Queen Semane Molotlegi was the glue that held Bafokeng together for nearly 60 years
By Dr Futhi Mtoba
In a 2012 interview with Forbes Africa, the late Queen Semane Bonolo Molotlegi articulated the single-mindedness in preserving and creating inter-generational wealth for the Royal Bafokeng Nation (RBN), the sole shareholder of the Royal Bafokeng Holdings (RBH) through the RBN Development Trust (RBNDT).
However, she downplayed her own role.
“My husband would get the royalties, then use the money to build infrastructure like schools, roads, bridges and clinics. When he passed away, and our eldest son took over…And when my eldest died, too, his younger brother…followed from where his brother left.”
These words of the Queen Mother explain how Bafokeng were able to create sustainable value where many mineral-rich countries and communities have failed.
Her husband was Kgosi Lebone Edward Molotlegi – father of the incumbent ruler, Kgosi Leruo Molotlegi. He ruled the Bafokeng between 1956 and 1995 although his reign was interrupted in 1988 when he was forced into exile in Botswana by the then Bophuthatswana president, Lucas Mangope.
Our history is replete with strategic and influential women. One such was Princess Mkabayi kaJama, advisor to King Shaka, his father King Senzangakhona and Shaka’s brother who orchestrated the reign of Shaka’s father, King Senzangakhona, Shaka himself and then his brother Dingane.
Queen Mother Molotlegi was another. She will forever be revered as the steadying hand of Bafokeng since 1963. Her son is a direct descendant of Kgosi Sekete III from the 1700s; but the mastermind of Bafokeng’s successful claim to royalties from the platinum resources was the visionary thinker, Kgosi August Mokgatle (ruler between 1834 and 1891).
Approximately 90 years before platinum was discovered on Bafokeng land, he started pooling funds from his people to buy back land. His blueprint would predate and survive the South African War (1899 to 1902), the formation of the Union of South Africa in 1910, the Land Act of 1913, apartheid and the homeland policy – all policies that dispossessed black South Africans of land.
Kgosi Mokgatle’s formula for land ownership paved the way for Bafokeng to assert their mineral rights and claim royalties from mining conglomerates from the 1990s.
Preserving such a legacy called for a woman of substance. The campaign by Bafokeng to secure their rightful royalties and shares in the platinum mining on their land gained momentum under the Queen Mother’s elder son.
During his 1995 to 2000 tenure, Kgosi Lebone II Mollwane Molotlegi planted the seeds of Vision 2020 to make all Bafokeng self- sufficient. This later evolved into Vision 2035, to be “a relevant and innovative traditional African community in a changing world”.
When he died in 2000 and his younger brother was enthroned in 2003, the Queen Mother became that guide for him to stay the course. Among others, King Leruo Molotlegi presided over the decision of the Royal Bafokeng Nation’s Supreme Council to establish the RBNDT and the Royal Bafokeng Finance in 2004 to manage the Nation’s wealth. Then the RBH followed in 2006 “to create a portfolio that is diverse and that has liquidity and a strong and predictable dividend flow in order to support the development goals and aspirations of our beneficiaries”.
It amassed investments to preserve the wealth of Bafokeng beyond the finite lifespan of platinum reserves. The net asset value of RBH finished the year 2019 at R30 billion, comprising of “listed and unlisted assets in infrastructure, property, financial services, telecoms, resources and industrials, located in diverse geographies”.
Through it all, the Queen Mother in her words recognised that her son was “in charge, I don’t meddle”. Instead, asked what her role was, she answered, “I jump from one role to another. I’ve ended up advising. If something is brewing, I intervene”.
My interaction with the Queen Mother at the International Women’s Forum SA taught me how effective she can be in this advisory role. It is not surprising that Bafokeng have come so far since her arrival in Phokeng in 1963. Her fingerprints can be seen in, among others, how women are represented in the decision-making structures of the entities managing the wealth of the Nation. Five out of eight board members of RBH - and five out of six in its management team - are women.
Compare that to women constituting under 19 percent of board positions and under five percent of CEO positions globally, according to the International Labour Organisation. The Queen Mother advanced her people’s cause, by merely guiding (never meddling), advising and intervening only when “something was brewing”.
It is time to stop underutilising many other women amongst us, like the Queen Mother. I salute our mbokodo!
We extend our heartfelt condolences to the Queen Mother’s family and the Bafokeng nation.
Dr Futhi Mtoba is Co-Founder of TEACH South Africa, Trustee of the Nelson Mandela Foundation, Former Chairman of Deloitte Southern Africa and Past of President of Business Unity South Africa.