Tuesday, April 17, 2007

The Royal Bafokeng Nation's ICT Plan


Today’s post is a tad long – I guess it’s because I’m climbing on my high horse about some of the things I think should be included in developing communities.

Part of it is that I’m very excited about the Royal Bafokeng Nation’s plan to roll out network infrastructure and to provide free phone calls and cheap Internet access for the community I call home.

It’s going to take a while before the man in the street begins to feel the impact of the project, but administration people are making a lot of headway on the project.

To find out more about the project, read an article that I wrote for ITWeb Online.

Sort of gives you a glimpse for the possibilities that exist for African rural communities if they could access resources, doesn’t it?

The African story is not just about war, disease, hunger and tyranny. It’s also not about holding onto traditions and cultures that no longer serve the people.

The African story is also about holding onto the essence of who we are, learning from our tradition and culture, and using whatever resources are available to us to improve the lives of our people.


A lot of media hype Bafokeng as the richest nation in Africa, with the money accounted for by shareholding in the platinum mines. And I can’t deny royalties have boosted the community’s development in recent times.

But we didn’t always get the royalties. For years, the money went to an apartheid government appointed institution, which was supposed to be safe-guarding it for us, seeing that we were “too stupid/immature” to manage it ourselves.

Sorry, they didn’t actually come right out and say it, but it still infuriates me that it took a protracted legal battle for the money to be paid directly to us, and in the meantime, we had to do without important resources like running water, electricity, health facilities and school buildings.

For example, my older brother walked about 7 kilometres to the nearest primary school (alone or with other school going children). The community later decided to launch another school close to where I lived, so I spent my first school year under a tree and learnt to write the alphabet with my finger on the soil.

My point is, I still have a memory of people in the community pooling money to build a make-shift school building, which was really four walls, a door, windows and a chalkboard. They later paid more money to build a proper school building, which we moved into in 1976 (I think).

The same system was used to build other schools, clinic etc. The reasoning was that we couldn’t wait for government to provide the resources for us – who knew how long it would take before they’d get round to us? That is, assuming they would even get round to providing us with resources.

Today, the school building where I attended Primary School is structurally sound and is still standing, more than 30 years later. That’s a good return for individual investment of R10 - R50, don’t you think?


In addition to collecting money from individuals, young people were also encouraged to get an education and experience of the world, but to go back home to use their experiences to advance community development.

There is saying that if you are thirsty, you shouldn’t travel great distances to find water; you should dig the well close to your home. It’s not a Setswana proverb (to my knowledge), but it perfectly encapsulates the philosophy that is drummed into the children of Phokeng, and we are fortunate that it has largely worked.

Even diaspora community members like me largely see themselves as belonging to the community and take a proprietal interest in its activities.

Getting back to my point, having access to large resources helps, but every little thing communities do for themselves adds to the final result, and young people should learn as much as they can, travel as much for as long as it is possible.

The community should be the final beneficiary of this world experience. That’s part of what will drag Africa out of some of its development challenges.

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