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At least 7 million Sotho (also BaSotho) people who speak seSotho and related languages live in South Africa. Another 3 million Sotho and closely related people live in neighboring countries. The diverse Sotho population includes the Northern Sotho (Pedi), the Southern Sotho, and the Tswana (BaTswana), each of which is itself a heterogeneous grouping.

Ancestors of today's Sotho population migrated into the region in the fifteenth century, according to historians, probably from the area of the northern Transvaal. Like many neighboring Nguni peoples, the Sotho traditionally relied on a combination of livestock raising and crop cultivation for subsistence. Most Sotho were herders of cattle, goats, and sheep, and cultivators of grains and tobacco. In addition, the Sotho were skilled craftsmen, renowned for their metalworking, leatherworking, and wood and ivory carving.

Also like the Nguni, most Sotho lived in small chiefdoms, in which status was determined in part by relationship to the chief. Unlike the Nguni, Sotho homesteads were grouped together into villages, with economic responsibilities generally shared among village residents. Villages were divided into wards, or residential areas, often occupied by members of more than one patrilineal descent group.

The village chief -- a hereditary position -- generally appointed ward leaders, whose residences were clustered around the chief's residence. Sotho villages sometimes grew into large towns of several thousand people. Farmland was usually outside the village, not adjacent to the homestead. This village organization may have enabled the Sotho villagers to defend themselves more effectively than they could have with dispersed households, and it probably facilitated control over ward leaders and subjects by the chief and his family.

Sotho villages were also organized into age-sets, or groups of men or women who were close in age. Each age-set had specific responsibilities--men organized for warfare and herding, depending on age-set, and women for crop cultivation and religious responsibilities. An entire age-set generally graduated from one task to the next, and the village often celebrated this change with a series of rituals and, in some cases, an initiation ceremony.

Sotho descent rules were important, even though descent groups did not form discrete local groups. Clans were often totemic, or bound to specific natural objects or animal species by mystical relationships, sometimes involving taboos and prohibitions. Major Sotho clans included the Lion (Taung), Fish (Tlhaping), Elephant (Tloung), and Crocodile (Kwean) clans.

Both Nguni and Sotho peoples reckoned descent through patrilineal ties, but their marriage rules differed markedly. Sotho patrilineages were usually endogamous--i.e., the preferred marriage partner would be a person related through patrilineal descent ties. Nguni patrilineages, in contrast, were exogamous--marriage within the descent group was generally forbidden.

By the early twentieth century, Sotho villages were losing their claims to land, largely because of pressure from whites. Cattle raising became more difficult, and as Western economic pressures intensified, Sotho people living in Lesotho and in South Africa increasingly turned to the mines for work. By the early 1990s, an estimated 100,000 BaSotho worked in South Africa's mines, and many others were part of South Africa's urban work force throughout the country.

The Bakwena trace their origin to Kwena who lived round about 1450. Kwena fathered three sons namely: Kgabo, Ngwato and Ngwaketsi. Kgabo had one son Masilo II (also known as Mosito). Masilo II had two sons, Motjhudi (Mokotedi) and Napo, the father of Motebang, Disema and Molapo. Motebang lived at Tebang, near the present day Heildelberg. He was succeeded by his son Molemo. After the death of Molemo, his sons Tsholo and Tsholwane left the area. They were succeeded by their sons Tshotelo and Kadi (Monaheng), respectively. They settled near present day Bethlehem where they lived side by side with Bafokeng of Mangole. Later, Monaheng settled at Fothane near Fouriesburg. He subjugated Bafokeng of Komane and some San people who already occupied that area. He was later rejoined by Tshotelo. Monaheng placed Tshotelo at Kaffir Kop, to rule under his authority.

The people of Tshotelo (also known as Bamodibedi), though senior to the people of Monaheng (Bamonaheng) by birth, became subordinate in terms of traditional leadership status. Bamonaheng moved from Fouriesburg across the Caledon river to the present day Lesotho. Monaheng fathered six sons, namely; Ntsane, Motlohelwa, Motlwang, Mokotedi, Mokgeseng and Monyane.The descendants of Motlwang played a pivotal role in the history of Bakwena. Motlwang fathered Mokgatjhane. Mokgatjhane in turn fathered Moshweshwe and Paulos Mopeli. Moshweshwe established the Basotho kingship through conquering and subjugating various traditional communities, including Mankwane, Mahlubi, Bakwena, Makgwakgwa, Batloung, Bataung and Bahlakwana.

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 wa sebaka at Mabolela, east of present day Ladybrand. The wars between Basotho and the Voortrekkers (1865 – 1868) dispossessed Lesotho of much of its territories, including Mabolela. The territorial traditional leader Mopeli found himself landless. In the quest to regain territory, he approached the Volksraad of the Orange Free State led by President Brand. The wish that Mopeli had was eventually granted. He was allocated a portion of land to live together with his followers at the then Wietsieshoek (Qwaqwa today). He was allowed to stay on this piece of land so long as he and his followers remained subjects of the government of the Republic of the Orange Free State. Subsequently, Paulus Mopeli applied to the then government for recognition as chief (morena) over his people – Bakwena ba Mopeli.

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Page last modified: 23-10-2012 19:12:47 ZULU