Basotho pine for Moshoeshoe I


By ‘Majirata Latela and Teboho Serutla

Last week marked yet another important date in the calendar and history of Lesotho – Moshoeshoe’s Day. This year’s annual event was different from others. It was commemorated in a rather subdued fashion thanks to the Covid-19 pandemic. The public was not in attendance to witness King Letsie III and some principal chiefs laying wreaths on the grave of the founder of the Basotho nation atop his legendary fortress – Thaba Bosiu.

Perhaps, on the bright side, the subdued celebration gave Basotho an opportunity to do some soul-searching and reflect on the present state of affairs in the country and maybe ask themselves: ‘Where did we go wrong?’

theReporter quizzed people across the spectrum of society and one thing stands out: they pine for Moshoeshoe I’s leadership and his mentor Mohlomi’s wisdom. They have grown weary of the never-ending political bickering that has seen brother turning against brother.


A recent Afrobarometer survey revealed traditional leaders continue to enjoy popular support in contemporary Lesotho and are more widely trusted and seen as less prone to corruption than elected leaders.

The key findings of the survey showed that:

•             Two-thirds (64 percent) of Basotho approve of the job their traditional leaders are doing, a far better performance rating than they give their community councillors, members of Parliament, or then-Prime Minister Thomas Thabane.

•             Traditional leaders are considerably more widely trusted (57 percent) and less commonly seen as corrupt (16 percent) than elected officials.

•             Most Basotho see traditional leaders as highly influential in resolving disputes and governing their local community, but few say they carry much weight in affecting how people vote in elections.

•             Six in 10 Basotho (61 percent) support an increased level of influence for traditional leaders in the governing of local communities.

•             Basotho say traditional authorities are better than community councillors and MPs about listening to ordinary people, and two-thirds (66 percent) believe traditional leaders look out for the interests of the people in their communities.

Governance expert and deputy director of the Institute of Directors Lesotho, Advocate Selebalo Ntepe perceives Moshoeshoe’s leadership as peaceful, hence his ability to bring together different (warning) nations to make them one nation.

“Transformational leadership (ability to adapt or change while at the same time being able to foresee the future) is a tact that was used by Moshoeshoe and Mohlomi, which is lacking in today’s leaders. That is evident in our laws which do not seem to stimulate economic development.

“Usually what we do nowadays is to talk and talk, without formulating policies and laws that will help us achieve our goals. That shows we are failing on transformational leadership. Transformational leadership should also be seen as a tool that brings peace, productivity and inter-generational value. We should avoid the ‘quick fix’ way of tackling problems. We borrow huge sums of money to fix almost every problem we meet.

The Principal Chief of Thaba Bosiu, Khoabane Theko said, Basotho need to retrace their steps and learn how Moshoeshoe managed to piece so many nations into one.

“The keyword here is peace. If we were a peaceful people we would not be where we are today. A peaceful nation does not stab each other on the back, they don’t fight to win, they fight to build peace among themselves. But nowadays we are a divided nation because of political affiliations; that is why even the coalitions that we have been forming to govern the country have not worked for us. It is because it is no longer about ‘us’, it is every man for himself,” he said.

And the ordinary people do indeed have a sentimental attachment to Moshoeshoe’s Day. Most of those that spoke to this publication regretted that they could not go out to celebrate the day, but insisted it hardly precludes the fact that they are Basotho and proud of it.

They are, however, disillusioned with the present day system of governance which is characterised by hostilities which in turn have a negative impact on the people – hunger and poverty. They say all this goes against the ideals and teachings of Moshoeshoe.

Moshoeshoe is one of the leaders whose legacy is still celebrate by the world, who proved that the world could become a better place for everyone through their leadership styles and generations to come will learn a great lesson from the retold stories about leadership styles of such leaders.

We take a look at Moshoeshoe’s leadership style and what our leaders can learn from it. Today the world is faced with challenges of a lack of strong leaders who have a clear vision of what they want for their countries. Leaders are educated people who have the privilege of learning about the leadership skills but Moshoeshoe had no formal training about how to be a good leader. Yet he ruled his country with such intelligence that the leaders today aspire. But what is it that most leaders lack in their leadership and what can they learn from Moshoeshoe’s leadership skills?

Understanding the racial differences

Many leaders in Africa have got different tribal nations which even though ruled by one person practice different beliefs and culture from others. More often than not, these groups fights, with each other because of lack of tolerance or understanding of each other. This results in internal ethnic wars. For example, South Africa for many years lived under Apartheid because the Whites believed they were superior than black people hence made them suffer under their rule. After Apartheid during Thabo Mbeki’s rule The Zulus and Xhosas had clashes about who should rule simply because each tribe wanted their leader to be from their ethnic group. However, Moshoeshoe accommodated the Zulus, the Matebele and other tribes in his country even though they had their chief they lived peacefully with each other. He spoke Sotho; he learned to speak Zulu and other languages of other tribes. “He proved that one can achieve the most unity among distinctive social entities where one gives relatively free play to their distinguishing features”, (Ndebele 2006).

War is not the solution to problems

Moshoeshoe who used to say “Peace is my sister” never believed that war solves issues, but believed in diplomacy in solving issues, transparency and justice. He clearly showed this in negotiations that he did when the Boers attacked his country. In paying tribute by giving cattle to his enemies, he was indirectly negotiating for peace

Tolerate dissenting views

Leaders should be open to criticism and let people be part of the decisions that affect them. The difference between good leaders and bad ones is that as Rowley (2004) explains, dictators have the capacity to repress opposition their policies, they can silence demonstrations, ban opposition leaders and throw some people to jail. It is important for leaders to tolerate discerning views as this is not a sign of weakness but of strength. Moshoeshoe had his form of governance in which he was advised and criticised constantly, “Men at Khotla and at Pitsos strengthened his leadership as they were made free to point out his mistakes or what they did not want” Coates (1966). He was also open to learning. This was seen when the whites came in his land. He realised that he did not know anything about them so he took an initiative to learn about them. He turned his missionaries into his advisors and teachers on foreign affairs, Casallis became the main advisor on matters relating to the whites. This shows that leaders who are humble and tolerate criticism from everyone affected by their leadership, become great leaders.

Never lose sight of the vision for the country

Leaders as explained by Slocum (1996) have the ability to create a vision and make people buy into it. For example, the famous Martin Luther King’s speech “I have a dream” made people to support the civil rights movement in United States. Moshoeshoe’s vision of a peace in his nation made people to abandon their ways of achieving everything by war and adopt other peaceful ways. Some leaders come to power with great intentions but later become the dictators who suppress people and deny them the freedom of speech. This has bad consequences on the people and the country at large. Leaders need to have positive visions as they are followed by a number of people who trust that they will protect them. – Addition information from UKESSAYS