UNITED24 - Make a charitable donation in support of Ukraine!


1818-1871 - Sotho Kingdom / Basutoland

Basutoland (now Lesotho -- pronounced le-SOO-too) was sparsely populated by San bushmen (Qhuaique) until the end of the 16th century. Between the 16th and 19th centuries, refugees from surrounding areas gradually formed the Basotho ethnic group. Moshoeshoe, a contemporary (b. 1786) of Shaka, forged a strong Sotho kingdom on the southern Highveld in the 1820s and 1830s. This kingdom became the foundation for the modern state of Lesotho.

The kingdom was founded by Moshoeshoe I, who faced by Boer encroachment onto Basotho grazing lands from one direction, and violent population upheavals precipitated by the military rise of Shaka Zulu in Natal from another. Moshoeshoe I, then a minor chief, initially led his people to a mountain refuge where they established a new settlement; subsequently he established a policy of affording haven to refugees willing to help with defense.

Moshweshwe established the Basotho kingship through conquering and subjugating various traditional communities, including Mankwane, Mahlubi, Bakwena, Makgwakgwa, Batloung, Bataung and Bahlakwana. The Bakwena trace their origin to Kwena who lived roundabout 1450. These traditional communities acknowledged Moshweshwe to be their leader and king. They were absorbed to form the Basotho nation, and shared sesotho customs, language and culture.

Moshweshwe welded together fragmented Basotho communities round about 1818, during the Mfecane Wars. He built them together into a unified people. Thus the Basotho kingship was born. Lesotho was established in 1823. Moshweshwe placed Paulos Mopeli as morena wasebaka1 at Mabolela, east of present day Ladybrand. The wars between Basotho and the Voortrekkers (1865 1868) dispossessed Lesotho of much of its territories.

Moshoeshoe, seeking in the 1820s to protect his people from the worst ravages of the difaqane, fortified a large mesa, Thaba Bosiu, that proved impregnable to attack for decades thereafter. With this natural fortress as his base, he built a large kingdom, welcomed in particular refugees from famine and wars elsewhere, and provided them with food and shelter.

These refugees, once incorporated into the state, were considered Sotho like their hosts; thus, as with the Zulu, ever larger numbers were integrated into a group with a consolidated ethnic identity, a practice that furthered the process of nation building. Moshoeshoe also sought to strengthen his kingdom militarily, especially by acquiring guns and horses from the Cape. A superb diplomat, he sought to maintain cordial relations with all his neighbors, even paying tribute on occasion to Shaka and seeking always to avoid war. Believing that they could act as emissaries on his behalf to the intruding European powers while also teaching his children to read and write, he welcomed French Protestant missionaries as potential allies.

In 1824 Moshoeshoe shifted his headquarters to a more easily defensible hilltop called Thaba-Bosiu. Under Moshoeshoe I the Basotho - who had adopted horses and guns from their erstwhile opponents - inflicted some sharp defeats on their European enemies. By the mid-1830s, Moshoeshoe's kingdom comprised about 30,000 people and was the largest state on the southern Highveld. During Moshoeshoe's reign (1823-1870), a series of wars with South Africa (1856-68) resulted in the loss of extensive Basotho land, now known as the "Lost Territory." In order to protect his people, Moshoeshoe appealed to Queen Victoria for assistance, and in 1868 the land that is present-day Lesotho was placed under British protection as the the Basutoland Protectorate.

Basutoland, an inland colony, was annexed to Cape Colony in 1871, but placed under the direct control of the Crown in 1884. It is now governed by a Resident Commissioner, under the High Commissioner for South Africa. It was divided into seven districts, and subdivided into wards, presided over by hereditary chiefs allied to the Mosesh family. Laws were made by proclamation of the High Commissioner, and administered by native chiefs. Appeals are heard by Assistant Commissioner, the ultimate Court of Appeal being the High Commissioner. A Pitso or National Assembly was held once a year to discuss and explain matters of common interest. Passports were required by the natives, also licences to trade. Spirituous liquors were forbidden. European settlement was prohibited.

Join the GlobalSecurity.org mailing list

Page last modified: 23-10-2012 19:12:41 ZULU