The Ba­sotho’s re­venge

We con­tinue learn­ing about the Ba­sotho in this week’s ex­tract from the pop­u­lar and fas­ci­nat­ing se­ries Our Story, which tells the his­tory of all South Africans. Read about how Moshesh at­tempts to make his head­quar­ters, the great plateau of Thaba Bo­siu, a p

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Moshoeshoe 2: Chief and States­man South African Her­itage Pub­lish­ers 48 pages, il­lus­trated R100

By the sum­mer of 1829, about 5 000 peo­ple were liv­ing on or around Thaba Bo­siu, un­der the rule of Moshesh. Be­cause of the sim­i­lar na­ture of the tribes, most of the peo­ple started re­fer­ring to them­selves as Ba­sotho or Sotho peo­ple, and to Moshesh’s king­dom as Le­sotho. Grad­u­ally, the clan name Bamokoteli fell into dis­use. At that time, Moshesh was given a horse. It was the first horse he had ever come across. Lipholo, Moorosi’s dig­ni­tary who pre­sented the an­i­mal to Moshesh, ex­plained that it had been taken from a white man near Dor­drecht. At first, Moshesh rode the horse hold­ing long poles like walk­ing sticks to sta­bilise him­self. He soon, how­ever, be­came a skilled rider.

Dur­ing that pe­riod, among the many new­com­ers to Thaba Bo­siu was Chief Letele, son of the seer, Mahlomi. Soon Moshesh fell out with his brothers, Poshuli and Makha­bane, over his gen­eros­ity in giv­ing Letele’s brother a large num­ber of live­stock. Un­happy about the gift, Moshesh’s brothers se­cretly went and forcibly brought back the an­i­mals. When Letele in­sisted that Moshesh’s brother Poshuli be ex­e­cuted be­cause he had il­le­gally re­taken the live­stock, he was fu­ri­ous when Moshesh re­fused. “Thaba Bo­siu is a place of peace, not a hyena’s lair,” Moshesh said by way of ex­plain­ing his de­ci­sion not to kill Poshuli.

As a re­sult, Letele gath­ered his peo­ple and an­grily led them down the Khubela Pass, headed for Tha­bana Morena. There he tried to per­suade Chief Mo­jak­isane to join him in over­throw­ing Moshesh. But the dis­in­ter­ested leader ig­nored Letele, so he moved on. It wasn’t long be­fore he linked up with a band of cut-throats, known as the Ko­ranna, and their leader, Hen­drik Hen­driks.

The Ko­ranna had once lived in parts of the Cape Colony un­til they had come into con­flict with the colo­nial jus­tice sys­tem. They then mi­grated north­wards, driv­ing huge herds of cat­tle, sheep, goats and horses they had stolen from Boer farm­ers and Xhosa chiefs. They were a mixed-race group who spoke Dutch and dressed in Euro­pean clothes. The Ko­ranna set­tled be­yond the Or­ange River. They were of­ten seen on the Colony’s north­ern fron­tiers, where they traded stock for arms and am­mu­ni­tion.

The Ko­ranna even­tu­ally split into groups of ban­dits. Dur­ing the Di­faqane wars, they haunted the plains of South Africa, mer­ci­lessly mur­der­ing and rob­bing the Sotho-speak­ing clans. In 1830, not long af­ter Letele left Thaba Bo­siu, Moshesh came face to face with them. It was his first bat­tle with an en­emy on horse­back who car­ried guns.

When Letele met up with Hen­driks, he even­tu­ally con­vinced him to in­vade Le­sotho. They set out for Thaba Bo­siu with a large band of his rough men. When they got close, they camped on Qeme hill. They started fill­ing them­selves up on goats’ meat and sorghum beer.

What the Ko­ranna did not know was that Moshesh had been warned of their at­tempted at­tack. Moshesh sent war­riors un­der the com­mand of the ca­pa­ble Mak­wanyane to deal with the Ko­ranna. The Ba­sotho ar­rived at Hen­driks’ camp un­der cover of dark­ness, to find his men ei­ther drunk or sleep­ing. They at­tacked the un­pre­pared Ko­ranna, killing most of them with­out a sin­gle shot be­ing fired. How­ever, Hen­driks and a ser­vant, Rolf Dikoor, man­aged to es­cape un­no­ticed into the dark­ness.

The fail­ure of Hen­driks’ lit­tle ad­ven­ture cre­ated anx­i­ety among the var­i­ous Ko­ranna set­tle­ments. None of them could ac­cept that armed Ko­ranna on horse­back could have been slaugh­tered by Moshesh’s Ba­sotho, car­ry­ing only as­segais, bat­tle axes and sticks. One of the Ko­ranna lead­ers, Pii, was so en­raged that he de­cided to at­tack Thaba Bo­siu. No one out­side his own gang would sup­port him, but this did not seem to bother him.

When he reached Le­sotho, Pii pitched camp in a val­ley not far from the Mokhachane Pass. But again, be­fore the Ko­ranna could or­gan­ise and pre­pare, they were at­tacked by the Ba­sotho led again by the for­mi­da­ble Mak­wanyane. Pii’s Ko­ranna were well and truly beaten. Most of them man­aged to mount their horses and ride away, but many were killed be­fore they could es­cape.

Af­ter their suc­cesses against the Ko­ranna, the Ba­sotho tended not to take the threat they posed too se­ri­ously. At least un­til a com­mando of Ko­ranna un­der Piet Witvoet also stole three hun­dred of Moshesh’s best cat­tle from a cave near Thaba Bo­siu. They also mur­dered many herds­men in the at­tack.

News of the suc­cess­ful raid and the death of many of his men filled Moshesh with worry. He re­alised that as long as the Ko­ranna saw the Ba­sotho as en­e­mies, Thaba Bo­siu and his peo­ple were go­ing to be vul­ner­a­ble to at­tack. As was his usual way, he de­cided to try and win their friend­ship. But he was re­fused at ev­ery turn. Many of his mes­sen­gers were killed, and some never even reached their des­ti­na­tions to de­liver mes­sages. To buy the books, ask your near­est book­seller to or­der copies if they do not stock the se­ries, or con­tact the pub­lish­ers at info@sa­her­itagepub­lish­ers.co.za For a full list of ti­tles in the se­ries, visit sa­her­itagepub­lish­ers.co.za For up­dates and more in­for­ma­tion, fol­low Our Story on Face­book at face­book.com/an­ces­torsto­ries or on Twit­ter at @sa­her­itagepub

Our com­pe­ti­tion is now closed. Con­grat­u­la­tions to last week’s win­ner, Bub­bles Busakwe from King Wil­liam’s Town. AN­SWER: Pewter and lead

THE GIFT Moshesh was pre­sented with his first horse by Lipholo, Moorosi’s dig­ni­tary

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