Power struggle among Bakgatla-ba-Kgafela

According to various writings, not so long ago Kgosi Kgolo Kgafela Kgafela II and his royal uncle, Kgosi Nyalala Pilane were inseparable. The two shared the same vision for Bakgatla in Botswana and South Africa. Kgafela was the supreme leader of Bakgatla both in Botswana and South Africa, while Kgosi Pilane was Kgafela’s right hand man overseeing the tribe’s affairs in Moruleng, South Africa.

According to media reports, following a heated dispute over the tribe’s leadership in South Africa, Kgafela’s father Kgosi Linchwe recommended to the premier of the North West province in the 1990s that Kgosi Pilane should be appointed Bakgatla leader in South Africa. However despite overwhelming support from Mochudi, Pilane never received full support from the Bakgatla community in South Africa and remained a polarising figure.
During the reign of Linchwe II, Pilane grew increasingly powerful and wealthy. The tribe invested heavily in the mining industry, partnering with giant mining companies such as Anglo American. The net assets of the tribe in platinum currently exceed two billion Rands.

These investments have been a source of much dispute; in the past few years most of the 300,000-strong Bakgatla ba-ga-Kgafela community have protested against Kgosi Pilane’s administration, claiming that he had exploited their platinum-rich land for his own benefit. They alleged that he treats the tribe’s assets as his own property, registering companies and bank accounts in his own name rather than the tribe’s, and unilaterally deciding on mining and investment deals without consulting the wider community. In April 2012, the tribe made a cash investment in a mining company, Platmin, of more than R1 billion; Pilane is a director of Platmin.

According to media reports, confident of overwhelming support from Mochudi, Pilane ran the show in Moruleng autocratically; ignoring those who questioned his leadership style. When the tribes’ people wanted him removed, Mochudi defended him.

When Kgafela became paramount chief of the Bakgatla, reports suggest that he and the royal family in Mochudi continued to receive millions of Rands from Moruleng. In his first years as paramount chief, Kgafela was evidently supported by Bakgatla in South Africa and had turned down a salary from the Botswana government. It was only three years after he was made leader of the Bakgatla that he ordered an audit of the operations in South Africa.

The fallout between the two men began when Kgafela decided to relocate from Botswana to South Africa in May 2012, following charges of unlawful floggings and legal battles with the government of Botswana. According to Kgafela advisors, the “rot” Kgafela found at the Bakgatla-ba-ga-Kgafela administration forced him to take action. One of his first tasks was to call for a forensic audit of all operations. The decision to the audit tribal operations and the subsequent outcome of the audit are two of the main reasons why Kgafela and Pilane fell out. Pilane felt that Kgafela was targeting him and wanted him to remove him from the top position.

The audit is said to have unearthed enormous irregularities in the management of the affairs of the tribe. It alleged that finances were in a mess and corruption was rampant, and blamed Pilane and some of his senior officers. However, some Bakgatla pointed out that Kgafela should also take the blame, since he had received millions of Rands from Moruleng.

Together with some members of the royal family, Kgafela tried to force Pilane out of office in 2012. Initially Pilane reluctantly agreed to retire and even submitted his retirement letter to Kgafela. But he later changed his mind, alleging that his resignation had happened under duress. He then turned on Kgafela, forcing him out of Moruleng in August last year.
Pilane remains in charge of operations in Moruleng.