Golden Opportunity: The Amazing True Story of a Scheme to Enrich a Continent

"We're going to preach the bishop's plan across all of North America," Dozier told the crowd. "This is an exciting time."

To Dozier, this was the golden opportunity he had long been waiting for, a chance to take his Worldwide Christian Center Church truly worldwide. He wants to be on TV in Africa before he dies and to let the whole world know that every word written in the King James Bible is good and true. And all of that requires money.


Travel the rolling farms and low-slung neighborhoods around the town of Phokeng, in South Africa's North West Province, and you'll come across a strange vision: a 45,000-seat stadium on the horizon. If you watched the 2010 World Cup, you have already seen it: a small tribal nation's prosperity made visible to the world.

Khumo Shongwe (left) and Mluleki Majola, representatives of Royal Bafokeng Holdings, talked with the media during a recent visit to Jacksonville with the archbishop.
Courtesy of the Holy Trinity Anglican Church
Khumo Shongwe (left) and Mluleki Majola, representatives of Royal Bafokeng Holdings, talked with the media during a recent visit to Jacksonville with the archbishop.

Royal Bafokeng Stadium belongs to a modern-day tribe with a curious history. In the late 1800s, black people in South Africa were not able to own land; that was a privilege reserved for whites. Young Bafokeng men traveled on foot to the newly opened diamond mines at the continent's southern tip. When they returned home, the Bafokeng king collected a portion of their earnings and passed it on to a sympathetic Lutheran priest, who agreed to buy large tracts of farmland on the Bafokengs' behalf. After the priest died, the land was transferred to the state to be held in trust for the Bafokeng, as it remains today.

The Bafokeng turned out to be sitting on top of one of the world's largest platinum reserves, which was discovered in 1920. Companies swooped in for a piece of the treasure, but Bafokeng leadership fought for a share of the profits, paid as royalties. In 1999, the Bafokeng reached a court settlement with South African mining giant Implats, granting the community a 22 percent royalty from all proceeds and a stake in the company.

The income is invested into a sovereign wealth fund, Royal Bafokeng Holdings, which today has assets of nearly $4.5 billion. The king, Leruo Molotlegi, looks like an average Western businessman, and government employees pass out business cards embossed with a sleek logo. The Bafokeng are part owners of the telecommunications company Vodacom, shipping company DHL Express, and many mining interests. Profits go back to the government and are reinvested in community services like schools and roads as well as the shiny stadium. It's contemporary capitalism for the benefit of a monarchy whose policies seem fairly socialist.

When the archbishop saw the Bafokeng stadium during the World Cup, inspiration struck.

Thabo Makgoba, 52 years old, had been looking to build a legacy as archbishop that would measure up to Desmond Tutu's. By now, though, the evils of enforced colonialism and apartheid had been largely vanquished. Instead of battling apartheid or colonialism, the inequality that Makgoba chose to fight is economic.

He has indicated that he wants to allow indigenous people to profit just as much as the diamond companies and oil companies that stake their claim in African soil and send the profits off to America, Russia, or China. The world has advanced through global free markets, and if Africa wants to stop being the victim, it will have to participate.

The archbishop met with King Molotlegi and other officials and introduced his plan: The church and the government could partner with private interests to guide new businesses in local communities and help them take advantage of natural resources like timber and minerals. He envisioned indigenous people working at all levels of business and profits being reinvested locally.

The king agreed to work with him. But to replicate the Bafokengs' success elsewhere, they would need guidance, capital, and experienced managers who knew about global financial markets. For that, they would look to America.

Through a mutual acquaintance, the archbishop met a large, commanding American businessman from Jacksonville, Florida: Julius Jackson Sr. Jackson had proved himself adept at finding wealth in the midst of great poverty. In 2002, President Bush unveiled a plan called the Millennium Challenge Corp., which provides large-scale grants to poor countries. Jackson, who had done business in the former Zaire in the mid-1980s (before it became the Democratic Republic of the Congo), saw opportunity and created Millennium Group Worldwide, a faith-based, for-profit company.

Jackson says his company organized many infrastructure projects funded by the grants, including the construction of fuel-distribution and fire-suppression systems in Angola around 2008. "We put an emphasis on ultimate [African] ownership of the enterprise," he says. "We get a development fee, but they have ownership in the long term."

One corporate filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission reveals a 2008 draft contract between Millennium Group and the governor of Bas Congo, a province in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. It calls for a new partnership to control mining and all natural resources, promising that Jackson's company will "help to convert, whenever possible, the resources... to a form that maximizes the benefits to Bas Congo and the region." However, Serge Tshamala, an economic counselor at the D.R. Congolese embassy in Washington, D.C., says he is unaware of any such partnership ever taking effect.

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