Dr Semane Molotlegi, the Queen Mother of the Royal Bafokeng Nation outside Rustenburg in the North West, was an epitome of resilience and togetherness in both good times and bad times.
A good-looking, kind-hearted Septuagenarian, she loved her people and literally lived for them to the very end when she left this world a week ago following an extended period of ill-health.
She was married to the late King Edward Patrick Lebone Molotlegi, who was a thorn on the part of Bophuthatswana strongman Lucas Mangope.
For the many villagers who adored and supported the Bafokeng royal family, Mangope’s government was viewed as jealous of the wealth of the Royal Bafokeng Nation, whose net wealth by the end of the 1980s ran into a couple of tens of billions of rands.
The Bafokeng happen to own the land on which the world’s third-largest platinum mine exists. It is from these mining activities that handsome royalties are paid to the Royal Bafokeng Nation.
In return, the royal family, which for decades have been led by the Molotlegi’s, provide guidance and leadership in the development of the 150 000-strong nation.
This is done through investment in bursary scheme for villagers in pursuit of higher education, infrastructural development such as the majestic road infrastructure and schools, and the provision of basic human rights such as water and electricity.
The famous Bafokeng Civic Centre -a site of pure beauty to behold is the seat of the royal administration, where the Supreme Council, or local parliament, sits.
Through the Queen Mother Semane Molotlegi’s relentless devotion to education, many destitute families are provided with schooling assistance from primary to high school and material support for such families include the annual buying of school uniforms, textbooks and groceries.
Back in the day at the local Semane Molotlegi Crèche, little kids were regaled with stories of their nation from a very early age and sang and danced about the proud heritage of the land of the forebears.
The Queen Mother Semane Molotlegi, who is the mother of the current King Leruo Molotlegi, was renowned for her dispute-resolution skills. Warring families often fighting over the family homes often ran to the Queen Mother to help resolve their differences.
This the Queen Mother always did with grace and love and it was common to hear many people threatening to take all kinds of disputes of the office of the Queen Mother.
Such was the confidence villagers exhibited in her honesty as their own Mother of the Nation whom they affectionately called Mmemogolo, loosely translated “our great mother”, till the end.
The Queen Mother exuded pride and a deep spirit of self-reliance and self-determination among her people. She was particularly instrumental in women-empowerment programs and I remember her starting a massive sewing school across the road from her family palace known as Legato in Windsor section of Phokeng.
Around 1992 Bophuthatswana government under Mangope declared the Queen Mother a persona non-grata in the homeland. The authorities gave her an ultimatum to leave the homeland by a certain date or face arrest, which would not have been her first.
Fled she did, more for her own safety and that of her six children. Her husband was in exile in Botswana, the Queen Mother’s land of birth. I met with her at her secret hide-out in Johannesburg a day after fleeing Bophuthatswana. Her sense of calmness hid her deep-seated anger. One thing for sure, she was convinced that her ordeal would soon come to pass.
Within 24 months, Bophuthatswana had indeed collapsed, spectacularly, the Queen Mother’s husband King Edward Lebone Molotlegi had returned home amid fanfare and the reigning spirit of freedom at last that engulfed the entire country in the period leading to the first democratic elections in April 1994 was most tangible in Phokeng.
The Queen Mother leaves behind a prosperous nation that she has dedicated her entire life helping to nurture. The village has become modern and yet stayed true to traditional authority.
The literacy levels have sky-rocketed under her watch.
Locals own businesses that provide services to the local mines, others own shops at the local shopping complex known as Phokeng Plaza and the pride among the villagers of knowing that they are surrounded by possibilities is enough to say: “Thank you, Semane Molotlegi. You will always be in our hearts. Fare thee well.”