Our Story

A series collects and retells the story of the ancestors of all South Africans.

Ancestral Voices

A recently discovered collection of writing of South African culture and history.

Moshoeshoe: Chief and Statesman (Book 2 of 3)


In this second in a series of three books, Moshoeshoe had grown into a wise and just leader, but he could be ruthless when called upon to defend his people. As more tribes entered the Caledon valley and with increasing numbers of white men travelling into the interior of Africa, Moshoeshoe found himself at times fighting against the Boers and then against the British, while always having to defend against other tribes that kept trying to defeat him.


Moshoeshoe Book 2

From this second book of three about Moshoeshoe (Moshesh), we read about this great statesman’s attempts to make ThabaBosiu a place of peace. Not everyone agreed with his decisions, though, and the Koranna were a disturbing force in the area at that time.

By the summer of 1829, about five thousand people were living on or around ThabaBosiu, 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.

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

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 ThabaBosiu was Chief Letele, son of the seer, Mahlomi. Very 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. “ThabaBosiu is a place of peace, not a hyena’s lair,” Moshesh said by way of explaining his decision not to kill Poshuli.

It wasn’t long before he linked up with a band of cut-throats, known as the Koranna

As a result, Letele gathered his people and angrily led them down the Khubela Pass, headed for ThabanaMorena. 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.

A large band of Koranna set out for ThabaBosiu

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 ThabaBosiu, 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 ThabaBosiu 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.

Moshesh had been warned, and prepared an attack on the unsuspecting Koranna

What the Koranna did not know was that Moshesh had been warned of their attempted attack. Moshesh sent warriors under the command of the very 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 amongst 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 ThabaBosiu. No-one outside his own gang would support him, but this did not seem to bother him.

The Koranna camped on Qemehille, not knowing that Moshesh had been warned of their attack.

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 ThabaBosiu. 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, ThabaBosiu 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.

Additional information

Dimensions215 × 234 mm