Golden Opportunity: The Amazing True Story of a Scheme to Enrich a Continent
"We are here today to reorder your thinking," said Robert Beatty, his careful pronunciation banishing doubt with every word. The meticulously dressed, gray-haired publisher of the South Florida Times, an African-American newspaper, stood behind the lectern of the Worldwide Christian Center Church in Pompano Beach.
Behind him sat an unlikely assortment of people: O'Neal Dozier, the church's ultraconservative pastor; two members of a small but extremely wealthy indigenous tribe in South Africa, wearing jackets and ties; a former consultant to the World Bank; and several business owners.
The Anglican archbishop of Cape Town, South Africa — the successor to Desmond Tutu — was scheduled to make an appearance by video.
High on the wall, a red, light-up cross hung above the gathering.
"God wants all his children to have abundance," said Beatty, who was serving as the MC of this event, the "Winds of Change Economic Leadership Conference," on the morning of February 18.
In the audience were a few middle-class, mostly black families and individuals, all potential investors. Dozier, the pastor, had been hinting in his services that a new opportunity was coming, that his parishioners could soon make a profit while also helping their brethren in Africa. They could skip one meal a month, perhaps, and use that money to invest in the future of a continent. Though he didn't get into specifics, he had suggested they would soon be able to purchase shares of a new, international project. The churchgoers were waiting for the archbishop to unveil the details.
The archbishop of Cape Town, the Most Rev. Thabo Makgoba, is a spiritual elder in the Anglican and Episcopal churches and an influential figure throughout Africa. Much of his power is left over from Tutu, the human rights activist and Nobel Peace Prize winner who helped end apartheid in segregated South Africa. Now, Makgoba hopes to make his continent a dominant player on the global stage, replacing economic isolation with development and free trade.
The African men up by the altar — a public-affairs man and an investment manager, both short-statured in jackets and ties — didn't look like stereotypical tribesmen from the bush. They hailed from the Royal Bafokeng Nation, a tiny region in the South African countryside that is half the size of Broward County. Its population of 150,000 people speaks mostly Setswana, with English as a second language. The Bafokeng, an indigenous tribal group, are unlike many Africans in that they are financially thriving.
Many African nations have become dependent on foreign aid, which can serve as a set of golden handcuffs for poor countries. When donor countries expect to be paid back in their own, stronger currency, a fluctuation in exchange rates can mean ruinous debts for the poorer country. Tom Cochran, the former World Bank consultant, came prepared with a speech on this problem and on how banks were just starting to learn to lend in a country's local currency.
The Bafokeng, through careful management of funds and several protracted lawsuits, have managed to retain control of their natural resources, whereas other indigenous groups have seen theirs exploited by foreigners. From lucrative mining royalties, they have created a multibillion-dollar sovereign investment fund. The Bafokeng manage all this wealth with a secular, Western attention to the bottom line: Nowhere in their business literature is there a mention of God or divine mandate. They are simply looking after their own worldly fortune.
Their representatives were poker-faced as Beatty got religious.
"Through spiritual economics, we will deprive the locusts of the rich natural resources of Africa," he said, paraphrasing Exodus.
The crowd hushed as the archbishop appeared on two giant video screens on either side of the altar. Surrounded by foliage somewhere on a Cape Town hillside, the kind-faced figure beamed down at the audience, wearing his Anglican shirt and collar.
"In my opinion, Royal Bafokeng Holdings is the most successful group in the world," he said. He introduced "Winds of Change," a new investment plan, and explained that the Bafokeng would serve as a model. He hoped to round up capital not just from black-owned companies but from African-Americans around the world who are looking for a meaningful and lucrative connection to their ancestral home.
The pastor, O'Neal Dozier, had signed on as the project's North American president. Far away from the archibishop and the Bafokeng, he would be the public figurehead representing this bold and vague new initiative, using the power of his words and persuasion to do the archbishop's work. It was an appointment that showed great confidence. "We will launch the initiative on June 19, when I come to the United States," said the archbishop on the screen. "Until then, you are in the good hands of Dr. O'Neal Dozier."
It was, in some ways, an incongruous partnership: the archbishop — an activist and diplomat, who was known for his spirit of inclusion and had even pioneered discussions of welcoming gays into the church (a radical concept in Africa) — partnering with Dozier, who in 27 years of preaching has offended gays, Muslims, whites, and blacks. Although Dozier is disarmingly kind and attentive to his parishioners, his politics are somewhat to the right of the guy who burned the Qur'an.
"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.
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.
Once Jackson met with the archbishop and with officials from Royal Bafokeng Holdings, he offered up a new Jacksonville-based company, African Business Development Group, to carry out the business end of the archbishop's plan on the ground in Africa.
A member of O'Neal Dozier's church suggested to Jackson that he meet the pastor, who might be able to round up investors. Dozier says he initially turned down the invitation. But Jackson called him again and put him in touch with the archbishop. Eventually, he accepted, buoyed by the prospect of making money and spreading his gospel message to Africa and beyond. Now he had a new title, one that could enable his dreams of acquiring both money and global influence.
"I am the president," Dozier said recently in his trademark slow diction, touched by a Southern twang. "My official title is 'President of the North American Sector of Archbishop Makgoba's Economic Development Initiative for Indigenous Africans and the Diaspora..." — he paused for a breath — "and the Friends of the Diaspora.' "
The walls of Dozier's church office tell a story of his life. In one corner are pictures of him in college football uniforms and, later, Army uniforms. Next to them, a certificate of honorable discharge. Books from his law-school days. A collection of anti-Islam writings and a plaque from an anti-abortion group. On the desk is a metal sculpture of Atlas, lifting the world on his shoulders. On a shelf: a tall-masted model sailing ship and a TWA jet, poised for takeoff.
Dozier, tall and lean, relaxes in a chair as he talks. He's wearing black slacks and a white T-shirt, translucent over a tank top. His giant hands are adorned with rings and a gold watch. His head, small for his gym-toned body, appears youthful, although the hairline of his flat-top has crept improbably backward. He is wearing sunglasses indoors.
He has been in the blue-collar town of Pompano Beach, originally an agricultural center, for most of his life. He arrived here, he says, "on a migrant farm bus" from South Carolina in 1955, when he was 7 years old. His family moved into a nearby migrant workers' camp. At midcentury, Florida was deeply segregated, and the prospects for black farmers' sons were dim.
"I had a choice to go the way of many of the people I grew up with," Dozier says. "But I decided not to go that way. I do not like poverty."
At nearby Blanche Ely High School, he played football and basketball. He moved on to play football in college, then professionally for a stint. He earned his J.D. from John Marshall Law School in Atlanta. He was drafted to serve in Vietnam, he says, and then volunteered to go back for a second tour with the Army in Germany. While overseas, his official church biography adds, "he competed in and won several European bodybuilding contests."
The law degree was prestigious, but Dozier says he found his calling to serve God. In fact, his looks and demeanor make it hard to imagine his doing anything else. Dozier opened his church 27 years ago and started scaring people away with his sermons until the only ones left were those who would truly listen to every word he had to say.
"My granddaddy used to tell me, 'One who will not tell the truth when they know they should tell the truth is a liar,' " says Dozier. Thus, burdened with knowing that the sinners would be punished, he felt compelled to warn his congregation and began mixing sociopolitical issues into his homilies. He dwelled on the passages of the Bible that have been glossed over by pastors more tolerant of gays, Islam, abortion, Democrats, or women's liberation. When other black churches were celebrating the election of Barack Obama, the pastor was there to, as he puts it, "quench the fire." A typical sermon at Dozier's church may include a rousing, hand-clapping celebration of the scriptural verse that says a woman should be meek and obey her husband. He once held a public funeral for an aborted fetus.
His conservatism and relentless networking have earned him friends in high places. A wall in the office is covered with framed pictures of the pastor meeting dignitaries, religious leaders, and politicians: Dozier with Jeb Bush. Dozier with George W. Bush. Dozier blessing Charlie Crist, dark-skinned hand pressing down upon the white-haired head. When Jeb was governor, he named Dozier to a judicial nominating committee, where the pastor helped choose judges who would support conservative and religious principles. "Jeb befriended me," he recalls fondly. "He saw me as an asset."
For every friend Dozier has made, there are people who despise every word that comes out of his mouth. And that's just the way he likes it: Jesus, he says, was also hated and feared in his lifetime. So Pastor Dozier plays chicken with the world.
In January, when then-presidential candidate Rick Santorum named Dozier as an adviser to his campaign and visited the church, national media outlets dug up the pastor's old quotes on homosexuality. In particular, his statements at the Reclaiming America for Christ Conference that homosexuality is an act so nasty and disgusting that... well...
"I said that in the eyes of God, homosexuality is an abomination. What does that mean? Something very nasty and disgusting in the sight of God. What is the effect of something nasty and disgusting? It gives you the feeling of wanting to vomit." So, forever after, this is a man who says gay sex makes God want to vomit.
In his typical mode of preaching, he takes a short passage from the Bible and spends many minutes dissecting it into its component parts, reaching back to Hebrew translations in search of an undeniable and unambiguous Truth. When this leads him to say outlandish things, so be it. It's right there in the book.
Dozier believes that churches should play a role in supporting the poor, and he continually raises money for victims of natural disasters and the homeless. But he's also a staunch free-market capitalist who is tough on those who don't help themselves. To those who depend on government assistance, he asks, "How much more do you want from us?" He reads Matthew's Parable of the Talents, in which a traveling aristocrat entrusts his servants with his savings and rewards those who trade and increase their holdings, as a straightforward argument that the rich who invest should get richer than the poor who don't.
For Dozier, a focus on working to make money can erase even racial prejudice. "America only sees money. It doesn't see color," he says. He claims he has never once been discriminated against because of the color of his skin.
Dozier says his controversial remarks have cost him a larger audience. He could be preaching to thousands every Sunday morning, amplified across a megachurch, he says, if only his message were a little softer. But the attraction of admiring masses isn't the kind of power that Dozier wants, not after all these years of shrugging off liberals and failures and pretenders. He's after something stronger.
"I'm someone who fears God more than man," he explains. "I've pretty much been kicked out of everything I've been in. When a man embraces me, he has to be ready for the part of me that doesn't compromise."
As the months passed after the February conference, Dozier prepared for the archbishop to visit his church. He imagined a scene: the archbishop wearing his ceremonial robes and hat and all the members of his church wearing traditional African attire. Dozier said meeting the archbishop was "highly important" to him, maybe "even more so than being involved with the president of the United States." He predicted that the archbishop, through his initiative, would "end up being more recognizable and famous in the long run than Tutu."
But in June, there was a change of plans. The archbishop would now visit Jacksonville and be hosted by Jackson, not Pompano Beach, hosted by Dozier. So Dozier was left to book a flight north to meet the archbishop in person.
On the evening of June 18, the Most ReverendThabo Makgoba entered a squarish building in a Jacksonville office park off I-95 to hold a news conference and make the official American announcement of the Winds of Change initiative. He walked down the second-floor hallway, past a table of refreshments, to a conference room. Wearing a purple silk shirt and clerical collar under a pinstriped suit, he entered the room leaning forward, gently beaming, shaking hands with the businessmen gathered to greet him.
The small room was set up with 25 chairs in rows. Pine trees swayed in the sun outside the window. A couple of TV cameramen set up their cameras. There was a podium at the front of the room, bedecked with the heavily Photoshopped Winds of Change logo: a globe, flags, the outlines of America, South Africa, and Florida.
The office belonged to Environmental Services Inc., a consulting firm headed by Isaac Rhodes Robinson Jr., a rotund Southerner with a mop of gray-white hair. Robinson is Julius Jackson's longtime partner, and his company specializes in helping builders meet environmental standards while plowing ahead with their projects. Through a process called mitigation, developers are often given permission to build on one land so long as they conserve another, comparable land at another site. Some developers just buy mitigation credits, paying someone else to do the conserving. Environmentalists say it's essentially a shell game, but it is totally legal. For all the talk about spiritual kinship, Robinson and Jackson — like any smart businessmen — simply take advantage of the opportunities before them.
Environmental Services is behind one of the first deals to go through under the Winds of Change banner. Robinson did not respond to interview requests, but in the conference room, he revealed a few details: They were moving a million acres of tribal-owned forested land onto the global carbon-credits market to make money for the landowners. Carbon credits work like mitigation credits: Companies that emit large amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere can "offset" them by buying carbon credits; the money is ostensibly used to preserve tracts of forest in some other locale.
To date, this is the only Winds of Change project that has been disclosed in detail. Jackson told the crowd that investment opportunities would be announced as they became available and that the global accounting firm Deloitte & Touche had been retained to oversee every dollar that goes in and out, to maintain transparency.
"This moment will be a turning point," the archbishop said as he took the podium. He again quoted the Exodus verse about driving the locusts out of Africa. He said he was committed to making sure the project was well-administered: "As an archbishop, I have to be unashamedly ethical and be a good steward. We want Africa to thrive. That is my vision. That is my dream."
After leaving the podium, he explained why he had chosen Dozier to lead his economic mission.
"He is a pastor who is close to some of the people we're working with," he said, adding, "He can articulate the biblical values of transparency, honesty, and showing 'love your neighbor.' Sometimes I do not agree with him in terms of content, but he is speaking where it can be heard."
Eventually, the executives led Makgoba back down the hallway, where he paused to answer a final question. Would his initiative take him to other places like this around the world, to partner with other businesses? Was Jacksonville, Florida, just one stop of many?
"No," said the successor to Desmond Tutu, smiling warmly. "This is our home. It is our Bethlehem." With that, he followed his hosts downstairs and rode off to dinner in a silver Chevy Tahoe.
Dozier missed the news conference. His delayed flight was just touching down as the event ended. He would meet the archbishop at dinner. But if anyone had noticed his absence, no one had made a big deal out of it.
"They didn't even mention me," said Dozier, back in his church a week later. He sounded frustrated: His controversial past had started to worry the project's organizers.
Dozier had believed that the archbishop knew what he was getting when he signed him up. "The archbishop was looking for a partner who would have the combination of being conservative — very conservative — and involved in the political struggle."
He pulled up a printout of an email Jackson had sent to all of his partners, including Dozier, the Bafokeng, and the archbishop. It urged them not to speak directly to the media.
"Please don't give the media the opportunity to get information that, as we know, they can spin in a way that does not edify the archbishop's cause," Jackson had written. "We want this to maintain a media focus of what can be accomplished in Africa, and not about the roles of the individuals or companies involved."
Dozier realized that Jackson was nervous about the fate of the endeavor. "I think Julius is afraid something's going to nip it in the bud," he said. Some more of Dozier's old quotes, dug up, rehashed, and associated with the archbishop, would not "edify" the cause. But he was still confident, denying that he was a liability: "It would be so easy for the archbishop or Julius Jackson to say, 'You know what? Reverend Dozier is bad for this project, so let's dismiss him.' "
If the archbishop and Jackson had wanted a less-controversial pastor to spread the word about the Winds of Change, they would have had some willing volunteers. The Right Reverend Leo Frade, bishop for the Episcopal church in Miami and Southeast Florida, had been watching the archbishop's plan with interest as a fellow member of the Anglican Communion. Late last year, he even thought he might be asked to help. But then he learned that Dozier had been appointed.
"It disconcerted me," says Frade, who had already heard more than he cared to of the pastor's right-wing talking points and knew they conflicted with the archbishop's public role as a peacemaker. "But I don't think I'm in a position to question the archbishop. I'd say he wants to reach out to all kinds of people, not just the liberal types."
John and Jean Comaroff, two sociologists living in South Africa who have studied the Bafokeng, religion, and African economies, put it a little more bluntly. People in South Africa watch the archbishop's moves very closely, said Jean Comaroff, and "if there's the slightest smell of antigay, it's not going to fly... I think the archbishop is well-intentioned but underinformed."
Of the Bafokeng, she said, "I'm very surprised they're involved [with Dozier]. I can't imagine this fitting into [the king's] idea of theology at all. He's not antigay."
After receiving Jackson's email, representatives of the Royal Bafokeng Nation were reluctant to talk. "It is still very much at the conceptualization stage," said Mpueleng Pooe, the public-affairs director who had visited Dozier's church in February. "There's not a whole lot that we want to be discussing until we have very solid and concrete structures in place." Pooe would not comment specifically about Dozier. But inquiries from New Times seemed to raise concerns about how the small, unlikely tribe would be represented across the ocean.
On July 1, Bernadette Morris, a public-relations representative hired to represent Winds of Change, contacted New Times and said that the Bafokeng leadership did not want to be mentioned in a story that painted the initiative in a negative light. "I think the problem is they're not used to American reporters," Morris said. "It's a very private operation."
Two days later, she called with a follow-up: The winds had indeed changed. Dozier was gone. "The archbishop and some of the other organizers, namely Julius, are shifting around some of the roles in the leadership," said Morris. Dozier was "stepping down" from his role of North American president. A news release said he didn't have enough time to devote to the project.
The preacher was as cordial as ever when reached by phone the day he was dismissed and denied that his departure would affect things much. "This is about the archbishop," he said, "and not about the things I say..."
He paused and gave God the last word.
"... which are in the Bible."
Get the Weekly Newsletter
Our weekly feature stories, movie reviews, calendar picks and more - minus the newsprint and sent directly to your inbox.