Some of the things when told, e.g., mainly what l usually write about on the history of southern Africa, seem useless and out of place. Then when they manifest, it is only then that most people realise what a mess we are in due to colonialism and its constructs. The bogus, massive land claim that the Lesotho parliament is said to be discussing is one such demagoguery. A motion in Lesotho’s parliament aims to declare the entire Free State and areas of NC, KZN, MP and EC as part of the small mountain kingdom.
The motion is based on UN Resolution 1818 (XVII) of 1962, titled: “Question of the Trust Territory of Basutoland”, which recognised the right of the people of Basutoland to self- determination and independence. There were many similar resolutions passed by the UN Special Committee on Decolonisation, also known as the C-24, established in 1961 to monitor and oversee the decolonisation process of Non-Self-Governing Territories. Someone is deliberately reading the law upside down somewhere in Maseru.
From the outset, the claim is ahistorical in the sense that it simply overlooks the salient destructions and deconstructions that colonialism created in producing two great scenes of crime, i.e., Basutoland (Lesotho) and Zuid-Afrika (South Africa). To suggest that one crime scene can be used to correct a crime perpetuated on people is delusional. Yet, that is precisely what the Lesotho MPs are doing. People in Lesotho and South Africa suffered immensely under colonialism and apartheid, and the effects are there for everyone to see.
The people lost their lands, cultures, languages, identities and sense of being as their person was repeatedly raped to benefit the Colony. It is blasphemous to think that Lesotho MPs can even think about playing heroes and heroines using the people’s suffering. Like everyone, the people of the central Drakensberg, within and without Lesotho, still yearn for freedom and their lands. The Colony and its entities, like legal systems, territories and loyal subjects, cannot have any standing in fighting for the people.
Surprisingly, a colonial entity called Basutoland (now Lesotho) decides to overlook this devastation to talk about lands stolen from BaSothos. In this context, these legislators conveniently conflate two unrelated terms to mislead the unsuspecting publics. A Mosotho can mean a citizen of a former colony of Basutoland and can include different groups like the Hlubi, Bamokoteli, BaKoena, Ngwane, BaTlokwa, etc. The term can also mean a large megatribe, constructed mainly by the Colony, with speakers residing in both South Africa and Lesotho.
What is shameful is that post-colonial Lesotho has failed dismally to at least restore the dignity of the Basotho (citizens) for the past six decades. Since 1966, Lesotho has experienced several coup d’états and attempted coups throughout its history as an independent nation. The most recent ones occurred in 2014 and 2015. The plight of the people worsened all this time. Its rulers collaborated with the Colony to extend the exploitation of cheap labour in mines. Political power was a rugby ball instead of assisting people in reaping the fruits of freedom.
Understanding the Sotho identity and pitfalls
The Sotho identity is part of a megatribe fiction created by colonial authorities to organise a people with a single purpose in mind, exploitation of labour, expropriation of lands and oppression. The megatribe phenomenon is responsible for producing large ethnic groups such as Basotho, Ndebele, Tswana, Zulu, Xhosa, Swati, Shona, etc. and the languages associated with these groupings. That is not to suggest that there was no form of organisation before the colonial conquest, but what exists today is a result of the europeanisation (manipulation) of identities to benefit the Colony and its capitalist enterprise.
Although many strategies were used to advance the notion of a megatribe, starting from wars and land grabbing to labour exploitation, the paramount-chief system was a masterstroke in recreating identities. The paramount-chief system in Southern Africa refers to a form of governance where a dominant chief, known as the Paramount Chief, holds power over several subordinate chiefs and their respective communities. This system was introduced by European colonial powers in the 19th century as a way of controlling and administering the diverse African societies they encountered.
While Basutoland was a British protectorate from 1868 to 1966, the colonial authorities implemented the paramount-chief system to control the Basotho people. And the master behind this system was none other than Theophilus Shepstone. In 1871, Shepstone was appointed as the British Resident in Natal and was tasked with extending British influence into Basutoland. Shepstone was a strong proponent of the paramount-chief system and believed it was the best way to govern Basutoland.
He worked closely with Moshoeshoe to establish a system of governance that would incorporate the existing traditional leadership structures with the new colonial administration. Under the paramount-chief method, Moshoeshoe was recognised as the overall leader of the Basotho (a new identity), with subordinate chiefs appointed to govern specific regions. These chiefs were responsible for maintaining law and order within their territories and collecting taxes on behalf of the British colonial government.
For the British, the paramount-chief system in Basutoland proved to be successful in maintaining stability and order within the region. However, it also resulted in the erosion of traditional forms of governance and the concentration of power in the hands of a few individuals, which had long-lasting effects on Basotho society.
Shepstone exported the paramount-chief system to Natal after successful experimentation in Basutoland. Incidentally, Natal (now KZN) is among the places the Lesotho MPs target with their claim. Shepstone believed that the Paramount Chief System could be a successful model for colonial administration in other parts of Southern Africa. As a result, he exported the system to other regions, including Natal.
In Natal, Shepstone implemented the system with the support of the Zulu monarch, and this type of governance was deepened after 1879 to appease the defeated Zulu tribe and keep it away from the reach of the Boers. The system was designed to consolidate power under the colonial authorities while allowing the so-called Zulu chiefs to maintain some degree of autonomy and control over their own people.
Therefore, the paramount-chief system in Natal was similar to the system in Lesotho in that it relied on traditional leaders to maintain control over local populations. However, it was also marked by significant tensions and conflicts between the colonial authorities and the chiefs. Among these was Langalibalele of the Hlubi, who challenged the English rule in Natal. The Hlubi are found in all the areas that post-colonial Lesotho want.
The effects of the paramount-chief system in Southern Africa
The effects of the paramount-chief system in Southern Africa, including Basutoland, were complex and far-reaching, with mixed outcomes that continue to shape the region today. It helped establish a centralised governance system that enabled colonial authorities to exert greater control over the territories they ruled. This system also facilitated the development of roads, hospitals, and schools, improving living standards for some people, the European settler community. DA leader Helen Zille still praises colonialism for its civilising mission.
The paramount-chief system has had several adverse effects, particularly in the long run. One of the most significant was the erosion of traditional forms of governance and authority. The system created a hierarchy that often clashed with pre-existing social structures and customs by giving power to a select group of chiefs. This resulted in the marginalisation of many local leaders and communities, leading to resentment and tension. This is something that the Lesotho MPs fail to understand with their claim, which targets the lands previously owned by the BaSia, Hlubi, BaTlokwa, BaKholokwe and many others.
Furthermore, the concentration of power in the hands of a few individuals also contributed to the consolidation of wealth and resources among a small group, often at the expense of the wider population. This led to the emergence of a class system that has persisted in many parts of the region, with a small elite enjoying privileges and opportunities that are not available to most people. To date, the monarchs and their close circles enjoy opulence in the middle of poverty and despair.
South Africa has rejected the claim for equally ahistorical and selfish reasons. Much like post-colonial Lesotho, it has yet to restore the lands taken from them forcefully by both the Dutch and English settlers. Also, the claim is unlikely to gain favour from the African Union (AU). The 1964 Cairo Declaration by the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) recognised the borders inherited from colonial powers to avoid stirring future conflicts. Again, the Lesotho MPs have a considerable task to prove that post-apartheid South Africa illegally rules the FS and other areas.
In conclusion, the megatribe phenomenon messes up Basutoland’s national psyche as it does to the subalterns in the native reserves of the Natal. It is not a coincidence that both sides of the Drakensberg suffer from this rare disease. They all benefited from the paramount-chief system, which left many people powerless against the two layers of oppression: the Colony and repressive traditional methods.
Late Mozambican president Samora Machel was correct in rejecting ethnic or tribal divisions since he viewed the concept of a tribe as a colonial construct used to divide and rule African societies. Thus, the imagined expansion of Lesotho comes from the Shepstone legacy of the paramount-chief system and perpetual tribalisation of people against their will.
Siya yi banga le economy!