16 August 2003

South Africa: New Bafokeng King Enthroned

Phokeng — His father's name meant light and his means wealth, and this is exactly what Kgosi Leruo Molotlegi, the new king of Africa's richest tribe, intends sharing with his people -- the Bafokeng.

Shortly after being coronated on Saturday, Molotlegi who has initiated a number of job creation and economic development schemes since succeeding his brother in 2000, stepped off his red carpeted dais, and with a leopard skin signifying his royalty draped over his shoulders, he walked among his people shaking their hands.

Earlier, Molotlegi who is the son of a direct line of Bafokeng kings, arrived at his coronation on a small blue donkey cart.

Limping slightly after recently spraining his ankle, Molotlegi smiled broadly at a group of his peers who bore sticks signifying their symbolic intent to protect and support him.

Molotlegi became Kgosi or king at the end of the lengthy ceremony and leader of the 300,000 Royal Bafokeng nation at Phokeng near Rustenburg.

However, he warned his people that platinum resources were finite and that they had to become better educated and develop new economic investments to ensure the ongoing wealth of the Bafokeng.

The Bafokeng, meaning "people of the dew", live on land bearing some of the world's wealthiest platinum mines.

He also gave a strong defence of traditional and cultural practices saying: "We denigrate traditional leaders while we fawn over European royalty. Our children are not encouraged to learn about our cultures or languages and they have no sense of pride instilled in them to be African."

"Do we want to bring up children who only speak European languages, who scoff at cultural practices and traditional arts? Who buys into the idea that traditional means backward and that anything African is inferior? I don't think we do," said the king who is not married.

Former president Nelson Mandela sat among dignitaries that included former Botswana president Sir Ketumile Masire, South African First Lady Zanele Mbeki, and Botswana Vice-President Ian Seretse Khama.

The dazzling ceremony, which cost more than R10-million according to George Khunou, project executive of the Royal Bafokeng administration, saw a disappointing 15,000 crowd leave rows of empty seats in the 45,000-seater stadium.

Khunou said transport difficulties and tight security had made it difficult for many to make it into the stadium. However, some locals, who declined to be named, said there was widespread disapproval in the community of the elaborate ceremony.

"It is very expensive, and they have used people from Johannesburg, there are shacks close to the royal palace where children are naked and hungry. This is not good," a young man said.

Molotlegi, a University of Natal-trained architect, is the 36th descendant in an 800-year-old line of Bafokeng kings. He is the second son in his family to be crowned king. His brother, Kgosi Lebone Molotlegi II who devised the Bafokeng's 2020 economic development strategy died in 2000, only a year after their other brother Prince Foesi Molotlegi.

The king said that using a donkey cart at his coronation symbolised his alignment with the downtrodden.

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