Skip to main content

FunTimes Magazine

Political Strategy, Basotho Resistance, and European Dispossession: The Legacy of King Moshoeshoe I and the Free State-Basotho Wars

Oct 03, 2021 02:00PM ● By Oga Africa
Basotho house made of rocks and straw roof  Lesotho

(Basotho people and a traditional dwelling in Lesotho. Image by Mark Turner via Flickr )

For Lesotho Independence Day, we are investigating the diplomacy and legacy of King Moshoeshoe I. 

Chief Moshoeshoe, named after a Sotho or Sesotho term that translates to ‘The Shaver’, was born in modern-day Menkhoaneng, Lesotho in 1796. Born into a royal Basotho lineage, Moshoeshoe inherited his royal status from his father, Chief Mokhachane of Bamokoteli. 

He and his father expanded the Bamokoteli kingdom by conquering other clans in the Southern African region. Moshoeshoe then created his own sept, and became the chief of the group, settling with them at the Butha-Buthe Mountain. He became the founder of the kingdom of Basotho, an area now known as Lesotho, when he and his followers migrated to the Qiloane plateau. Moshoeshoe granted prisoners of war land, and through this political strategy, he successfully united clans. Two-thirds of Lesotho is composed of mountains. Seeing the strategic benefit of the mountains, Moshoeshoe built his home on a fortress atop a mountain. Basotho hats, known as Mokorotlo, commemorate Lesotho’s sacred heritage.

(A Sotho elder wearing a Basotho hat. Image by Steve Evans via Flickr)

The British attempted to colonize Lesotho, but they lost the battle to the Basotho Kingdom in 1851 and 1852. After battling with the British, Moshoeshoe wrote letters to British colonial settlers, and they signed a peace treaty. Boer people, Dutch migrants who broke away from the Afrikaaners, migrated to Lesotho to flee from British rule in South Africa.

The Free State-Basotho Wars were three series of battle periods between 1858-1868, fought between the Boers and the Basotho people. Moshoeshoe initially granted the Boers stay in certain Lesotho areas, which the Boers called ‘Orange Free States’, and the Boers began to desire more of the land, and sought to colonize Lesotho. Moshoeshoe fended off the Boers in 1848. The wars continued off and on, and in 1865, after prolonged brutal fighting, the Boers took over most of the Basotho kingdom. In response, Moshoeshoe, who utilized politics in a unique way, appealed to the Queen of England, and Lesotho was made a British protectorate in 1868.

In 2000, the Kingdom of Lesotho comprised 80.3% of Sotho people.

Works Cited

Learn more about Lesotho:

Lesotho Independence Day

Lesotho Independence Day

Happy Independence Day, Lesotho! Today, October 4th, 1966, this Southern African country gained independence from the British. We are celebrating by highlighting 10 unique facts about Le... Read More »