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Traditional Leadership, Modern Approach

Interview - September 16, 2014
As a people, we are the architects of our own future and the responsibility lies with us to envision, develop and shape our path towards the attainment of a legacy, befitting our people for generations to come. Just as the challenges facing our nation are varied and complex, so is the situation facing Bakgatla-Ba-Kgafela. In order to not just overcome these challenges, but also transform our communities into a collective dynamic, modern and sustainable society, we all need to put a painful past behind us and work together towards a period of positive socio-economic growth. United World took the opportunity to speak with Kgosi MNJ Pilane about his plans for the future.
How does traditional leadership fit into a modern South African democracy? How do you work together with the government yet respect the customs of your people?

Leadership is leadership. We are serving the same constituency. And I think the objective is to ensure that our constituency is best served. So, in that fashion you therefore want to see how that affects both of you, because we are fortunately not competing for assets and act complimentarily. We know we’ve got our own governance structure which comes from the Bakgatla Ba Kgafela people and our culture. Government, which at times changes over a given period must work hand in hand with us and if we could all understand that what needs to happen is to collaborate and enhance all those efforts. In our culture there is a saying that goes “two hands are better than one”. United we stand, and divided we fall. So it’s better if we come together and assist one another rather than trying to do everything separately when it is so clear we are aiming towards the same objective. So I guess in terms of the leadership in government the key is communication. So we need you to understand that our leadership is confined to an area, wherein the government has executive role across the whole state. So it is better to collaborate due to access to other information, other experiences, or other areas on the issue which you might not have. Political leadership is supposed to bring people together who are far apart. And if it stands for progress it shouldn’t cause a problem. Of course sometimes we do experience a problem where you find certain red tape or obstacles to fast paced development but we are steadily making progress with our government counterparts with whom we share a common goal of protecting and developing the region for the good of the people here. If all is done properly, it’s not supposed to be competitive but to be collaborative.

You mentioned ‘collaborating’ and that you have a master plan to realize this economic development. Could you tell us a little bit about your master plan and what you’re trying to achieve here?

Our master plan is to locate and collaborate with the objective of the government. Traditional leadership is not to have conflicting views to government. In terms of our traditional leadership, it’s a quite modern approach, with a heavy focus on how to drive economic growth. The master plan is to ensure that we localize the solutions to the variance of the problems that we have and to enhance what the government is trying to do, which in the main is to address to social issues in the area such as poverty, unemployment and the lack of public services. As much as we might have issues, it does not mean that we are without hope for progress. We are conscious that we must help ourselves and there is a lot we can do by ourselves. If we can do it, and do it faster than government, why not do it? So we did start various ventures by ourselves. That is why we came up with our master plan. In order to implement the master plan we needed to show that we have achieved a blueprint (guiding document) so that it would not be in conflict with what others are doing. That way we can achieve this goal of unified approach to development.

What role does the private sector play in this plan? And are there any projects here which would be open to foreign investors?

In a modern economic environment not everything is readily clear. There will always be new ideas replacing the old, new innovation, and all those are acceptable. Change is a part of life. But also in terms of investment you may not have all that is required to successfully complete a project. You may be lacking in financial or technical terms and as such having experienced competent partners is always a positive resource for any project. We here in the Bakgatla Ba Kgafela Nation are 100% open to investors both foreign and domestic who bring something to the table which helps us to achieve progress for our area.

Premier Supra Mahumapelo‘s policy will focus on agriculture, culture and tourism as key pillars of economic development. With regards to culture in particular, he stated that traditional leaders play an important role in promoting culture in the North West. Could you elaborate on how you project your culture and how you maintain your culture?

We aim to maintain it. For us, talking about culture is necessary as we need to bring together various tribes within a nation, so that there is a common understanding of a lifestyle. That lifestyle sometimes is unique for a particular environment. Not only lifestyle, but everything that we do is heavily influenced by the area we live in. For example if one makes a product in Russia, it will produced in a way that is sustained by the country’s climate and environment (in this case cold), which influences its culture and the way that product develops. In our region we are very proud, as we have been able to re-establish our culture by re-building a cultural museum. Of course there have been a lot of challenges in terms of how we promote our culture. The colonial past has severely impacted our culture. In terms of religion, there was an onslaught in order to change our way of worshipping and Christianity was introduced within the community. We had carried our previous way of praying for 400 years. We were fortunate as we have been able to look backwards to some extent in order to take positives from the past. Culture is also ever changing. It changes with government and external influences. Now in terms of economic development, the culture will also be impacted. The soil will not produce like it used to produce, so you must improvise in all kinds of ways. Therefore we are now trying to retrieve what used to be real culture which has now been adapted to the modern society. We have identified the importance of creating heritage sites to maintain links to your traditional culture and celebrate our uniqueness.

There seems to be a global trend of movement and migration towards large cities. Do you fear that your youth will be moving away from the North West province towards the larger cities in South Africa?

Yes. It is a great challenge, not only in terms of the survival of our community. We cannot look at this issue over negativity, because it’s a normal modern conundrum. Most young people that wish to emigrate to other areas do so because they are more educated and therefore they feel that they need a particular type of life which they have experienced when they have travelled or when they went to the larger cities for university or to work. This is the challenge. We also need to bring in far more people to replace these departures, and try to make these new arrivals work together. My mission is to create the conditions here in our area which the young and educated are striving to find in the big cities. By doing this it will remove the temptation of those who want to leave as they feel they are missing out.

With regards to Moruleng, the area, and the construction of Moruleng Mall. Could you please tell us a bit more about this mall project and how it has worked for the community?

Building this Mall has provided a modern facility. It is a money market. Therefore, people come from many places to the mall to spend time and money within the complex whilst staying locally and supporting the community. ‘In our culture, we do not exclude the elderly or the young, and therefore we try to focus the mall experience on the entire family. By doing this, you reduce especially the elderly being a burden and improve family relations because of it”. The Mall has brought services and products our people previously had to travel great distances for to their doorstep combatting this feeling of missing out. Also it generates wealth for the whole community as jobs are created and people reinvest wages back into the products and services provided in the mall. The mall is the center not just of Moruleng but of the surrounding hinterland and a focal point for our 32 villages. We are proud of the impact the project has had on the life of all our citizens.

What is the image you want to project of the nation in the next couple of years?

Firstly, I would like to see the community become self-sufficient, which is required for a decent standard of living and preservation of our lifestyle. People need to be able to afford the things they require. And that is achieved especially through provisions of adequate health and education systems and an ability to spend appropriately on key socio-economic infrastructure. These are the kinds of service provisions that we can no longer delay giving to the people.

What would be your primary message to businesses investing here within the nation?

It is all about the environment we provide. We have people who like to live where it is modern, secure and safe. Our areas can move forward and develop more. You can do business with farmers; provide services for the local community. It is somehow strategic here. It is a lifestyle choice to be in a busy area where there is ‘hype’ and all sorts of things however our development is much more considered and happening now. In our area we are more familiar with each other, and therefore an investor can be much safer in this region. If you want to meet with local investors, and make a meaningful investment, this is where you should come.

Going back to leadership, what advice would you give to young South Africans and Americans about being a leader?

You have to enjoy your work. Otherwise, it will not be fruitful and you will not be able to perform. So you must ensure that you enjoy it. Also you must be able to understand that your role as a leader can be frustrating. Every day people are looking up to you, to address their problems when you also have your own problems. You must make sure that you understand this and have the proper commitment. To be an effective leader means that you have to help people. It is your role. Once you adapt to that situation you will enjoy it and won’t get frustrated. On the other hand, you have to have the people at heart, and you will rejoice when you see people improving their lot and raising themselves up.

What is it that drives you?

It is the pride at seeing my people progressing. As a leader you must not praise yourself but behave responsibly for the good of your people. You must sacrifice. When your people prosper, then you are prospering as well. It’s so heartbreaking to see yourself progressing and other people suffering. But if you see them coming up, and they start to think for themselves, it becomes a relief for you. If you have all people here, working and prospering compared to if you had to provide for everybody it is a great very different scenario. Our culture has always been like that. Even if you are rich, you remain a normal member of the community. Even if you have wealth which is seen from other cultures’ point of view as when you can produce more, If you have resources and the majority of people don’t have, you would share with them. They don’t take ownership, they take profit. You share assets you give people an opportunity to better themselves and share in the results. They are betting on you. It’s better. You also spread the responsibility of management among the community. That way they are relieving you of looking after all the responsibility. You share the responsibility. And that is our culture. This concept assures that you assist people and uplift people, so that you reduce the burden of reliance and make them contributors to the local economy.

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Manufacturing, Japan


Manufacturing, Japan

Atago Ltd.

Manufacturing, Japan

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Representative Director and President

Nobumasa Ishiai

President and CEO, ABLIC Inc. Senior Managing Executive Officer, MinebeaMitsumi Inc. (Parent Company of ABLIC)



Yoshihiko Hirano

President & CEO
Hirano Steel Co.,Ltd.