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The day in memory and honour of King Moshoeshoe I -March 11th

  • Posted on March 30, 2012

With the view and perception that culture makes an indispensable part of people’s lives and is an important source of the nation’s vitality and creativity and constitutes a key factor uniting the nations while making it distinctive from other nations, once again in history, Basotho held national celebrations and commemoration of their founder, King Moshoeshoe I on the 11th of March. Annually he is historicized and remembered in multifaceted ways and this year the commemoration was characterized by styles that are part of the country’s contemporary cultural landscapes. This day is aimed at rebuilding and uniting Basotho not only in Lesotho but Basotho as a nation all over the globe. 11th March marks the day on which Moshoeshoe died and this used to be celebrated on the 12th which was wrongly believed to be his birth date.  Born in about 1786 in Menkhoaneng, he was raised and known as Lepoqo, the name serving as an archive documenting the domestic dispute of the time when Moshoeshoe was born. This was during the time when what was in the name mattered in the Sesotho culture as they (names) where significant tools through which major national calamities could be documented and safeguarded as lessons for future generations. 

The celebrations in honour of Moshoeshoe transcended borders as Basotho in some parts of South Africa were also part and parcel of the beat as among others Thaba-Bosiu Mokhorong oa Khotla horse racing competition was organized in honour of the big name in Botshabelo, in the Free State. Further, to cement the idea that Moshoeshoe and his legacy have invaded hearts of many Basotho beyond the Lesotho borders, he was tributed and remembered with great enthusiasm as Basotho in Qwa-Qwa in the Free State were no exception in rekindling memory of this icon. In Matatiele too, Basotho could not be left out during Moshoeshoe’s celebrations where they commemorated with performances. Among important significances of the day was an urge to Basotho to promote and preserve their identity and an advice for the promotion of Sesotho language owing to the fact that language serves as a strong engine in defining the society. So this makes it crystal clear that it is our obligation to protect valuable heritage of our ancestors and carry forward the ancient civilization.

In Lesotho, on this Public holiday, other than in other parts of the country where celebrations took platform, under the theme of ‘peace’, major symbolic celebrations by the government dignitaries were held at Thaba-Bosiu (the national monument) and later at the Lesotho Evangelical Church at Thaba-Bosiu which houses among other national treasures the stool that Moshoeshoe, himself used when he was at this church. At the national monument, the Prime Minister and His Majesty King laid a wreath at the grave of King Moshoeshoe I. Other functions of the day included the traditional performances showcasing Lesotho’s cultural diversity. These events seek to insert identity into the country’s landscape. To further cement the weight at which Moshoeshoe and his legacy still scoop the landscape among Basotho is through the pictorial symbolism and representation that he continues to win hearts of many as evident in the local brands.

Who is King Moshoeshoe I by the way?  He is son of Mokhachane and was born in Menkhoaneng in around 1786 known as Lepoqo, the name which meant to mark the social calamity of conflict that has erupted in his community at the time he was born.  He was later known as Moshoeshoe, named after the victory verse lyrics he composed after raiding 500 cattle of Moeletsi, the nearby chief as he was imitating the scarping sound of the razor, ‘shoe-shoe-shoe’ to portray his victory. At the age of nineteen in 1805, he was initiated into manhood and he was thus named Letlama and Tlaputle.

During the Lifaqane wars, Moshoeshoe and his people embarked on the great trek from Menkhoaneng to Thaba-Bosiu in 1824 and it taxed them nine days. Thaba-Bosiu (translated mountain at night), according to the local popular belief was that this high mountain plateau elevated during night and took the shape of a high fortress and that’s is why it provided a great defense during the various wars including the third war against Free State in 1868. Claims made are that Moshoeshoe chose this place because he regarded it as the stronger natural fortress and also owing to the fact that it was on the left bank of the Caledon River and as a result less open to invaders from Natal. It is then in this light that Thaba-bosiu is imbued with great significance in the history of Basotho. It is, among others, referred to as a Sion of Basotho and celebrations like these of Moshoeshoe at this spot give Basotho opportunity to renew vows with their great hero. This is a landscape that serves as a symbol of nation building and has a historical significance in the history of Basotho as the mountain is strongly associated with the formation of the Basotho nation. It is on this plateau where Moshoeshoe showcased his military prowess and diplomatic skills as he repelled his enemies and attracted other nations as his people and other chieftainships as his partners. This space owing to the intangible cultural wealth it is pregnant with was declared a national monument in 1967.

The grave of Moshoeshoe I on top of the mountain also contribute to the site’s sacracy, hence why multitudes of Basotho flood to the site during major national catastrophes. Having laid out the weight of significance the site has in the national history and nation-building, laying wrath on the grave of Chief Moshoeshoe by the National Leaders was to rekindle social and cultural ties with the space. This ancestral spot has both a symbolic value and historical significance at it contributed in the Basotho nation-building, hence why the National department of Culture is putting efforts to ensure the area is awarded the status it deserves as it has all the fabric to get global recognition. It serves as a memorial and constant reminder of who Basotho are and where they were ‘manufactured and imagined’ as a nation. It is a commemorative site and thus the birthplace of Lesotho.  It is in this light that it is considered sacred and a ‘faraway’ land of many miracles and prophecy.

          Grave of King Moshoeshoe I -Courtesy of National Department of Culture

Most significantly, memory initiatives are platforms in which human beings come to make sense in their identity and their relationship with one another. So conscious of this, and to ensure the memory of this hero does not fade away, the National Department of Culture in partnership with the Lesotho History Teacher’s Association organized a special lecture for high school students at the Lesotho National Library where Moshoeshoe, his legacy and ideology were unpacked in order to keep his memory among young people vibrant. This was an effort to preserve Lesotho’s cultural history and identity as Basotho. A special lecture on Moshoeshoe, his ideologies, legacy and discourse were unpacked in order to reinforce and supplement the school history curriculum. The lecture suggested various angles of interpretation. It also contributes immensely towards the process of memorialisation and a deeper understanding of Basotho nation-building. 
The day’s events on the 11th of March also coincided with the three-day annual heritage route taken in the footsteps of this hero from his home place to where he founded the nation called Basotho, the Menkoaneng to Thaba-Bosiu heritage route, which was in its sixth edition this year. The event attracts tourists from all over Africa and other parts of the globe. It seeks to retrace the path the founder of the Basotho has taken as he sought best refuge for his people. This is the hardcore heritage route in the trace of where Basotho come from.

Annually Moshoeshoe is commemorated for his power and wisdom and this is celebrated with traditional attire with so much pride as March is very significant in the history of Lesotho and Basotho as it excavates the memory of Moshoeshoe and his legacy. He is described by some as remarkable character of a man who practiced diplomacy in an unforgettable worldwide statesman.  This is the man who gathered and gave refuge to different ethnic groups during the Lifaqane wars and out of these ‘various’ communities he ‘brewed’ the Basotho. It is in this light that the public holiday, Moshoeshoe’s day, is one of the important landmarks of Lesotho to celebrate the triumph of Moshoeshoe’s diplomacy. What made and still continue to make him outstanding was his strong belief that gaining wisdom and power as a leader, one has to first acquire qualities of clarity of mind, goodness of heart and service to one’s fellow-man. This is what made him a great king with reputation for nobility and fairness.

Lesotho’s rich musical wealth is one of the pathways through which the memory of Moshoeshoe has been kept alive over the years. This then poses a question to our leaders with regard to making efforts to ensure their names get archived and documented and become educational memories to instill their ideologies in the coming generations. What positive traces do they leave behind in order to be commemorated by generations to come? What sketches do they leave to be celebrated through music, memory, and heritage or otherwise? What legacies do they leave archived locally and regionally for coming generations, or has this caliber been destroyed by the ideology of democracy? Who will be like Moshoeshoe who has even transcended the borders as he still scoops platform in foreign cultural landscapes like the Museum Africa in Johannesburg?

These commemorations stamp the idea that culture is a productive power that not only shapes human concepts and impacts their behavior, but also contributes in no small measure to the betterment of their material as well as spiritual world. 

Sebinane Lekoekoe is a Senior Archivist at the Lesotho National Archives. He writes in his personal capacity.

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  • Wow bro, this is gr8. I’m happy for u.

    By Realeboha on 05/04/2012
  • Amazing. Valuable info.

    By Ntseliseng on 12/04/2012
  • i respect basoto culture n m so much in luv wht a sotho gal Moroesi Moshoeshoe!!!!!!

    By forget mags on 27/09/2012
  • well done

    By Boisel;o Nkamane on 08/01/2013
  • I love Lesotho and Basotho!

    By Mocheku Rabohlale on 11/03/2013
  • I was born & bred in Lesotho and I’ll always be proud of Lesotho; but I’ll not keep quiet when the truth about Lesotho’s history is distorted.  Moshoeshoe’s Day never had anything to do with Lepoqo’s birth and it will never have anything to do with his death either.  The Basotho Nation that raised me, celebrated Moshoeshoe’s Day on the 12th day of March to commemorate the day on which Britain proclaimed Lesotho as its protectorate or colony on 12 March 1868.  This is the history that we and those who were before us knew.  If anyone ever celebrated this day (March 12) as Lepoqo’s birth, he/she was utterly deceived; and if the nation now wants to celebrate the death of the great founder king on March 11, let it not do so by telling lies about March 12, saying it wrongly commemorated as his birthday - NOTHING COULD BE FURTHER FROM THE TRUTH. The original Moshoeshoe’s Day had nothing to do with the birth of the great king; it had everything with Basotho securing protection from the Qween of England in 1868, on March 12.

    By Ntsoaki Qekisi-Sesing on 25/03/2013
  • It is a wonderful move when a platform like this engages with people from diverse angles and give them an opportunity to express their views regarding issues on hand. Having worked on a research on Basotho and with whom i continue to engage, i also came across the two versions of story regarding Moshoeshoe’s birth and death. The story interpreted here is also another version which can be authenticated by documents which i hope the author consulted before coming up with this story, as it is meant for the general public. For you Ntsaoki, i hope because of various interpretations regarding Moshoeshoe’s birth or death, you begin to realize that history is indeed made and re-made. I am scared of the word ‘distortion’. What the argument should be is how the day, named Moshoeshoe’s day was celebrated this year because this is the story regarding last year’s celebration. History can be interpreted and re-interpreted, as long as there is evidence. We are awaiting this year’s report on how the day was spent. Thank you Archival Platform Network for engaging us in these discussions.

    By Donna Lewis on 26/03/2013
  • posts that i make are always a result of extensive research and consultation with relevant sources from primary, secondary and oral.The Basotho that raised some of us should not give one one-sided story and ignore other versions, which indeed contribute to the richness of the various inscriptions on our history! No-one is distorting our history! we own and value our history inasmuch as those generations that came before us did! Another piece relating how Moshoeshoe’s day was honoured in 2013 should be featured in the next Archival Platform newsletter.

    By Sebinane Lekoekoe on 26/03/2013
  • Thanks for response - I have no issues at all with the birth & or death of King Moshoeshoe I; and what the nation wants to do with those dates.  My problem is the reason given for the change of dates - from 12 March to 11 March.  The Basotho Nation can do what they want to do with either or both days (birthday or death day); but my problem is the statement that the date was changed from March 12 to March 11 because originally, the former (March 12) had been erroneously celebrated in commemoration of the Moshoeshoe’s birthday - it is this statement that is not true.  The celebration on March 12 for all the years past was never to commemorate the birth of the great founder king; the Moshoeshoe’s Day made history for the first time for the Basotho in 1868 - The proclamation of Basutoland as British Protectorate on March 12, 1868.  Subsequent to this the 12th day of March became a day of celebration to commemorate this act by the British Monarchy, of binding itself to protect Basotho against their then attackers - the boers. I said, and I dare say it again, the celebrations on 12 March never had anything to do with Lepoqo’s birth; it had everything to do with what England did for the then desperate Basotho.  If we connect it (12 March) to his birth, we are distorting the truth.  The nation has already decided rather to honour the day of his death and to do it on the 11th of March; but to continue calling it Moshoeshoe’s Day anyway, even though the original Moshoeshoe’s Day was on March 12.  Let us be noble enough to give genuine reasons:  we now want to honour his death; no more the day on which the great king secured protection for us as a nation from England; however, we are going to continue calling it Moshoeshoe’s Day and we’ll do it on March 11.

    By Ntsoaki Qekisi-Sesing on 26/03/2013
  • Thanks very much for the precious info Sebinane. Let me also correct Ntsoaki that indeed the day, 11th was celebrated with the assumption that it marked Moshoeshoe’s date of birth. This was even said by our District Administrator on the launch of our cultural day to commemorate this hero on the 11th of march. I teach history and I am proud that the day was changed to the date that gives meaning to Basotho of today. However, invalidating the information with the other side of story knowm to you, would perhaps be more better if it would take a different shape-a thorough article! Archival Platform informs us so much culturally and historically because our Lesotho issues are always featured and this is so informational. I am a proud Mosotho and will forever be!

    By Seabata Mofokeng on 01/04/2013
  • I would like to get a copy of the king Moshoeshoe memorial lectures especially the one that was delivered by Mr Mathata Tsedu at UFS in Bloemfontein

    By Mamoe Makhetha on 05/04/2013
  • I rest my case; nobody understands/seems to my argument so far.

    By Ntsoaki Qekisi-Sesing on 23/04/2013
  • 12th of March was the day Lesotho got protection from England.
    11th of March is the day assumed to be the the Day on Which Moshoeshoe passed on.
    You may attack Ntsoaki but she’s coorect, remember History is there to be corrected.

    By Makau Molibeli on 20/03/2014
  • To suport NTSOAKI
    It must be noted that some of us have extensive documentation to dispute that 12 March was assumed to be the day Moshoeshoe passed away on.

    The Third Basotho War

    Brand demanded the hand over of the murderers, but Moshoeshoe stated that he had not agreed to the frontier line of 1866, and therefore the events had not occurred on Free State territory. In July 1867, the third war between the Free State and the Basotho in ten years began, and Boer forces overran Moshoeshoe’s land and conquered all the land except the impregnable fortress of Thaba Bosiu.

    The Free State forces had achieved great military success, and Moshoeshoe was compelled to ask for British assistance. Basutoland was then annexed on 12 March 1868, after Governor Wodehouse received instructions to negotiate with Moshoeshoe for the recognition of the Basotho as British subjects.

    On the 12 March 1868, the British parliament declared the Basotho Kingdom a British protectorate. The Orange Free State was forced to discontinue the war if it was not to raise trouble with the British Empire.

    In February 1869, the boundaries of present day Lesotho (previously Basutoland) were then drawn up according to the Convention of Aliwal-North. This convention gave the Conquered Territory to the Free State, and the boundary line was moved further south to Langeberg. No further armed conflict between the Free State and the Basotho took place after this.

    As a result, King Moshoeshoe was able to save his kingdom from being overrun by the Boers. King Moshoeshoe died two years in 1870, after the end of war, and was buried at the summit of Thaba Bosiu.

    By Makau Molibeli on 20/03/2014
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  • Makau Molibeli, thank you a million times for understanding my argument and not reading into it things not intended by it - nobody else seems to understand the logic behind my argument.

    All I’m saying is: if the Basotho nation wants to remember the birth/death of our founder king, let them call it something else, not Moshoeshoe’s Day. They can add his birthday or death day to the list of public holidays - no big deal; but let them not fiddle with the true history surrounding the Moshoeshoe’s Day - doing that is tantamount to ‘assassinating’ the history of the nation. Moshoeshoe’s Day is on 12 March and it can only be traced back to 1868, when Basotho kingdom became a British protectorate under Queen Victoria. Moshoeshoe’s Day has NEVER had anything to do with his birth or death, NEVER!

    I’m more than grateful for people like you, Makau,who are willing to swim against the wave, to uphold the truth.  One again, a million times ‘thank you’, Makau Molibeli.

    By Ntsoaki Qekisi-Sesing on 03/05/2014
  • Donna Lewis, I will not argue about how the day must be celebrated until we agree on the true history about the Moshoeshoe’s Day; the truth that every truthful Mosotho can testify to. I’m grateful for the likes of Makau Molibeli; he knows the history that our great grandparents knew - those who were there when these things (12 March 1868) happened.

    By Ntsoaki Qekisi-Sesing on 03/05/2014
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