March 11 – Moshoeshoe Day in Lesotho

Posted on March 11, 2014

Lesotho is a pretty small nation—about the size of Maryland—that is entirely surrounded by the much larger nation of South Africa.

Why is this small chunk within another nation counted as a separate nation?

Moshoeshoe I
A long time ago, in the 1800s, there were some Bantu-speaking Sotho people whose chief had a son called Moshoeshoe. At age 34 Moshoeshoe formed his own clan and became its chief. He built up his chiefdom mostly through diplomacy; he took in refugees from the warlike Zulu, and he gave land and protection to the victims of war and even to his beaten enemies.

Lesotho scenery
Dutch people (Boers) from the nearby Cape Colony came to settle on Sotho lands. The Boers had guns. Moshoeshoe knew he needed help dealing with these white people, and he welcomed some French missionaries as interpreters and advisers. Again mostly through diplomacy, he managed to prevent his chiefdom from being swallowed up by the Boers. Eventually Moshoeshoe asked Queen Victoria to make his lands a British protectorate, so that they could remain independent of the South African nation.

Moshoeshoe died on this date in 1870, and March 11 has ever since then been dedicated to his memory.

The Kingo of Lesotho pays tribute to
Moshoeshoe I on Moshoeshoe Day.

In 1966 this small nation gained independence from Britain and was named the Kingdom of Lesotho.

A hero even outside of Lesotho...

Nelson Mandela
I wondered if Nelson Mandela, who was born decades after Moshoeshoe died, had found inspiration in Moshoeshoe's diplomatic and reconciliatory form of leadership. As I poked around the internet, I found that, in at least one speech, Mandela mentioned King Moshoeshoe as a hero he'd heard about as a child. I also discovered something written by South African Max du Preez about Moshoeshoe:

A century from now historians will still write about Mandela’s spectacular role in bringing freedom, stability and democracy to South Africa....

But they probably won’t record that he wasn’t the first remarkably wise and inspirational leader to emerge from this land. King Moshoeshoe (1787 – 1870) springs to mind. Unlike his more aggressive contemporaries like King Shaka and Chief Mzilikazi, he avoided war, gathered people from many clans and language groups to form a new inclusive nation and stabilized central South Africa at a time of great turmoil and bloodshed. Pure Mandela.

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