Updated 13 Oct 20161
The Bafokeng are a seTswana-speaking people who live about 40 kms west of Rustenburg town. Recent research indicates that they moved into the area from the region of the current Free State, as they brought the art of stone wall construction to the Batswana living in the North-West province. This has led certain scholars to suggest they have Nguni origins. Oral Traditions link the baFokeng closely with the "BaKwena lineage cluster", and the latter may have incorporated the baFokeng south of the Vaal river and introduced them to the language and customs of the Sotho-Tswana.
By the end of the 17th century, they had established their capital towns of Phokeng and Luka. In the period 1820s – 1840s, the baFokeng were disrupted three times by invaders from the south: another Fokeng group led by Sebetlwane; the Ndebele of Mzilikazi and, lastly, the Voortrekkers, later called the Boers – in that order.
While the first two invaders subsequently moved on northwards, the Voortrekkers appropriated Bafokeng land and turned the baFokeng into tenants who had to pay rent through labour or part of their crop harvest. From 1867, the arrival of the Hermannsburg Mission Society (HMS) missionaries from Germany had a major impact upon the baFokeng. At several HMS missions, the baFokeng were introduced to Christianity and the rudiments of Western education. With missionary encouragement and assistance, the baFokeng began to buy back their land from the Boers, which eventually amounted to some 22 farms by the 1930s. Initially, when all Africans in the Transvaal were legally not allowed to own land in their own names, these farms were registered in the names of missionaries, until the beginning of the 20th century when legislation was changed and the baFokeng registered farms in their own names.
In the early 1920s, platinum-bearing ore was discovered on some of the Fokeng properties, thus attracting a scramble for mineral rights by dozens of hastily-formed companies. The costs of platinum mining were prohibitive, however, and only the more capitalised of these survived. Benefiting extremely little from the mining on their land, the baFokeng took both Impala Platinum Mines and the then homeland Bophuthatswana government to court to ensure a better return for mining royalties. After a lengthy, complex and acrimonious litigation process beginning from the late 1980s, the baFokeng clinched a much fairer agreement with Impala Platinum Holdings early in 1999. Their royalties increased from 14% to 22% of taxable income. They would also receive one million shares in Impala and nominate one person to sit on the Board of Impala. The baFokeng kgosi sits on the Impala Board. At the time of the settlement, the baFokeng's annual earnings amounted to R100 million. With the much higher price of platinum on the world market by 2008, the baFokeng truly deserved to be called "the richest 'tribe' in Africa." Since the turn of the century they had engaged successfully with the corporate world, and now sponsor a number of significant projects, sports teams, etc. The Bafokeng now conduct their affairs under the rubric of the 'Royal Bafokeng Administration' (RBA) . More recently, legal challenges to the authority of the RBA and its control of Bafokeng mineral wealth and land, have been launched by groups of Bafokeng who consider themselves to be independent entities.