Bakgatla ba Kgafela factions still fighting as North West government’s intervention effort is met with fierce resistance
The majestic and beautiful Pilanesberg mountain range, on the edge of a game reserve close to the opulent Sun City Resort in North West, provides a perfect cover to the high drama playing out in Moruleng village.
Allegations about missing or unaccounted for tribal billions are flying between a paramount chief from Botswana and his South African relative who is also a chief.
The factional battle has divided the Bakgatla ba Kgafela community.
And all this is happening amid attempts to remedy the situation – the latest headache for the provincial government.
The antagonism flows through the community, in the form of the 32 villages under the troubled, but wealthy, tribal administration.
The provincial government wants to place an administrator to take over the Bakgatla ba Kgafela tribal administration but Chief Nyalala Pilane is refusing to relinquish the reins.
Instead, he has accused North West Premier Job Mokgoro of not consulting him and the royal council first before appointing the administrator.
Pilane also believes that the real fight is for control of the tribal purse strings.
THE TWO FACTIONS
The incumbent chief is receiving support from some members of the royal family and the community while the others are behind the paramount chief, Kgafela Kgafela II, who lives on the other side of the South African border.
The latter leads the Bakgatla ba Kgafela in Mochudi, Botswana, home to the tribe’s elders.
In Moruleng, the tribe is led by Pilane.
The two Bakgatla ba Kgafela groups found themselves straddling the border when it was established, resulting in Kgosi Kgolo (the elder king) being in Botswana and the other members in South Africa.
Despite this, they continue to maintain the status quo with those in Botswana being regarded as the elders and playing roles in line with their status.
However, Pilane said the relationship with the elders was not legally binding or cast in a stone. He confirmed that he had hosted Kgafela when he visited South Africa but soon there was a fallout as the latter tried to “cross the line”.
“A visiting father cannot tell the son what to do in his own house. Kgafela thinks he must now take control so he will have access to the funds,” Pilane said.
Often referred to as the “self-exiled chief in Botswana”, Kgafela left Botswana in 2011 after his chieftaincy status was revoked by the government.
At the time, he was facing assault charges and a warrant of arrest had been issued by the court after he absconded.
His recognition as a chief was reinstated last year by Botswana President Mokgweetsi Masisi.
But Kgafela vowed publicly not to set foot in his homeland until its constitution had been amended. He alleged that it was making things easy for corruption and oppression of the powerless.
His South African citizenship has previously been questioned.
City Press reported in 2016 of a letter dated July 2014 from the Public Protector’s office which described Kgafela as an “illegal immigrant” and a “non-citizen” after his identity document was blocked by the home affairs department amid suspicions that it was not issued accordingly.
Last week, City Press was advised to contact Motlapele Ntshabele to reach Kgafela.
Ntshabele said it was impossible to talk to Kgosi Kgolo but said he had been cleared of any fraudulent allegations pertaining to his citizenship.
She said the US-born Kgafela earned his South African citizenship based on “the fact that his mother is South African”.
Pilane was appointed the traditional leader of the Bakgatla in Moruleng in 1996.
More than a decade later he was acquitted on appeal of charges of corruption and fraud linked to the money earned from mining activities on the tribal land which he was accused of misappropriating.
Now he is again facing allegations of maladministration and of taking unilateral decisions on how he used the community’s money – including in commercial ventures – without consultations.
THE TRIBAL WEALTH
The tribal land lies to the west of the Bushveld Igneous Complex, known to contain the world’s largest reserves of platinum group metals.
From being a tribal administration that benefited only from mining royalties, the Bakgatla ba Kgafela are now partners in at least two mining projects worth about R5 billion.
These and other commercial ventures had made the Bakgatla ba Kgafela one of the wealthiest administrations in the country.
Pilane said the community had benefited from the developments, including the Moruleng Mall about 65km north of Rustenburg, a dual road that cuts through the rural area, the sprawling Bakgatla ba Kgafela office complex and the R170 million stadium in the village.
Despite these impressive community development projects, not everyone is happy.
THE COMMISSION’S FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDATIONS
The Baloyi commission, chaired by constitutional law expert Sesi Baloyi, was established to probe suspicions and dissatisfaction in the community about the administration of its finances, in particular the commercial transactions concluded by Pilane.
The commission, in a report released late last year found, among other things, that the traditional council had failed to prepare accounts and financial statements for all its entities.
It also found that Pilane was “singularly involved with the commercial activities conducted on behalf of or in the name of Bakgatla ba Kgafela”.
It said: “[Of all] the members of the traditional council, Kgosi Pilane has chosen to involve only Kagiso Pilane, his nephew, in matters pertaining to commercial transactions with third parties.”
It recommended that Mokgoro instruct Pilane and his nephew Kagiso to resign from all positions they hold in the Bakgatla ba Kgafela and associate entities.
Mokgoro has since appointed Phineas Tjie as the administrator of the Bakgatla ba Kgafela as recommended by the commission.
It appears the premier is leaving most of the recommendations for Tjie to implement.
Vuyisile Ngesi, the premier’s spokesperson, said Tjie would instruct Pilane and Kagiso to resign.
On the recommendation for a forensic investigation to track the flow of funds, Ngesi said: “The administrator has just assumed office and he is perusing all the documents handed in at the commission to determine the extent of the work and make informed decisions on the forensic investigation.”
PILANE CLINGINGTO THE REINS
“We’re holding assets of the community, given to us by the community … we cannot pass them on to somebody without any details so that we can report to the community,” Pilane said.
He accused Mokgoro of not consulting him and the royal council.
Ngesi appeared to agree with this assertion but said the administrator would “on behalf of the premier, interact with the royal family to discuss matters related to the intervention”.
Asked what would happen if Pilane rejected the administrator, Ngesi said: “[Tjie] has generally assumed all the administrative responsibilities and powers of the Bakgatla ba Kgafela Traditional Council.
“He is empowered by section 32 [of the Constitution] to institute legal proceedings against any party should a need arise.”
Last week Pilane was still upset about the premier’s lack of consultation: “The commission tried to accuse me of doing things without consulting the community … but I said here is proof – development. They said it was not enough and I said, ok, so be it …”
He said he did not know why he had been accused of doing things incorrectly.
He vowed not to relinquish the reins until he had a meeting with the premier.
Rampho Pheto, a community member close to one side of the royal divide, said all they were looking forward to now was the forensic investigation and its report.
“Nyalala Pilane has been untouchable for many years … he should allow the administrator to take over and for the forensic investigation to get under way. If he has done nothing wrong, then it will all be proved,” Pheto said.
Meanwhile, Ntshabele said Kgafela would comment about the ongoing matter only some time next month at a mass meeting.
She said he supported the forensic investigation into the flow of the tribal finances.
“We do not know much about our monies and assets. Things need to be cleared and allegations verified. Nyalala Pilane should allow the administrator to do his work so that the forensic investigation can start,” Ntshabele said.
But Pilane did not appear to be bothered by that. He insisted on meeting Mokgoro before the administrator takes over.
He said all the commercial deals and transactions he handled on behalf of the community were above board.
Pilane said there was an audited financial statement in 2015 “before we were disrupted by the commission”.
He said all tribal commercial entities were audited. But he and the North West government did not seem to agree on this.
Pilane said the tribal books had been audited but the provincial government denied this.
Now it remains to be seen whether Pilane will allow Tjie to take over the books and total control of tribal affairs, including the finances and, subsequently, allow the forensic investigation to be done.