Speakers at the memorial service of Lucas Mangope went very close to making direct comparisons between what Bophuthatswana had achieved under its now deceased former president and now.
From safety and security to the quality of education and agriculture as well as general community development, they spoke fondly of Mangope, who was described as a “visionary” and a “disciplinarian”.
While celebrated for offering some good infrastructure, helping communities build schools and creating employment, Bophuthatswana’s image has been tainted by stories of police brutality on those who opposed Mangope or dared to push activities in the struggle for freedom.
Mangope might have often been described as an authoritarian and an oppressor, but not to those who came in their numbers at the modest memorial service held in his honour earlier on Wednesday in Motswedi village outside Zeerust, North West.
A former Bophuthatswana (Bop) senior police officer, Brigadier Sam Dube, said he could “only imagine today where we’d be if Bop was still around and led by this visionary man”.
Dube said Bop was a “crime-free zone and a haven of peace” adding that “things have changed today and people are complaining”.
“Kgosi Mangope did a lot in the 17 years he led Bop. There was accountability,” he said, adding that Mangope was an “exemplary leader who respected the law and constitution”.
A former high-ranking education official during the Bop days, Siegfried Hlongwa, recalled the well-researched vision Mangope had for the education system.
“He was a like an African hawk eagle, an innovator who believed in research-based decisions. Things are different today; there are lots of programmes but children are still failing,” Hlongwa said.
“[Mangope] established Manpower Centres [now known as technical and vocational education and training colleges], which produced job creators and not job seekers. He created a sense of ownership, which was seen when people contributed towards the building of the University of Bophuthatswana, with some even selling their cattle.”
Another speaker who worked with Mangope in the agricultural sector, Sidney Mothoagae, remembered how Bop was thriving when it came to crop and animal farming. He said silos used to be full to the brim after harvests, to an extent that they were forced to seek more storage space in South Africa.
While it was likely that a provincial state funeral would not be held – the state funeral was sought by the North West government under Supra Mahumapelo amid wide criticism linking him to apartheid and describing him as one of those opposed to the struggle for freedom and the new democratic South Africa – not everyone thought he was all bad.
When asked how he remembered Mangope, a former director-general of the North West government, Professor Job Mokgoro, told Motsweding FM on the perimeters of the memorial service venue that the former Bantustan president was a “true leader”.
Mokgoro went on to cite Mahikeng, the capital city of the North West, as one of the bad examples of how things had changed.
“Mahikeng is dirty today ... those times [of Bop], when thinking of littering, you’d think Mangope was watching you and you wouldn’t dare try it,” he said.
Asked what really happened during those days in early 1994 when attempts were made through discussions to get Mangope aboard the new democratic government, until he, Pik Botha and Mac Maharaj were sent to tell him Bophuthatswana had seized to exist, Mokgoro said Mangope “had not accepted that the intention of the new South Africa was well meant for everyone”.
He said all today’s government needed to do was to respect Mangope’s legacy and be “thankful of what Mangope left us and preserve it”.
There has not been any clear indication on whether Mangope would get a provincial state funeral, but Mokgoro said by the look of things the request to President Jacob Zuma was not successful. He said, however, the provincial government would still be there and support Mangope’s family.
Mangope, who ruled Bophuthatswana from its independence in December 1977 until his removal in 1994, is also Chief of Bahurutshe boo Manyana in Motswedi village.
His son, General Kwena Mangope, has been holding the fort as the chief since late last year to allow his father to recover after battling illness for several years. Mangope will be buried in his home village in Motswedi on Saturday morning.