Part 3: Moshoeshoe I, one of the untold stories

This is one of the an untold story of how I believe Moshoeshoe cemented his power. It is a story about Moshoeshoe and his brother Makhabane. Although I am not sure who between the brothers was older, I think Makhabane was senior to Moshoeshoe by virtue of his mother being senior to Moshoeshoe’s mother. (In Sesotho: ‘Makhabane ke mora oa ntlo e kholo’). That said, the story goes as follows:

Moshoeshoe got a report that his brother will be attacked. Trusting the sources of his information, he immediately went to his brother’s ‘land’ to warn him and also offer him reinforcement. In response to Moshoeshoe, Makhabane sat on a rock and said: “Ka ‘Mamamile, Maanya ha a tlatsoe e se noka!”. (Translated: ‘I swear by my mother, ‘Mamamile, that my army, Maanya, is not a river that depends on streams for supply!’)

After such a response, Moshoeshoe left to go to his own land. And not long after this, Makhabane sent a messenger to Moshoeshoe seeking reinforcement. When Moshoeshoe heard this, he found a rock to sit on and said: “Ka ‘Mamamile, Maanya ha a tlatsoe e se noka!” The rest as they say, its history, Makhabane died in that battle!

Question of interest: why did Moshoeshoe let his brother die? There is the obvious response, Moshoeshoe was a man of principle, he did offer to help but was snubbed blah blah! Indeed he was a man of principle but my thesis is he was aware that with Makhabane alive his rise to power and greatness might not be possible. Makhabane being senior, protocol allowed that at anytime he could go into Moshoeshoe’s land and take over. With that in mind and being the Mokoena 1 he is, he merely seized the opportunity!

Whatever my thesis is, make no doubt, I am in awe of Moshoeshoe and I shall in the next posting give my reasons. And yes, I have no problems with the fact that Moshoeshoe thought ‘Maanya anya koana’ 😳 (to hell with Maanya)! For I think one should always accept help when it is offered or at the very least be polite in refusing the help.

  1. Remember that Bakuena by nature make excellent businessmen and/or politicians, so it was easy to rationalise the death of his brother to be but a means to an end. In any case, lets not forget the ‘ever- talked- about’ rivalry that exists between siblings of different households (‘bana ba sethepung’)!

Part 2: Moshoeshoe I’s meeting with Chief Mohlomi

The role of initiation in the past was to transform boys and girls into responsible men and women with a strong sense of duty to serve both their family and community. As I understand, Moshoeshoe indeed came out of initiation transformed although not necessarily clear about how he will ‘serve’ his family and community. But this is not at all surprising since wisdom comes with age. His grandfather Peete (who obviously had lived long enough to have gained wisdom) decided to take him to see Chief Mohlomi, a man often referred as a sage and the greatest healer of his time.

When Chief Mohlomi met Moshoshoe (then called Lepoqo or Letlama) he embraced (or hugged) him in a manner only fitting for a great leader. In addition, he gave Moshoeshoe an earring (in those days the ‘great men’ put earrings as a symbol of power… ). This surprised many since Moshoeshoe was but a son of a minor chief. However, coming from Chief Mohlomi this was interpreted as a prophecy that Moshoeshoe will in the future be a leader of note.

In this meeting, Moshoeshoe asked Mohlomi the secret of great leadership. He posed his question in the following manner: “setlhare sa ho haha motse ke se fe?” (non literal translation: what is the medicine for building a formidable ’empire’?) . To this question, the great sage responded by saying there is no such medicine, the only true medicine is the heart. (“Motse ha o hauoe ka setlhare, sethlare ke pelo”). Chief Mohlomi went on to give Moshoeshoe the following commandments centred on using the heart to rule (I will try to explain them a bit but my interpretation might not be that good :():

  1. O ba rate – love them: this is obvious I hope 🙂 ! Love breeds compassion and generosity. Further, love promotes peace—for even fight when governed by love it is not just a mere fight; it is an exercise of seeking understanding. Consider, for example, fights between parents and their children.
  2. O ba tsebe – know them: In knowing the people, the sage was alluding to the importance of appreciating that all individuals are different and necessarily need to be treated as such. As far as Mohlomi was concerned, this appreciation was fundamental in a establishing true justice. For example, fining a rich man six cows might seem like a slap on the wrist while to a poor man that might be a different story all together!
  3. O ba nyalle – marry for them: Ok, let me start by saying those were the days when polygomy was official not unofficially endorsed with a clause: ‘be discreet’! That said, I will try to delicately deconstruct this ‘commandment’. First it is important to remember that at the heart of Chief Mohlomi’s advice to Moshoeshoe was promotion of peace (and love of course). So using this as a premise for peace, by marrying for his people Moshoeshoe would in a sense be uniting them since marriage unites families. Following this advice, Moshoeshoe married well over a hundred women from different clans and tribes. (By the way, I am well aware that this might come as shock to others but I have been reliably told that the figure is probably a very modest estimate.) So how did he handle having so many wives? Well in the spirit of delicacy I will answer by posing yet another question. If in every society not all men are rich, and to marry a man needs to pay ‘lobola’; how can each man have a wife? Alternatively put, how does one expect a poor man to get married?

    a) Marry for them because as the Chief you are indeed the richest man in the land.
    b) Let them not have wives of their own and deal with the inevitability of them trespassing into other men’s territories, i.e. “ho kena ts’imomg tsa banna ba bang”.
    c) None of the above.

  4. Balimo ba hao u ba hopole kamehla – remember your ancestors always: The idea embodied in this statement is that one has to believe in a greater power than themselves. As a result one has to constantly be grateful for their existance.

The above are the core commandments given to Moshoeshoe by Chief Mohlomi. And, it is safe to say that Moshoeshoe indeed worked hard to make these ‘commandments’ his principles of leadership and his continuous growth. Consequently, he was nothing like the ‘boy’ he was before initiation; a boy that believed a great deal in his own strength (due to strong physique).

Part 1: Moshoeshoe I, the early years

August is officially the beginning of the Basotho year. It is a month for planting new crops and thus a month for new beginnings. In marking the beginning of ‘this year’, I thought I should write a blog each week for this month dedicated to the founder of the Basotho nation, Moshoeshoe I.

Moshoeshoe I was born 1870 and was named Lepoqo. A name that means disasters; for he was born in a period of no rain – this is emphasised because of the direct link to Basotho motto Khotso-Pula-Nala (Peace-Rain-Prosperity). Growing up, it is my opinion that Lepoqo was a ‘delinquent’ based on stories of him taking advantage of his strong physique to bully his peers. One such story suggests that he nearly clobbered to death a young man for ‘consuming’ milk from his favourite cow.

However, the man after going through initiation, he became a changed man. Reflecting on the period before his initiation, it is claimed that Moshoeshoe said:

‘Ke ne ke luma borena bo boholo!’

Roughly translated, he felt vibrations (or perhaps echoes) in him signalling a destiny of great leadership. So whilst bullying was not appropriate, he was in some sense trying to get the other boys to respect him (for the vibrations and echoes of power he felt in him).

The above is indeed who Lepoqo was before becoming Letlama (a name he got after initiation) or Moshoeshoe for that matter!