became a reality. Kgosi Pilane was then in a position to establish a support structure of qualified staff that would assist in the transformation of the Bakgatla-Ba-Kgafela nation.

Continuous review of our strategies since 2009 has culminated in the adoption of the BBK Master Plan (BBKMP), the blueprint for the future, will enable the Traditional Authority to make informed decisions on investment, institutional arrangements and project implementation.

The Bakgatla-Ba-Kgafela Traditional Administration has since 2008 embarked on a major Greater Moruleng Revitalisation Project (GMRP), which involves the development of a CBD, comprising of the following: BBK Administration offices: Phase 1, a Shopping Mall, a Cultural Precinct, a 15 mega-litre water reservoir, a water treatment plant, the Moruleng Boulevard and the Moruleng sports complex.

During February this year, the construction of the Mphebatho Cultural Museum, timed to coincide with the 105th anniversary celebrations of the Dutch Reformed Church has emerged. The church will also be conserved as a heritage building, an events space and will also be brought alive with its own exhibitions. Interactive exhibitions and a shop are part of the strategies that are being developed to open up opportunities for local artists, storytellers, performers, wisdom keepers, caterers, guides and heritage entrepreneurs.

The newly developed Moruleng Cultural Precinct is also expected to become a hub for cultural activities and will integrate the development of other heritage sites throughout BBK’s 32 villages. A brand new digital archive and library will be developed at the current Bakgatla Primary School. Here the community and visitors will explore Bakgatla’s proud heritage and also discover the tribe’s historical story. The breadth and depth of the project is unusual for a traditional community and may serve as a model for others.

In July this year, a new 6, 1 kilometre road was officially opened. "This new section of motorway allows for improved access to and from the city of Moruleng via the new D533 from Sefikile to Mononono within the Bakgatla-Ba-Kgafela region. This new infrastructure development forms part of a master plan designed to enhance the quality of life for residents of the BBK community by shortening their journey times and affording them increased opportunities and facilities within the City of Moruleng, thus improving local standards of living," Kgosi Pilane says.

In August the Bakgatla-Ba-Kgafela Traditional Authority (BBKTA) led by Chief, Kgosi Nyalala MJ Pilane has committed to contribute 40 % of R125 Million towards the National Empowerment Fund (NEF) Enterprise Development Fund partnership, aimed at benefiting existing and aspiring entrepreneurs. In his comment, Kgosi Nyalala Pilane asserts; “It has been our primary objective to promote socio-economic development through result-driven programmes, job creation, entrepreneurship, health facilities and education within the Bakgatla region, thus this partnership will enhance our master plan and also allow the NEF to implement its mandate through our community.”.

The Enterprise Development Fund will be utilised by the NEF in partnership with BBKTA to invest in beneficiaries emanating from the Bakgatla communities. These beneficiaries would be BBK-owned small- and micro-enterprises, with the objective of facilitating the development, financial and sustained economy of the community.

The Moruleng Mall opened its doors in October this year. Through the partnership with New Africa Development (NAD), the construction of the R400 million Moruleng Mall created approximately 1 500 temporary employment opportunities for the community during construction, and to date, 800 job opportunities have been created in various retail stores and in centre management. The 35 000 square metre centre houses over 84 shops and has 826 parking bays. The construction of the mall is the beginning of a greater development of The Moruleng City, which will consist of the convention centre, civic centre, the art prescient, hotels, guest houses, residential flats, housing units and many other developments.

Wednesday, 29 October 2014 saw a sod turning event hosted by Anglo American Platinum, the Department of Culture, Arts and Traditional Affairs as well as Bakgatla-Ba-Kgafela Traditional Council at Sefikile. This momentous event marked the first step in giving effect to an agreement between Bakgatla-Ba-Kgafela, Anglo American Platinum and the departments of Culture, Arts and Traditional Affairs to build a much need library and community centre for people in Sefikile. Estimated to the value of R25 million, the aim of the project is to create and promote activities that will contribute towards the betterment and enrichment of the community.

It is envisaged that the community centre will comprise of a number of facilities including a library with public internet access, facilities for the visually-impaired and toy library services for children.

While addressing the community of Sefikile, Kgosi Nyalala Pilane said; “as a traditional council, we are very optimistic about this project as it will not only strengthen our relationship with the provincial government and Anglo American, but it will also improve the lives of our community members”.

Business resolutions

The Bakgatla-Ba-Kgafela Traditional Council (BBKTC) has recently passed 83 business resolutions in 23 BBK villages. All resolutions were passed in the presence of village headmen and applicants without any objections. The applicants who are allocated business sites do not individually own that piece of land, but are leasing it from the council. They are required to sign a five- year lease agreement and are expected to honour the agreement by paying the annual lease fee.

A bursary scheme assisting school leavers within the community in getting a tertiary education was also established. More than 120 bursaries have been awarded from 2009 to date.

A wireless network has been installed at the BBKTA headoffice, Moruleng Mall and at four local schools as a pilot to enable the community to access the internet. There are plans to roll it out to other villages and schools in their efforts to take services closer to the different communities.

A project clearly close to the heart of Kgosi Pilane is the Bakgatla film and television academy, which has officially been accredited and is now fully operational. This achievement follows a rigorous eight-month training programme which saw 51 youth being trained in various broadcasting fields such as TV production, script writing, TV studio and operations and broadcast engineering. This training ran until the end of September 2014. This is the first academy from the rural community to be accredited by MICT Seta on this highly specialised profession.

"Our academy is rated one of the best in the country because it has the state of art facilities such as a TV production studio as well as Outside Broadcast facilities for training purposes. The academy will open its doors to all South Africans in future who wish to pursue their careers in broadcasting. This initiative is aimed at assisting Government in creating a pool of experts with various skills needed in the media broadcasting industry." Kgosi Pilane explains.

The ongoing journey of Bakgatla-Ba-Kgafela tribe to position itself among the self-sufficient nations necessitated the readjustment of some of the traditional ways of handling the nation's resources. Many changes to that effect have been successfully executed and are already producing gratifying results. Most recent is the new village demarcations. Proper village demarcations provide a clearer picture of the vastness of each village and its sections, making it easier to take services to the people.

The leaders of the Bakgatla-Ba-Kgafela recognised the need for restructuring. The BBK will now assume the status of a non-profit company. This move is advantageous in the sense that the nation will save money through tax exemptions, and those savings will be channelled into other developmental projects for the greater benefit of the community.

“As a people, we are the architects of our own future and the responsibility lies with us to envision, develop and shape our path towards to the attainment of a legacy, befitting for generations of Morafe to come,” Kgosi Nyalala Pilane notes.

Kgosi Pilane is clearly passionate about the several projects that they are currently running. His favourite project? "I don't have a favourite project. My heart is shared between the projects, like a mother's heart for all her children." he replies.

Being involved and informed is very important for this man of many talents. "I never lose touch with my people. I need to experience what they experience and feel what they feel. That is why I attend funerals and events. I see success in the future of Bakgatla-Ba-Kgafela. We are on the right road. If we continue in our efforts, we will soon be an example of a success story. Other communities would be able to learn from us. My people also go through a period of change. There is a positive wind blowing through our communities. Quite a lot of people who has left the Bakgatla in the 1990's in search of career opportunities, now flock back to their hometown. It is a good sign." he says.

"I feel fortunate in that I am blessed with good health, the strength and the energy needed to do what I need to do. I know where my strength comes from." Words of a deep-routed spiritual man.

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Issue 83


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