No one has yet been able to put a precise figure on the amount of money the Bakgatla Ba Kgafela community of the North West Platinum Belt should have earned from mining on their land. Certainly, though, it is billions.
Nor has anyone been able to prove that they received even a cent of it.
After many years of trying to get their chief, Kgosi Nyalala Pilane, to account to them for their money, however, a commission appointed mainly for another purpose has exposed thousands of the documents that community activists had been chasing for so long.
And this paper trail, analysed in a devastating report by Daily Maverick with assistance from the Land and Accountability Research Centre (LARC), shows that the 350 000 people of the Bakgatla Ba Kgafela community have systematically been stripped of assets certainly worth billions of rand.
It is a familiar story: Wealth due to people who have nothing is taken in a series of transactions, which usually are presented as beneficial to the community concerned. In this case, as in most others, the agent of dispossession is the traditional leader, who signs deals allegedly on behalf of his people, but without consulting or even informing them.
The result is that the poverty these people have known since colonialism – and then apartheid – stripped them of rights to their land just continues.
This story, based on documents released to the Maluleke Commission in respect of the Traditional Leadership Dispute of the Bakgatla Ba Kgafela Community, lays bare the abuse of custom, the violation of statutory law and the collusion between Kgosi Pilane and the magnates of big mining who have befriended and enriched him.
Judge George Maluleke died before he could complete his report on the 18-month enquiry, but his work is about to resume in a new commission that will pick up where his probing ended.
The story told in this Daily Maverick report will likely be confirmed in the final report of the new commission.