A bitter struggle for control of mineral assets worth hundreds of millions of rands is tearing apart the Bakubung ba-Ratheo community in North West province.
Although the 30 000-strong com-munity, based only a few kilometres from Sun City, has platinum beneath its feet and R500-million from mon-etised shares to its name, it still lives in dire poverty, mostly in shacks.
The mineral deposits are under exploration by mining junior Wesizwe Platinum.
Since the community was given a shareholding in Wesizwe in 2004, it has split into two factions, the traditional council and the royal family, which are at loggerheads over the chiefdom and control of the community’s assets.
When the late kgosi, David Monnakgotla, became ill in 2004, his son, Ezekiel Monnakgotla, took over as acting chief, without the royal family’s approval.
Ezekiel has since sat on the traditional council, with his adviser, Disele Phologane, an ANC provincial heavyweight.
In a bid to dislodge Ezekiel the royal family has gone to the Mafikeng High Court several times, and several court orders have been granted in its favour.
Slouched in a chair in the Fourways Tavern at the entrance to the village, Mphekeni Vilakazi, a member of a team that calls itself the ‘concerned group”, said: “It’s the golden rule. If you have money around here, no one can tell you what to do.”
Watching over the war is the province’s premier, Maureen Modiselle, who many feel is allowing divisions to deepen rather than using her powers to restore order.
The Bakubung were given a 33% shareholding in Wesizwe Platinum in 2004, with two directorships and R11-million.
A year later a 15-member traditional council was formed to administer the community’s assets.
The council appointed Musa Capital as financial consultants in 2007. The firm, run by two American fund managers, opted to “monetise” the community’s shares, selling most of the shareholding for about R500-million.
Musa also helped set up two section 21 companies, the Bakubung Economic Development Unit (Bedu), and the Bakubung Community Development Corporation (BCDC). Phologane sits on the boards of both.
“Bedu is tasked with executing the development projects identified by the community, while the BCDC manages the community’s funds and sup- plies the finance for the community’s projects,” said Phologane.
But many community members, led by the concerned group, said they were never consulted about the appointment of Musa Capital, the sale of their shares or the activities of the two section-21 companies.
“The traditional council doesn’t consult the community about any transactions,” said group member Kenny Shabangu.
“Decisions are supposed to be made through the community; we’re supposed to vote; but they do whatever they want.”
Phologane insists that the community “mandated” the appointment of Musa Capital and was fully aware of the share sale.
Community members are asking what has become of the R500- million, which they believe Ezekiel and Phologane have misused.
They claim they were never consulted about what the money would be used for and have no idea what has been done with it.
“We have no water, but we have R500-million floating around,” said Roseman Machoba.
Musa Capital said the money has been accounted for and the value of the community’s shares has been increased by diversifying its assets.
But the assets held by the community seem to be in relatively small businesses with a higher than usual risk profile for a portfolio of this kind.
Phologane said about R60-million of the share revenue has been used for upliftment projects, “such as creating sports facilities at schools and for the community, improving water supply, a feeding scheme for school- children, computer facilities for eight schools, and educational initiatives”.
Since the beginning of the year the traditional council and the royal family have confronted each other in court on two notable occasions.
In January Modiselle signed a letter recognising Ezekiel’s sister, Margaret, as the community’s chief.
However, she did not promulgate the measure and Phologane claimed to be unaware of the letter.
Modiselle subsequently wrote to Ezekiel terminating his appointment as acting kgosi, but this decision was also not promulgated.
Later in January Ezekiel applied to the North West High Court in Mafikeng to have Modiselle’s decision overturned. The application was dismissed.
Members of the concerned group are furious about Modiselle’s refusal to promulgate her announcements, arguing that she is unfit for the position.
They are especially angry that she has not acted on a forensic report commissioned in 2009 by Mothibedi Kegakilwe, the North West minister for local government and traditional affairs, on alleged fraud and corruption in the traditional council.
According to the report, “financial administration of the tribe is not being done in a satisfactory manner” and “administration of the tribe by the tribal leaders is not done properly, as the community is not consulted on projects and funding”.
It also finds that the acting chief “is a drunkard and was appointed without following proper procedure … [he] had no respect for the governing act or conventional business laws of South Africa”.
In September this year the North West High Court in Mafikeng ordered the traditional council and Musa Capital to make all financial documents available to the community by October 4, including information “pertaining to the monetisation of Wesizwe shares”.
But according to Trevor Versfeld, the attorney for the royal family, the traditional council has not complied. Musa Capital claims the company has followed the order.
Phologane claimed that financial information has always been available to the community, but “covers five years and several store rooms full of documents. Getting all that information copied is a logistical nightmare”.
The concerned group has become increasingly frustrated with Modiselle’s failure to act.
According to Ezekiel’s uncle, Ignatius, a member of the royal family who opposes his chieftanship, the premier has been “dragging her feet”.
“She is a lame duck,” he said. “We’ve put so much evidence of mismanagement before her and yet she has done nothing. She’s the one with the power.”
In March, following Modiselle’s letter instructing Monnakgotla to step down as chief, she appointed an administrator, advocate Harold Masilo, to take over management of the community’s affairs.
However, six months later, his term has come to an end. For the past month the community has had no administrator and the premier has not indicated that she intends to reappoint Masilo.
Community members suspect that Modiselle is under pressure from political groups in the area, as key members of the traditional council are also members of the ANC’s task team in the province, which, they say, is a major conflict of interests.
The task team was set up in August last year to rebuild ANC structures in North West, following the disbanding of provincial executive committees dogged by factionalism and patronage.
Phologane, Ezekiel’s adviser, is a member of the regional task team. Two traditional councillors are also ANC ward councillors, two are on the branch task team and two are members of the local ANC branch executive committee.
Phologane, however, sees no conflict of interests, believing that holding positions on both the ANC and traditional council is “absolutely” appropriate.
Reporters come face to face with ugly side of village conflict
When Mail & Guardian photographer Oupa Nkosi and I ventured into Ledig on Monday to interview members of the Bakubung ba- Ratheo community, we had no idea of what awaited us.
It was a vivid lesson in the tension that has torn the village apart and the fear of some villagers that media coverage could threaten their interests.
After photographing a large, newly painted house that contrasted with the shacks surrounding it, we found we had a tail, a red Mazda and gold Toyota had begun following us through the dusty roads of the village.
Not thinking it was anything serious, we pulled over to capture images of children playing outside one of the village primary schools.
Here, we were accosted by the passengers of the cars. Two men and four women, two of whom were from the community’s administrative body, the traditional council, began shouting and swearing at Nkosi and other passengers in our car.
A man emerged from the Mazda with a wheelspanner, which he tapped against the windows of our car to intimidate us.
After verbally abusing Nkosi, the women began to pick up large stones and throw them at him. One smashed a rock against his camera, causing it to fall from his grasp. As he lunged forward to grab it, a large man accompanying the women tried to choke him.
They then relented, climbed back into their cars and drove off.
Though shaken, and with a broken camera, we continued to conduct interviews.
We made for the local police station to lay charges, only to discover that our assailants had got there before us and were laying a charge of assault against Nkosi.
We spent the next four hours at the station, with policemen repeatedly threatening Nkosi that they would have to “lock him up for the night” because he was a “suspect” and confiscate his camera.
It was only when our lawyer arrived, as the sun was setting, that Nkosi was allowed to leave. He is due to appear in court on an assault charge in two weeks’ time.
While we were at the station friends of the women who had assaulted us hurled threats in our direction, which they made no attempt to hide from the police.
We finally made for home, with police escorting us for the first 10km to ensure our safety.