Reforming society under Moshoeshoe I’s watch

Reforming society under Moshoeshoe I’s watch

Once again, we have reached a point where we have to find ways of ensuring survival of our nationhood. In the recent past, exercises such as the one currently under way were intended to pacify our politicians, including ladling privileges out to them. One consequence of this is our large, unwieldy and costly parliament.
Along the same lines, currently there are attempts by politicians to violate the constitution, in order to secure participation of one of their kind in the reforms. This begs the question: Will reforms last even when they are founded on violation of the constitution and basic human decency?

Even in the face of our past experiences of reforms, and worrisome beginnings such as has been made to current ones, we have to assume that, this time around, an important part of reforms is to ensure that the weakest and poorest individuals, families, and groups among us are protected from hunger and other forms of insecurity, in their daily lives.
If that be the case, we can look for inspiration from our ancestors, to draw from the wisdom and examples of the most illustrious among them. For reasons that will be clear, below, such a search always leads us to one man, Moshoeshoe I.

In the mid-1960s, when Basotho negotiated their independence from Britain, all leaders looked to Moshoeshoe I, and each wished to rule, or wanted Basotho to be ruled, in accordance with Moshoeshoe I’s wisdom, and in ways that Moshoeshoe I would have approved.
Leaders of both major political parties of the 1960s and 1970s devoted their time to study and write about Moshoeshoe I’s wisdom, and his achievements; and both are credited with publications, “Moshoeshoeism” (Leabua Jonathan) and Se-Moshoeshoe (Ntsu Mokhehle), in which they sought to articulate Moshoeshoe I’s philosophy, which, they said, influenced their own thinking and approach to how Basotho should be ruled.

We know that even King Moshoeshoe II wanted independent Basotho to be ruled as they had been “…in the days of our illustrious ancestor” but “…adapting [Moshoeshoe I’s] method of rule to modern conditions.”
In our current reforms initiative, we should take sentiments of these men further, and seriously consider inscribing Moshoeshoe I’s name, and his values, into our constitution, even if only in the Preamble. Perhaps, this might tug at the consciences of rulers who perpetrate evils — such as unequal distribution of the country’s wealth, political insecurity, etc — against society.

Moshoeshoe I’s Humanity & Pursuit for Peace

I think, firstly, it was his sheer humanity. It is not difficult to find very positive characterisations of Moshoehsoe I in the writings of those who knew him. The following is an example from Eugene Casalis’ reminiscences of his life in Lesotho, based on his 23-year experience of Moshoeshoe I:

Moshoeshoe had the greatest repugnance to the shedding of blood, showing it often even to the detriment of his policy… [O]n almost all occasions when he had taken up arms to resist [an] invader, he drew upon himself the blame of his own subjects for the extreme facility with which he gave up the results of a definite success as soon as the enemy sued for peace… It was impossible not to admire… his good nature and his inexhaustible patience. I have seen him endure…invectives and affronts which it would have been very difficult for me to digest…[The weak & vulnerable] of the country almost all came to seek his protection; they felt instinctively that with him they would be guarded against all ill-treatment, and that he would not allow them to die of hunger.

Secondly, it was the fact that, Moshoeshoe I made peace, generosity and empathy keystones of his personal conduct, his rule, and his relations with others. In his book, in which he traces evolution and change of Basotho’s political institutions, from the nineteenth century to attainment of independence, in 1966, Professor Lehlohonolo Machobane consistently refers to Moshoeshoe I as ‘Morena e Moholo’, not king. Some have quarrelled with this, arguing that, Moshoeshoe I should be referred to as ‘king’, not morena.
I think Professor Machobane is right, because, in fact, the word morena is key to understanding Moshoeshoe I, and the many things about him because of which we always have to go back to him at times such as this.

There are hints that, by Moshoeshoe I’s time, the word morena had already evolved into a title for someone who occupies a certain position, usually, of power—the sense in which we use it today, ordinarily.
For Basotho who had lived before Moshoeshoe I’s time, it was not a title; instead, it was a word that described a person of certain attributes. In its proper, Sesotho meaning, the word morena is applied to a person who has characters of peacefulness, generosity, and gentleness.

It is not a coincidence that, as far as I am aware, positive conditions—for example, peace and prosperity — are the only conditions whose prevalence is described as ho rena — we say ho rena khotso; ho rena nala. Normally, we would not say ntoa, or tlala, e-ea rena. Moshoeshoe I and the society he lived in knew that, to be morena, was to be a peaceful person, not only motho oa khotso but, more importantly, motho ea khotsofetseng.

That is to say, a good leader is one in whose heart and head peace reigns. Mohlomi’a Matsie was, perhaps, a quintessential personification of this meaning.
As Moshoeshoe I told his kinsmen, in 1840, his consciousness for peace had been forged in the fire of lifaqane—“…my senses are still weary from the past (i.e. lifaqane) hardships”; and, through their advice and teachings, the missionaries had confirmed his convictions regarding peace.
His love for peace was also born out of his determination that, war is “too costly…” The earth, he said “should be our nursing mother, but instead, we want the spear to be our mother. As for me, today I love only peace”.

It is these understandings — of what it meant to be morena, and the benefits of subscribing to peace — that influenced Moshoeshoe I to make himself the man he became. That is to say, to make himself a person in whose heart peace resided and reigned; and to make himself an empathetic person who felt for others.
Moshoeshoe I loved people, and a sense of envy, on his part, is palpable in his description of the “fertile and spacious valleys” of Mohlomi’s territory as having been “covered with men”. He ensured boiketlo—welfare—of those around him, even if in ways some of which we may quarrel with.
Today, politicians treat us as ‘the electorate’, and it is clear that, they wish the majority of us—those who need jobs, those who need medical care, the children for whom teachers must be employed, etc.—could disappear after elections, and re-appear when needed for a next election.
But Moshoeshoe I was not a man of peace—and he did not become a lover and philosopher of peace—just by wishing so. He had to work hard to cultivate inside of himself the peace that lived inside him, and to cultivate the love for peace that inspired his philosophy of peace. Once this was achieved, it was yet another struggle to maintain and nourish the peace inside him, and to grow his love for peace.

The struggles could be materially costly, as when, in 1833, he lost a lot of cattle in an attempt to ‘buy’ ‘men of peace’—the missionaries, who, he had been told, would bring him and his people peace. Many times he collected thousands of cattle from his people, to add to his, to pay the British to buy peace.
As an example of his resolve to keep peaceful relations between himself, on the one hand, and his neighbours, on the other, in 1848, Moshoeshoe I told Cape Colony officials as follows, regarding Sekonyela, chief of Batlokoa:

If it were necessary to prove how dear peace is to me I need only to appeal to more than twenty years of forbearance on my part towards Sekonyela. On ten successive occasions, he wantonly attacked my people, treacherously killed my subjects, carried off cattle belonging to them and myself, I have taken no revenge. When he was attacked by the Korannas, his cattle found refuge among my flocks, and were returned to him untouched. I do not wish for war… I despair of that chief coming to any amicable arrangements. Now, I repeat, I do not wish for war, I wish for peace…
Circumstances in which he lived encouraged war and hostilities against others, but he persisted in his desire for, and maintenance of, peace, even against the most naked provocations. Thus, when British High Commissioner George Cathcart threatened him with war, during their meeting in a government tent, in 1852, Moshoeshoe I told him:

Do not talk of war; for however much I may wish to avoid this calamity, you know that even a dog will show his teeth when he is beaten… I desire peace… I beseech you, in the name of Queen Victoria, to whom this tent belongs, not to talk of war again.
But, I think, by peace—love for it, the struggles for its maintenance—Moshoeshoe I did not mean creation and attainment of conditions of absence of differences of opinion; neither did he mean that, people should not question one another, and engage in the sometimes very difficult tasks of having to resolve their differences.

He lived in a society which had many proverbs, or wise sayings, that institutionalised dissent, disagreement, difference of opinion and questioning; sayings which saw dissent and difference of opinion as healthy conduct that was beneficial to processes of finding wisdom; and sayings which saw dissent and difference of opinion as necessary for progress and change.
Proverbs, in other words, which regarded suppression of dissent and difference of opinion as being inimical to germination of new ideas, new wisdom, and other bases of good governance, all progress and change.

He knew that dissent, difference of opinion, and disagreement needed to be allowed to flourish and to be managed by means of established institutions, which had in-built mechanisms for responsiveness, and which enjoyed the respect of all, the leaders and the led, alike.

l This is the first of a two-part series on the reforms.

BY: Professor Motlatsi  Thabane

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