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History of the Basotho
European Influx
Resumption of Direct Rule & Independence
Basotho’s Unique Culture
From Menkhoaneng to Thaba-Bosiu:

European Influx

Arrival of Missionaries 

In the late 1820s a new threat came to the clans occupying the Mohokare valley. Groups of Khoikhoi, known as Kora, appeared led by Dutch-speaking people of mixed descent. Many were mounted on horseback and armed with guns. The Basotho again had to take refuge on their mountain-tops and in remote rock- shelters, which horses could not easily reach. Horses had never before been seen in Lesotho.

Moshoeshoe decided to obtain horses and guns for his own people. Also, after hearing of the advantages that other clans derived from having a resident missionary, Moshoeshoe sent cattle to induce a missionary to stay with him. In fact, Moshoeshoe also hoped that the mission- aries would help him to acquire guns and thus prevent the depredations of the Kora.

In this way three missionaries of the Paris Evangelical Missionary Society (PEMS) - Thomas Arbousset, Eugene Casalis and Constant Gosselin - came to Thaba Bosiu in 1833. Moshoeshoe placed them with his two senior sons, Letsie and Molapo, at Makhoarane, the site of the present-day Morija.

The arrival of the missionaries had far- reaching effects on the life of the people. Potatoes, 'wheat, fruit trees and domesti cats and pigs were introduced. Before long the missionaries had opened schools and printed books in the Sesotho language.

The French missionaries did not belong to any of the colonising white groups of southern Africa and were accepted as citizens of Moshoeshoe's kingdom. In fact, Eugene Casalls had a role similar to that of a Foreign Minister for the period 1837 - 55 while living in a mission at the foot of Thaba Bosiu . His knowledge of the outside world proved invaluable to Moshoeshoe during the period when white settlers began to threaten his kingdom.

Two Missionaries of the Paris Evangelical Missionary Society (PEMS),

Eugene Casalis (left) and Thomas Arbousset, who played an important role in the early history of Basotho.

White Settlers 

This new and powerful group, the white people from the Cape Colony, began crossing the Orange River in large numbers in the mid-1830s. They trekked in ox-waggons, lived partly by hunting and eventually some settled as farmers on land within Moshoeshoe's Kingdom and in adjacent areas. For the Basotho the next thirty years was a time when only the statesmanship and diplomacy of Moshoeshoe saved their nation from extinction.

A Treaty made with the Governor of the Cape in 1843 recognised Moshoeshoe as an ally, with duties to maintain order in a large area north of the Orange River. In return he would,receive a sum of $75 per year from the Colonial Treasury. In 1845 this was replaced by a second Treaty which recognised white settlement on part of Moshoeshoe's territory, but without clearly defining boundaries.

In 1848 the Orange River Sovereignty was proclaimed, making the area between the Orange and Vaal Rivers British territory. A British Residents Major Warden, was placed in charge at the newly founded town of Bloemfontein. Major Warden was instructed to delineate boundaries between the different chiefs, a procedure quite unacceptable to the Basotho who regarded the Barolong, the Griqua and the white farmers as settled on part of their own territory. Warden's boundary line aroused such resentment that the two sides resorted to arms. After attacks had been made on the Bataung of Moletsane, allies of Moshoeshoe, the Basotho came to their aid. At the Battle of Tihela, near Ladybrand, in 1851, a crushing defeat was delivered on Major Warden's force which included Barolong, Batlokoa, Griqua and white farmers.

A blow such as this to British prestige aroused a predictable reaction, and it was decided that Moshoeshoe should be punished. No less a personage than the High Commissioner for the Cape Colony, Lieutenant-General Sir George Cathcart brought 2 000 troops and in December 1852 camped with them near the Mohokare River, opposite the present site of Maseru. The Basotho were ordered to pay within three days a fine of 10 000 head of cattle and I 000 horses. Moshoeshoe, who always preferred peace to war, met Cathcart at his camp to request peace, but to no avail.

Only a third of the required cattle had been brought in at the expiry of the deadline, and Cathcart began military operations against Moshoeshoe. His force split into three columns, one of which soon mounted the Berea Plateau to round up cattle. As the 12th Royal Lancers were driving the cattle down from the Plateau on the north side, a force under Moshoeshoe's son, Molapo, attacked from the rear, and the British troops suffered heavy losses. That evening the Basotho further harassed Cathcart's men and caused the captured animals to stampede and break away. Meanwhile, realising that more was to be gained by diplomacy than by continuing the fight, Moshoeshoe sent Cathcart a letter which enabled him to withdraw without feeling that he had to avenge a defeat.

Cathcart and his force withdrew. Shortly afterwards Moshoeshoe defeated his old rival Sekonyela, and the entire upper Mohokare Valley came under his direct control.

The Orange Free State 

The expense of maintaining the Orange River Sovereignty proved too much for the British Government in London, and in 1854 the British withdrew from Bloemfontein, handing over responsibility to the newly proclaimed Orange Free State Republic of the Boers.

At first relations with Lesotho were cordial and at one point Moshoeshoe himself was a guest in Bloemfontein, but this did not last for long. The boundaries left undefined at the time of the British withdrawal soon led to armed conflict in Senekal's War of 1858. The result on the Basotho side was loss of life and destruction of mission stations, while the Orange Free State troops lost heavily in an ambush near Thabana-Morena, in what is now the Mafeteng District.

Seqiti War and British Annexation 

For the next few years an uneasy peace prevailed. Moshoeshoe, real'ising his precarious position, sought British protection from Sir Philip Wodehouse, the new High Commissioner, who arrived in the Cape in 1861. Hostilities with the Orange Free State again broke out in the Seqiti War of 1865. Thaba Bosiu was itself besieged but not taken and a boer commandant, Louw Wepener, was killed, during an assault on the mountain.

A short armistice followed during which Moshoeshoe renewed his entreaties to Wodehouse for protection. In 1867 Free State forces again overran much of Moshoeshoe's land and conquered almost every lowland fortress except Thaba Bosiu.

In this hour of crisis, Sir Philip Wodehouse finally secured the permission of the British Cabinet to annex the country. On 12 March 1868, Moshoeshoe's prayer was granted, and by proclamation of Sir Philip Wodehouse, Lesotho became a British territory.

Moshoeshoe died in 1870 soon after seeing his country saved. He was buried as have been nearly all principal chiefs since, in the graveyard on the summit of Thaba-Bosiu.

The after-effects of the war were serious. Casualties had been heavy, missionaries expelled and mission stations taken over, livestock lost, and, worst of all, a large area of land had been annexed by the Orange Free State. In the Convention of Aliwal North of February 1869, the boundaries of Lesotho were laid down in their present form.

The British protection sought by Moshoeshoe proved to be a mixed blessing, for Britain found it convenient to annex Lesotho to the Cape Colony which in 1872 was granted internal self- government by London. The move was unfortunate for Lesotho, since the Cape Colony soon began to apply to Lesotho the same laws and methods which it found convenient for administering other areas already annexed by force.

Matters came to a head with the imposition of the "Peace Preservation Act", by which all fire-arms were to be surrendered. Within a few months the whole countryside was in open rebellion.

The Gun War of 1880-81 cost the Cape Government dearly in men and money. Civil strife created further administrative problems. By 1883 chronic misgovernment induced the Cape Government to request Britain to restore direct rule over Lesotho, in return for which it was even prepared to pay any deficit in the annual recurrent budget.
 

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