Report from South Africa

It’s hard to believe that in the 21st Century there still are nations and communities not scattered by the course of history, socio-political upheavals, wars nor by circumstances of changing civilizations. Nations that managed to defend their rights of ownership, that cultivate the ancestral wisdom and take responsibility for each other. Their democratic rules are based on the system of universal values and respect towards the earth that gives life. They control their weaknesses by rigid treatments of corruption or actions based on self-interest. Throughout the centuries they developed a web of innovative institutions, that set the norms and regulate traditional order – system based on justice, autonomy and self-sufficiency.

I had a chance to get to know such a community – the Royal Bafokeng Nation – in November 2013. As a part of educational programme of Young Global Leaders, I spent a few days within the institutions and enterprises of the Nation, in the Bojanala region, in north-west part of Aouth Africa.

The Royal Bafokeng Nation – beginnings and development

Beginnings of the nation date back to the XV Century when its ancestors settled in the north-west part of the country. The region was full of plants that in the mornings would get covered with dew. For the newcomers it was a promise for the future harvests. They decided to settle there and named themselves ‚people of the dew’. Basing on the emerged socio-economic mechanisms and centuries of experiences, they created a system similar to the way Polish counties function.

Throughout the centuries the Royal Bafokeng Nation struggled with adversities caused by the idea of race segregation, inequality of rights and privileges introduced and reinforced by Afrikaners through the colonial rule and apartheid. In the middle of the XIX Century, with help of German missionaries, the Royal Bafokeng Nation managed to buy the land that its citizens had been living on for centuries, from the government of South Africa. Plots of land and certain farms were gradually bought out with the funds earned by the community. These were German missionaries that played a key role in developing the strategy to gain the rights to buy the land. These missionaries arrived in South Africa at the beginning of the XIX Century. Not only they converted the community to Christian faith but also secured their rights towards their patrimony. Initial reason for buying the land was to provide the people of the dew with a place where they could be buried and where the future generations could grow up and benefits from the fruits of the land. Legal matters related to the buying of the land were extremely complicated at that point, especially when the buyer was a black person. The land was quickly transferred into the hands of white people, but the rights of ownership were consistently taken away from the black communities who were being uprooted from the land and culture of the ancestors. As for now, about 60% of black citizens of South Africa managed to retrieve the land that had been taken away from them.

South African county

The main task of the missionaries was to propagate Christianity. With time, people of the dew admitted the superiority of Christian religion over pagan practices, and more and more of them got baptised. The program of education of the community introduced by the missionaries brought significant effects. People of the community became more aware and educated, thus could manage their land wisely.

The Royal Bafokeng Nation. counts over 300 thousands inhabitants. Its territory takes a surface of over 1.400 square kilometres. Administrative structure of the community is fully legal, based on the South African Constitution. Its system is analogical to the Polish county system. Registered within South African legal system it has got political rights, representatives in the parliament, county-government, educational system and administrative and entrepreneurial institutions responsible for social development of its citizens. The community owns a stadium and sports’ grounds. During the World Cup 2010, some of the games took place at the stadium of the Royal Bafokeng Nation. English players were hosted there as well.

The community is ruled by the king whose function could be compared to the role of the foreman in Polish county. Currently this function is served by Khosi Kgosi Leuro Molotlegi, whose ancestors set up the Royal Bafokeng Nation in 1410. He is the 36th monarch in line. He rules in cooperation with a traditional leader and with democratically elected leader, both of whom come from the local community. Beyond that, the king regularly consults his decision with wider public.

The Royal Bafokeng Nation is a hereditary patriarchal system. One needs to acknowledge series of monarchs who bravely ruled the community in the past and managed to adjust development strategies to the fluctuating realities. The king Kgosi Leuro Molotlegi told the young global leaders about his outstanding ancestors, placing stress on their struggles and victories in defending people of the dew and their land from the threats of the neighbours. ‚My ancestors instilled philosophy of development within our society, not giving into the philosophy of survival. These are the foundations for the maintenance our long lasting social values and unities.


785 years after the creation of the community, in 1925, the people of the dew made a discovery. They found out that the land that they own consists the second largest deposit of platinum on earth. They created mining industry, developing an impressive investment portfolio (the budget of 2012 amounted to $ 3,5 billion). Then a number of business and political institutions showed interest in extracting the resources. In order to protect the welfare belonging to its citizens, the Royal Bafokeng Nation developed the complex system of management based on transparency and no tolerance for corruption. ‚We also created a provident fund in order to support the generations that are yet to come. Significant amounts of money are being invested into education, rising the levels of employment and self-sufficiency of the community. We developed strategical documents and plans for development of a community that is socially and economically stable. The South African government got particularly interested in our policies and its representatives visited our villages in 2007.’ – said King Leuro Molotlegi during the meeting with young global leaders.

The Royal Bafokeng Nation is also known as the Lawyers Society as its representatives have been determined not only to study and introduce the law, but also to get involved with the process of changing it. For example, the law restricting the possibilities of land ownership during the colonial and apartheid rules had a decisive influence on the community’s strategy of self-sufficiency. Similarly, laws regulating mining, traditional governing and citizenship determined the shape of the the Royal Bafokeng Nation. ‚Many of my ancestors spent years in exile because of the conflicts over the land. Yet we managed to overcome the difficulties. We have had a consistent influence on the legislative system, thus many new aspects of law have been accepted by the South African government.’ – said the King.

Lebone II College

Another inspiring experience was visiting the secondary school of the Royal Bafokeng Nation. Lebone II College is open to students from the whole region, also the ones from outside the nation. The school focuses mainly on teaching independent thinking and responsibility. The students spend one day a week in the villages of the community, working at the local households. The headmaster of the school said that this is the way to teach the youth the responsibility for common good. ‚It is not enough to be aware of these matters. One needs to practice them in everyday life.’

Pride of Africa

Analysing history and organizational structure of the Royal Bafokeng Nation undermines popular opinions that suggest that advanced socio-economic systems were introduced in Africa by the Europeans. The community developed complex social and political structures, worked out practices of democratic rule based on property, invented a way of constructing stone walls and achieved many other achievements that could have positive impact on development of similar societies in Africa or Europe. Majority of these developments took place before the arrival of the Europeans, however, the involvement of European missionaries into their improvement did have a significant impact as well.

African Renaissance

The visit in the Royal Bafokeng Nation radiated with optimism and respect. The stay of Young Global Leaders in South Africa took place during the last days of Nelson Mandela’s life. Young Leaders from South Africa told us how Mandela was able to convince British people to cooperate with him in fighting racial segregation. Many of them remember these times well.

We also took part in discussions and lectures about social and economic situation in Africa. This analysis was very complex as it was to illustrate the joke made by the professor, that Africa is not a country, but a diversified mosaic of 54 countries inhabited by over 900 million people. ‚Africa has still got a lot to do. After the end of colonial rule in 1960 we managed to rebuild social rights, democracy and economy. Yet we still have many difficult decisions to make, such as a choice between traditional governing and modernisation. European model of integration would probably not fit into African realities. Laws and regulations in Europe are quite harmonious. After the reform of Constitution in 1990 we govern more efficiently, however it does not bring desired effects, as we still do not have creative institutions.’ – Professor many times stressed the role of institutions as the core of socio-economic development.

Niall Fergusson in his Civilization. The West and the Rest describes the expansion of Western Civilization (Europe and the United States), that after 1500 grew over the civilization of the East and dominated the rest of the world. According to the author the intense growth Western civilization was achieved to large extend because of the innovative institutions. However, according to him, after 500 years of greatness, now comes the time for regression and fall of Western civilization. I was wondering whether during the next stage of world’s development the leadership of the planet will shift to Africa, not because of its high economic potential (it possesses 40% of world’s minerals), but because of its ubuntu philosophy (I am, because you are.), which is the aftermath of African solidarity. Without doubt, it is a fertile land for innovative institutions.

We discussed situation of certain regions. ‚In Nigeria banking system is corrupt and there is no clear law regulating running enterprises. However, Angola made immense progress in this area. In South Africa we struggle with creating labour laws and employment system.’ – said the professor. It refers to inequality of salaries and exploitation of workers. For example, South African minor would have to work 242 years in order to earn as much as a manager from Western Europe earns during a year. Workforce strikes are more common here than anywhere else. In my opinion, when all other ways fail, such protests are needed. Right to protest is one of civil rights in our country. In some African countries, for example in Botswana, is has been introduced only recently. In South Africa racial segregation is still a big problem. Racial issues are visible on political and socio-cultural stages of our country. We also spoke about the complexity of human development. Stating that it is dependent on economic growth is a big simplification as the ‚market’ is not able to provide a person with a versatile form of development. I am aware that this argument could lead to a heated discussion among some capitalist environments in Europe.

Problems with wealth

One of the main subjects we discussed was the abundance of minerals and noble metals and their mismanagement. We particularly analysed the mining industry as it is so common on South African territories, at the same time being responsible for the highest levels of workers’ exploitation. Mining industry in South Africa and other countries of the continent was set up by the British and Americans that kept finding more and more of natural resources, mainly gold and copper, and intended to extract them in most efficient ways. Mechanisms of gold rush frequently took place in South Africa of the XIX Century. Many of extraction techniques were brought directly from Europe and America (for example from Colorado School of Mines). In the XIX Century British colonial government worked out a way of forcing farmers to work in the mines. It was not an easy task as during this period most of them had enough income from their farms and was self-sufficient. The farmers would not allow the British authorities to exploit them so easily. This is why the British imposed taxation on all the goods that farmers possessed, so that they had to start working in the mines in order to earn cash to pay the taxes. This system was called Migration Labour System. The farmers had to travel long distances to work, leaving their families behind, in order to make enough money for their relatives. They lived in workers’ hostels for men, designed by Americans in 1870 and built by the mining companies next to the mines. There they were extremely prone to tuberculosis reinforced by the constant breathing of dust in the mines. The popularity of prostitution in such hostels contributed to the spread of venereal diseases, such as syphilis or HIV/AIDS. Moreover, during this period farming in South Africa deteriorated as most of the male farmers worked in the mines, so that these were women who had to take over farming without being able to work as efficient as men. On top of that, resources such as oil caused many conflicts and thefts, involving many firms and corporations, such as Shell. While summing up the consequences of mining industry in South Africa over the period of last 150 years, professor stated that they were ‚devastating’.


Visit in South Africa was one of the most inspiring and instructive experiences of my life. I hope that the friendship made with the Royal Bafokeng Nation will result in learning opportunities for the environments around Barka and Polish county communities, through study visits and internships. There are many similarities between the Royal Bafokeng Nation, Polish counties and system of social economic evolving due to local partnerships within them.

There are also historical similarities between our countries. The beginning of 1990s is very often called the time of global transformations, as systems such as communism, nationalism or apartheid were replaced with liberalization, protection of civil rights, free elections, dialogue of social partners and solidarity based on ownership. South Africa started its reforms in that direction 1991. The crisis of apartheid was an inspiration and reinforcement of this reforms. It was Nelson Mandela, the first black president of South Africa, elected in 1994, who played a key role in the transformation process. He replaced the law of fight with the law of negotiations. This process was similar to the year 1989 in Poland.

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