Moshoeshoe Essay Outline

Moshoeshoe, also spelled Mshweshwe, Moshweshwe, or Moshesh, original name Lepoqo, (born c. 1786, near the upper Caledon River, northern Basutoland [now in Lesotho]—died March 11, 1870, Thaba Bosiu, Basutoland), founder and first paramount chief of the Sotho (Basuto, Basotho) nation. One of the most successful Southern African leaders of the 19th century, Moshoeshoe combined aggressive military counteraction and adroit diplomacy against colonial invasions. He created a large African state in the face of attacks by the Boers and the British, raiders from the south east coastal lowlands of Africa, and local African rivals.

Moshoeshoe was the son of Mokhachane, the chief of the Mokoteli. As a young man, Moshoeshoe—then known by his post circumcision name of Letlama (“The Binder”)—won a reputation for leadership by conducting daring cattle raids. In early adulthood he took the name Moshoeshoe, an imitation of the sounds made by a knife in shaving that symbolized his deft skills at rustling cattle. His acquaintance with the chief Mohlomi, who was revered as a wise man, strengthened his capacity for generous treatment of allies and enemies alike.

In the late 1810s and early ’20s, European land invasions, labour needs, and trade heightened Southern African disturbances and led to migration in the region. Moshoeshoe led his people south to the nearly impregnable stronghold of Thaba Bosiu (“Mountain at Night”) in the western Maloti Mountains, where his following expanded to other African peoples attracted by the protection he was able to provide. He eventually united the various small groups to form the Sotho nation, called Basutoland by English-speaking persons. He strengthened his new nation by raiding local Tembu and Xhosa groups for cattle and adopting the use of horses and firearms. In the cold Highveld he was able to defeat mounted Griqua and Korana raiders with his own mounted cavalry and expanded his control into the Caledon valley.

In 1833 he welcomed missionaries of the Paris Evangelical Missionary Society (though he never became a Christian himself), and he used them to cultivate good diplomatic relationships with British politicians in Cape Town. Moshoeshoe’s greatest threat (and opportunity) came with the Boer invasions—the Great Trek—after the mid-1830s. The rival Boer and Sotho groups fought for control of the fertile farming lands of the Caledon valley, with the British arbitrating by drawing boundary lines that at first favoured but then disadvantaged the Sotho.

In 1848, when the British annexed the Orange River Sovereignty to the east of Moshoeshoe’s stronghold, he found himself exposed to direct Anglo-Boer invasion. Moshoeshoe’s Sotho forces twice defeated overconfident and undersupported British armies, first in 1851 at Viervoet and again in late 1852 at the battle of Berea near Thaba Bosiu. Moshoeshoe continued to fight against encroachment on Sotho lands, and in the following year he defeated and absorbed the Tlokwa, local African rivals.

Wanting to avoid the time and expense required to defeat the Sotho, the British gave the Boers of the Orange River Sovereignty (renamed the Orange Free State) independence at the Bloemfontein Convention of 1854. During the next 10 years, Moshoeshoe was able to inflict further defeats on the Boers, who were disorganized in their efforts to unite and repel the Sotho. At the Treaty of Aliwal North in 1858, the Sotho regained control of land on both sides of the Caledon River, a perhaps unparalleled assertion of black expansionism against contending whites in Southern Africa.

After the Boers of the Orange Free State united behind Pres. J.H. Brand in 1864, however, the long land war turned against Moshoeshoe. He was forced to give up most of his earlier gains at the Treaty of Thaba Bosiu in 1866, and during 1867 he faced complete defeat. This was prevented when the British high commissioner of the Cape Colony, Sir Philip Wodehouse, annexed Moshoeshoe’s now truncated territory as Basutoland in 1868. Though Moshoeshoe’s power waned in the last years of his life, the Sotho continue to venerate his name, and he is considered to be the father of his country.

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.


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