/ 29 September 2016

A political heavyweight, JSE listed companies, mineral rights and a bitter drawn-out kingship battle

King Victor Thulare of the Bapedi Nation at the Johannesburg Stock Exchange. Robert TshabalalaFinancial Mail/Gallo
King Victor Thulare of the Bapedi Nation at the Johannesburg Stock Exchange. Robert TshabalalaFinancial Mail/Gallo


An illegal mining area in the Sekhukhune district of Limpopo was scattered with red and white signs written: “Bauba Mining Area No Entry No Unauthorised Persons”.

These signs were just the intersection point where a political heavyweight, JSE listed companies, mineral rights and a bitter drawn-out kingship battle for the Bapedi nation would meet. And as the well-worn idiom goes: when elephants fight, the grass suffers.

Two weeks ago the Mail and Guardian reported how illegal mining was destroying a desperately poor community who live on the R37 between Atok and Burgersfort in Limpopo.

Now it’s emerged that several companies and individuals have for years been hard at work lobbying the department of mineral resources (DMR) for permits to prospect and mine in Limpopo’s Sekhukhune district.

Through the JSE-listed company Bauba Platinum, of which he is a non executive director, Mathews Phosa owns numerous prospecting and mining rights on the Bapedi land.

Therein lies the rub: anyone seeking such a permit – even a king – has to first obtain the Bapedi tribal council’s stamp of approval. But the council has for years been at war over the matter of who is the nation’s rightful leader.

So the question is: who gave Bauba Platinum those rights? The answer is complicated. According to DMR documents, Victor Thulare signed over close to 10 prospecting rights in the greater Sekhukhune area to Bauba Platinum on behalf of the Bapedi nation. Victor Thulare is one of the shareholders of Bauba.

But when Phosa was asked for the traditional council resolution – which is necessary before any rights are granted on tribal land – he referred the M&G to Bauba’s lawyer, Tinus Slabber, who in turn referred the M&G to the DMR.

”To the best of my recollection a resolution was passed by the royal council. It ought to be filed at either the DMR or at the royal council of King (Victor) Thulare,” said Phosa.

The M&G asked DMR spokesperson, Ayanda Shezi, for the council resolution but was told that the department did not wish to be drawn into the “contestations of traditional leadership”.

“The holder of the prospecting right was Thulare Rhyne Thulare Sekhukhune (an individual), hence the right referred to his identity number. Given the fact that he was the king, it was somehow deemed relevant to make mention of the fact that he acted on behalf of Bapedi nation,” she said.

But the document granting prospecting rights to Thulare Rhyne – which the M&G has seen – states that prospecting rights were obtained on behalf of the Bapedi nation. Slabber confirmed this: “… Thulare Rhyne applied for the rights, not for himself, but for the Bapedi nation.”

Further, Bauba Platinum says that the Bapedi nation has a 40% shareholding in the company.

However Shezi says that the rights are held by Thulare Rhyne.

The rightful heir

Victor Thulare, the son of Thulare Rhyne, is at the centre of a dispute over the Bapedi kingship.

According to the department of cooperative governance and traditional affairs, the acting king of the Bapedi nation is Kgagudi Kenneth Sekhukhune – the man who currently occupies the royal homestead.

But in 2010, President Jacob Zuma recommended that Thulare Rhyne – who died in 2006 – be recognised as the rightful king of the Bapedi nation, posthumously.

Two years after Zuma’s recommendation, the Bapedi nation’s prospecting rights were ceded to Bauba Platinum, which was established in 2006.

According to Slabber, desperate for help and financing to begin his bid for prospecting rights, Thulare Rhyne sent a representative to the firm.

“They travelled (to Cape Town) and approached of their own volition certain private individuals with expertise in mining to assist in applications for mineral rights. Looking back, it is my instructions that at the time they were impoverished and desperately in need of help and financing,” he said.

He says that Thulare Rhyne brought the prospecting application to the DMR on behalf of the Bapedi Nation in April 2005, and the rights were granted in 2006.

But neither Phosa nor representatives for Bauba Platinum could explain why the DMR signed off the prospecting rights on behalf of the Bapedi nation to Thulare Rhyne in December 2007 – before Zuma had recognised him as the king.

A tangled web

Phosa says he had little involvement prior to the granting of the prospecting rights, but admits he’d been a long time friend of Thulare Rhyne, who passed away in December 2006, “leaving his son, Victor Thulare, to be advised” by him.

“I was Thulare Rhyne’s advisor to his death and thereafter the tribe asked me to continue in that capacity to ensure that his interests and those of his tribe are protected.

“In addition, the royal council established by Thulare Rhyne mandated me to continue to be Victor’s advisor,” said Phosa.

He was emphatic that he’d had no role to play in Thulare Rhyne applying for prospecting rights. But the M&G has seen a meeting register dated March 27 2007, which shows that Phosa, five DMR representatives, five members from a company named Alliance Data Corporation (ADC), three Bapedi community members and two people who are currently associated with Bauba, were present at the meeting.

When the M&G put it to him, Phosa changed tack and said that he had attended the meeting “as a representative of (Victor Thulare’s mother) … It was an informal meeting called by the DMR to reconcile various disputes”.

However two former ADC employees who were present at the meeting said that they met to discuss obtaining mineral rights in Sekhukhune.

“I don’t remember all the details but it was something to do with mining rights. I was doing consulting work for them (Bauba).

“I remember Bauba was one of the companies trying to get mining rights and ADC was involved. There were a lot of other people involved and we had a lot of meetings,” said one of the former employees.

A battle for the kingship

Sekhukhune says that he has “never been at any meeting where mineral rights were discussed on behalf of the Bapedi nation involving Bauba …”

“They knew they had to consult with the traditional council – which includes myself – for the renewal of their mining rights,” he said.

In 2012 Sekhukhune – at the time unaware that the DMR had granted certain prospecting rights – went back to court to challenge Zuma’s recommendation on the kingship. He also sought a ruling on which council had the authority to make decisions on behalf of the Bapedi.

Phosa is assisting Victor Thulare in his bid for the kingship, and says the matter is before the Supreme Court.

“My law firm and partners are dealing with this issue of the kingship. (Sekhukhune) is not the legitimate leader – he was put in there by the previous government,” he said.


M&G Slow