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: Forging the BaSotho Nation (Book 1 of 3)


This book is the first in a series of three stories about Moshoeshoe and begins with his childhood. As a young boy Moshoeshoe preferred talking through problems rather than fighting about them. But he soon realized that he had to be strong and often ruthless to gain the respect of his followers and, more importantly, his enemies. Our story tells how he grew into a hard, uncompromising, but just and wise leader.


Moshoeshoe Book 1

We meet Moshoeshoe(Moshesh) at a time when news of his settlement on ThabaBosiu had spread. People came from far and wide, refugees looking for food and shelter. Not all people came in peace, however, and Moshoeshoe and his people were threatened on more than one occasion. Matiwane had survived the time of the difaqane by being an aggressor, and when he moved into the area it meant trouble for Moshoeshoe and his people.

Matiwane, Chief of the amaNgwane, had profited by the difaqane wars, and now decided to settle in the territory stretching from the Caledon River to Bethlehem. This was close to the Bamokoteli, who were understandably nervous about the possible threat from the amaNgwane. Some of the newcomers that Moshoeshoe had taken in even left to join the amaNgwane. Chief Matiwane’s army was greatly feared.

A herd boy came across the body of a slain warrior.

Moshesh sent tribute to Matiwane, hoping to foster friendship and peace. On arriving at the kraal known as Senyotong, Moshesh’s messengers were questioned about ThabaBosiu’s defences and the force of the Bamokoteli army. Matiwane told the Bamokoteli messengers that ThabaBosiu would be left alone on condition that Moshesh continued to pay tribute to the InkosiYamakhosi – Matiwane, king of kings.

A medicine man used the dead warrior to create a magic war potion that would help protect the Bamokoteli from the amaNgwane.

One day a herd boy descending one of the passes to the base of ThabaBosiu came across a slain warrior. Horrified, he quickly ran back to tell everyone, including Moshoeshoe. The messengers who had returned from Senyotong identified the dead warrior as belonging to the amaNgwane. It was one of Matiwane’s half-brothers, Madilika. They saw that Madilika had died from an assegai wound. From the state of the dried blood and the corpse, they concluded that he must have died there the previous night.

Moshesh ordered the body to be covered and wrapped in oxhide and carried up the hill. He did not want news of this death reaching Matiwane. At the top of the hill Mobe, a medicine man, used the dead warrior to create a magic war potion that would help protect the Bamokoteli from the amaNgwane.

The flat-topped mountain of ThabaBosiu proved to be easy to defend.What had really happened was that Matiwane had ordered Madilika to be killed. He had fled to ThabaBosiu, hoping to convince the Bamokoteli messengers, who he had met a few days before, to provide him with safety. But one of the amaNgwane trackers had found Madilika, fought with him and stabbed him, but Madilika managed to get away. He died climbing one of the passes up to the summit of ThabaBosiu. The tracker had returned to Matiwane and told him of the wound he had inflicted, but that he had also lost track of Madilika in the darkness of the night. Matiwane quickly sent out scouts. Madilika was to be captured, brought back and executed.

However, before the scouts had even reached Caledon Valley, they were told of Madilika’s death and that his body had been moved. Matiwane was greatly angered. He sent messengers to Moshesh, demanding that he must immediately return Madilika’s corpse and any medicine that may have been made from his body. Moshesh said he knew nothing of this Madilika, and that he may have been taken by cannibals.

Matiwane sent a message – that the amaNgwane would destroy the Bamokoteli and they would capture and kill Moshesh

But Moshesh was concerned. He recognised the power of Matiwane. He had survived the difaqane wars not by fleeing, but by attacking. Even after the war, the amaNgwane army was still strong. Moshesh told the kgotla that the Bamokoteli were to seek safety as one of Matiwane’s serving tribes. He sent a great tribute comprising jackal karosses, snuff, grain and other items. But Matiwane did not trust the tribute. He sent it back saying that it had been bewitched by the Bamokoteli medicine men. With the rejection of the tribute, he also sent a message – that the amaNgwane would destroy the Bamokoteli and they would capture and kill Moshesh.

Moshesh sent some senior men of the Bamokoteli with Makwanyane, along with some cattle to try and change Matiwane’s mind. Matiwane took the cattle as payment for Madilika’s body, but said he was still determined to destroy the Bamokoteli. Moshesh decided he must make a plan to protect the Bamokoteli, and so he decided to seek out Shaka Zulu. Shaka and the Zulu were not only powerful, they were also known to be enemies of Matiwane. Moshesh sent a group of Bamokoteli men to where Shaka was staying at the time, the Gibixhegu military kraal.

Moshoeshoe sent messengers to offer tribute to Shaka.

The Bamokoteli presented Shaka with a tribute of lion and leopard skins, elephant tusks and great plumes of feathers. They told King Shaka that Moshesh wanted to be of service when he was needed. They also told him that even though it took them three weeks to reach the Zulu kraal, for they lived west of the Drakensberg region, they would continue to send tribute to Shaka.

Shaka responded by telling his kgotla that Moshesh was wise to do so. The Bamokoteli were to deliver tribute every full moon to prove that Moshesh was trustworthy. Then Shaka said to Poho, leader of the Bamokoteli group of messengers, that the Zulu would never steal any Bamokoteli cattle. He even sent fifty oxen with them for Moshesh.

The next full moon, the Bamokoteli returned to the Zulu kraal with tribute and Shaka sent them back with a hundred oxen for Moshesh. Moshesh was greatly pleased with this development with the powerful Zulus. News of the partnership spread through the land. He thought this would prevent Matiwane from ever attacking…

Additional information

Dimensions215 × 234 mm