News & events


The Business of Being Bafokeng: the Corporatisation of a Tribal Authority in South Africa

01 September 2009
12:15 - 13:30

Date :

01 September 2009

Time :

12:15 – 13:30

Presenters :

Prof. Susan E. Cook, Research & Planning Executive, Royal Bafokeng Nation


This essay seeks to explore the tensions and contradictions inherent in the Royal Bafokeng Nation’s staus as both community and corporation. As one of South Africa’s approximately 750 “traditional communities”, the Royal Bafokeng Nation is an example of South African-style democracy, where in a parliamentary democracy governed by a liberal Consitution nevertheless recognizes and protects  indigenous forms of governance that support patriarchal rule and communal forms of land tenure.


As one of South Africa’s leading community-based investment companies, the Royal Bafokeng Nation, through its holdings company, channels revenue derived from significant mineral deposits into a broad investment portfolio that in turn funds an aggressive social development program in the 29 Bafokeng villages. What tensions arise when an ethnically-based polity seeks to maximise its financial standing by becoming a player on the global commodities stage? What contradictions inhere in a communally-organised and administered “tribe” using the mechanisms of the market to secure a measure of autonomy from state structures? Does the “ethnic corporation” become less “traditional” as it starts to deploy the tools and techniques of corporate governance alongside patriarchal governance? These are some of the questions posed in this essay.



Professor Cook is a linguistic and cultural anthropologist whose research focuses on the anthropology of corporations, chiefs and democracy, and language policies in South Africa. Cook was previously Associate Professor of Anthropology at the University of Pretoria from 2003-2008. She served as Director of the Cambodian Genocide Program at Yale University, and was a visiting assistant professor in the Global Security Program at Brown University’s Watson Institute for International Studies from 2001-2003.

Professor Cook’s publications include Street Setswana vs. School Setswana: Language Policies and the Forging of Identity in South African Classrooms, In The Languages of Africa and the Diaspora: Educating for Language Awareness, Multilingual Matters (2009) and she is currently working on The Business of Being Bafokeng: Corporatization in a Tribal Authority in South Africa, an article for a special issue of Current Anthropology on Corporate Lives: New Perspectives on the Corporate Form. She is also planning a book-length study of the same topic. Cook also published Chiefs, Kings, Corporatization and Democracy: A South African Case Study (The Brown Journal of World Affairs, Volume 12, No. 1, 2005); and Genocide in Cambodia and Rwanda: New Perspectives (Transaction 2006). Cook is currently Research and Planning Executive in the Royal Bafokeng Nation, where she oversees research, communications, and strategic planning for the Bafokeng Nation.

The audio presentation for the seminar is available for download


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