The descendants of King Moorosi — the formidable leader of the Baphuthi people who passed away in 1879 at Mount Moorosi in Quthing District — believe they are a marginalised people despite their ancestor’s celebrated role in the creation of Lesotho.
Time and again, King Moroosi has been documented as a courageous leader who fiercely resisted colonial rule in his territory.
A close ally of the founder of the Basotho nation, King Moshoeshoe I, during the “era of great wars of calamity” or Mfecane in the early 19th century, King Moorosi’s death, however, changed the destiny of his people who today live in the southern and central districts of Lesotho.
His descendants say it is not clear who killed their king, who they claim was at one point, branded a terrorist by the British government due to his tough stance against colonialism.
Some Baphuthi last week claimed King Moorosi could not bear being killed by British soldiers, and “having his head sent to England as a trophy and proof of his death, as was the fate of all ‘terrorists’”.
He is therefore said to have asked some of his fighters to kill him and bury his body in a secret place where the soldiers would never find his corpse, lest they cut off his head and send it to England.
To this day, King Moorosi’s burial site remains unknown, they say.
This piece of history and insight was narrated this week by Muthjeuku Khosi of the Lebandla Le Baphuthi — an association that represents the Baphuthi people in their quest for recognition — in a wide-ranging interview with the Lesotho Times.
LT: Is it a concern that King Moorosi’s contribution is not recognised in some quarters of present-day Lesotho?
Khosi: It is a major concern in our Lebandla Le Baphuthi Association, and also among the many Baphuthi people who understand King Moorosi’s contribution against colonialism and the price he and his subjects had to pay.
LT: How would you want him to be recognised?
Khosi: We would like people, the government and the senate, to accept that King Moorosi was not a paramount chief but a real King who had his own people and area he governed.
We would like all stakeholders to look back and honestly analyse the betrayal and injustice perpetrated against King Moorosi and his people.
As a result of that injustice, our King died, together with many other people who included Baphuthi, the Cape soldiers and members of some local tribes that had teamed up with Moorosi’s enemies.
This war against Baphuthi destroyed our identity because we lost what was rightfully ours.
We lost our kingship and control over our land and other resources, control over our people, our pride and true identity.
Foreign traditional leaders were imposed on us as payment for their contribution in the war against Baphuthi.
We would like the injustice perpetrated against us to be looked into and the wrongs done corrected. In short, we demand our due recognition as Baphuthi and the descendants of a great king.
Appointing members of the Moorosi royal family as the Paramount Chiefs of Quthing and Qacha’s Nek would be a good start.
LT: But this all happened more than 130 years ago. Why has this recognition not been forthcoming? Are the relevant authorities not listening to you?
Khosi: Firstly, you have to understand that what happened to Baphuthi continues to traumatise many descendants of King Moorosi.
We have inherited that trauma from our ancestors as the story was told to us.
This injustice has frightened those who came before us and, therefore, that past fear has also affected how these talks were previously handled.
However, it is also important for everyone to understand that we are not fighting anybody.
We were all not there when the 1879 war happened, but that does not make what happened right.
The truth of the matter is it was unfortunate that the war happened and our King died and his kingdom shared amongst the current traditional leadership.
There is both written and physical evidence that shows we had our own territory, which we controlled well before Basotho became inhabitants of this country.
This is undisputed written evidence, which unfortunately cannot be buried under the rocks and then people pretend nothing happened.
The traditional leadership system should be revised and areas overlooked rectified.
As Baphuthi, we are no longer afraid to say we want what belongs to us. We know the districts which were King Moorosi’s strongholds and so does everybody else.
The question, therefore, is why past governments refused to listen to us and to do the honourable thing? Why are we being undermined?
LT: Can you say there has been some resistance against rectifying your claims of historic wrongs or mistakes?
Khosi: Yes, there has been some resistance. Over the years, we have been to many offices and some of the resistance is subtle.
We get the sense that they don’t want this issue discussed and want it forgotten. Some authorities prefer to classify it as sensitive and I don’t understand what is sensitive about people asking for what is rightfully theirs.
It’s a traditional matter but those supposed to work on traditional issues don’t seem to have the power to do anything or pretend they cannot do anything.
I believe they keep hoping that one day, this Baphuthi issue will just go away and be forgotten or that we will get tired of demanding what rightfully belongs to us.
LT: But does the majority of the Baphuthi people care what happened and would you say they are bitter?
Khosi: I am bitter and I know of many other Baphuthi who are unhappy and very bitter about what happened.
It’s something that also impacts on a lot of other things, including the politics of this country.
Generally, the feeling is that our forefathers’ contribution against outside resistance is not recognised or counted to mean anything.
Could we then say it does not matter when the contribution of others who also lived during that time is celebrated?
On the other hand, our language, Sephuthi, is also not recognised in this country and that does not give us peace and a sense of belonging and dignity.
We would like Sephuthi to be made one of the official languages, which should also be taught in schools.
However, to show that we know what happened and care, we have also maintained our traditional leadership structures in which we have our own royal family of Baphuthi.
We also commemorate the day that King Moorosi died on November 18, 1879. Every year on June 28, Baphuthi from here and South Africa gather to celebrate our identity.
We also undertake a two-day walk from Herschel in South Africa to Masitise and finally Leloaleng Technikon in Quthing. This year, we are celebrating in Matatiele where in 2012, the Baphuthi leader, Chief Letuka III was crowned and recognised by the South African government.
LT: Do you think if this issue is not addressed it can, in the long run, boil over?
Khosi: Everybody knows how injustice hurts and how, if not rectified, it can affect future generations.
King Moorosi and King Moshoeshoe I felt the Boers’ invasion of their territories was a human rights issue and unjustified.
It pained them so much that they both had to do something about it to defend what was rightfully theirs.
We are not asking for an independent state, but only the control of our inheritance.
The more we think and talk about it, the more we become convinced that what happened to our ancestors is celebrated because some people obviously benefitted and the more we and those that will come after us, become desperate.
The spirit of King Moorosi is with us and will also be with those who will come after us until the historic wrongs are corrected.
LT: Why then have you not taken the legal route?
Khosi: We have for so long believed in dialogue and thought the best way would be to resolve this through negotiations.
But we have seen that this has failed mainly because of the uncooperative nature of some relevant authorities and generally an unsupportive environment.
However, in our recent meeting held in Masitise, Quthing, we agreed to take the legal route.
Legal representation has been secured to prosecute a human rights case before the end of this year.
LT: Let’s talk about your association, Lebandla le Baphuthi. What does it stand for?
Khosi: Our association is there to always remind ourselves of who we are and also be the source of information when it comes to the history of the Baphuthi people.
Because our living set-ups have changed, a lot of young Baphuthi do not understand who they are. We don’t want to lose our identity.
LT: So tell us about the Baphuthi people; who are you?
Khosi: We are the descendants of the late King Moorosi, an independent ruler who, until his death at Mount Moorosi, ruled the whole of today’s Quthing and Qacha’s Nek districts, a larger part of Mohale’s Hoek, parts of Thaba-Tseka and South Africa’s Matatiele, Alban North in Eastern Cape and part of Herschel which is at the Tele border post.
Qacha’s Nek is actually named after King Moorosi’s son, Qacha.
As history was passed onto us, we know that our ancestors moved from KwaZulu Natal to Lesotho in the 1600s.
They came through the now Leribe District and as they moved south, passed through such areas as Thuaothe, Boqate, Morija, Thaba-Ts’oeu, Qalabane, Likhoele Maboloka and briefly rested in Thabana Morena in Mafeteng.
They moved in four groups, the emaPheedla, meaning first inhabitants or pioneers, emaTshedza, emaBhulani and emaDlamini (emaZizi).
LT: What were they searching for?
Khosi: Well, they were looking for good soils, water and generally good and safe areas where they could settle.
As they travelled, they also left behind some of their people along the way. We know that many Baphuthi settled in the Thuoathe area while the larger groups proceeded further south.
LT: Which areas did they pass through and are of great significance today?
Khosi: Mount Tulumaneng in Herschel, South Africa was King Moorosi’s first small fortress; Mount Moorosi where he later settled until his death and Kubake in Mohale’s Hoek, are some of the significant areas associated with the king.
Mount Kubake is of great importance to the Baphuthi people because this was where the announcement that young Mooorosi would be king was made by his grandfather.
He was given a blanket to symbolise he was the successor.
LT: Who was his grandfather and why was Moorosi, who was then a child, chosen as the king’s successor?
Khosi: His maternal grandfather was called King Tsosane of the emaBhulani people.
Moorosi’s father, Mokuoane, was a Dlamini who had loyally served King Ts’osane for many years.
Now, to thank him for his loyal service, he permitted Mokuoane to marry his daughter, Maidi, and named Moorosi his successor to further show his gratitude to Mokuoane.
LT: So where did he spend much of his childhood?
Khosi: He grew up in Maphutseng in Mohale’s Hoek before he moved to Tulumaneng and ultimately Mount Moorosi in Quthing.
LT: When he settled in Quthing as king, what sort of a leader did he become?
Khosi: King Moorosi was a fair leader, very strong and would do everything in his capacity to defend his land and people.
He was peace-loving but stubborn and no pushover. He had a treaty with the Bathembu people whom he took under his shield.
He loved horses and rode his famous white horse. He was also spiritual and a rainmaker.
King Moorosi was friends with King Moshoeshoe I whom he gave a gift of his first horse.
The two kings shared the same resentment of slavery and the Boers who had then, from time to time, raided their people.
He was also a husband to three wives, Maletuka, Mamotsapi and Maqacha and father of many children.