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Description of Moshoeshoe's Leadership Style

Info: 4459 words (18 pages) Essay
Published: 3rd Aug 2021 in History

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The world today still celebrates legacy of great leaders such as Moshoeshoe, Martin Luther King and Mandela to name but a few. These leaders 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. But what exactly is leadership and leadership style? What unique features of leadership singles out Moshoeshoe from the rest of leaders of his time and of today? What approaches did he use in his ruling that made him different? What can today’s leaders learn from his leadership? The aim of this essay is therefore to provide answers to these questions and to discuss critically what today’s leaders can learn from leaders of the past. I start my discussion in this essay by first describing what leadership and leadership style entails. Then, I move on to provide an overview of moshoeshoe’s background reflecting particularly on his birth and how he became to be known as Moshoeshoe as well as his journey to becoming a ruler. This is done in order to provide foundations of my discussion.

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What is leadership and leadership style? Cronje (1997) explains leadership as a process of directing the behaviour of others towards the accomplishment of certain objectives. He further explains that leadership involves elements such as influencing people, giving orders, motivating people either as individuals or as groups, managing conflict and communicating with subordinates. People are different, for this reason they do things differently. They may have the same vision but the way they go about achieving that vision is different. This are called leadership styles. Koternikov (2008) makes the definition of leadership styles even clearer when he says “Leadeship style is the manner and approach of providing direction, implementation plans and motivating people”. Thus, Leaders use different approaches to achieve this, Thus one finds authoritarian, dictatorial, participative and delegative approaches. Good leaders as Cronje (1997) points out use all the styles depend on the situation they find themselves in. It is therefore leadership styles that distinguish good leaders from bad ones.

An Overview of Moshoeshoe’s Background: His Birth, Change of Names and Ascendance to Power

Moshoeshoe was born in 1776 in the village of Menkhoaneng. During his birth, his father and mother, Mokhachane and Kholu respectively named him Lepoqo, a name that means “disasters”, attributing to the fact that he was born during a time when Bamokoteli were experiencing great misfortunes. The Bamokoteli was the group that was ruled by his father. Mokhachane was a minor chief of Bamokoteli. In subsequent years, Moshoshoe received other names which came as result of certain events in which he was involved. For instance, in 1804, he was named Letlama (the binder) during his circumcision at Malaoaneng. This name was given as a custom and all the initiates were also given their initiation names. Later that year, he was named Moshoeshoe, the name that came from the praise poem that he composed after capturing the cattle of the famous chief Ramonaheng which of course he accomplished with so much skill. Precisely, the praise poem ‘lithoko” goes as:

“Ke nna moshoeshoe Moshoashoaila oa ha Kali lebeola

Lebeola le beotseng Ramonaheng litelu.

Translated to

I am the sharp shearer, the shaver of Kali (Monaheng)

The barber that shaved the beard of Ramonaheng [Ellenberger, 1992]

When Moshoeshoe came back from initiation, he was encouraged to attend the meetings at Khotla, where the matters of governance were discussed and there he learnt great governance skills. In particular, his listening skills, his fighting skills and his skills of defence were greatly sharpened. However, much of what he learnt from Khotla made him a great worrier and left him more violent. For instance, during that time he killed three boys for milking his cow without his permission and he killed some men for delay to take his orders. When he was twenty six years old, his grand father Peete, decided that it was time for him to be shown direction, so, he took him to see chief Mohlomi, a man who was highly respected and often referred to as a sage , a rain maker and “the greatest healer of his time”, (Du preez 2004).

Chief Mohlomi who according to Mathe (2010) was the messenger from God made the prophecy that Moshoeshoe would be the king. When Peete brought Moshoeshoe to him, the first thing that he did when he saw him was to give him an earring (earrings were given as a sign of power). Many people were surprised by that act since Moshoeshoe was a son of a minor chief. Mohlomi gave Moshoeshoe some instructions to follow in order that he may have a successful nation, by that time Moshoeshoe did not understand what mohlomi was talking about. Mohlomi’s advice to Moshoeshoe consisted of the following fundamental principles:

Love and know his people

Mohlomi told him that among other things he had to love his people and know them. He was alluding to the importance of appreciating that all individuals are different and necessarily need to be treated as such. As far as Mohlomi was concerned, this appreciation was fundamental in establishing true justice.

Marry for his people and Respect the ancestors

He again told him to marry for his people. Eldredge (1992) explains that he wanted Moshoeshoe to use that as a premise for peace, by marrying for his people Moshoeshoe would in a sense be uniting them since marriage unites families. Following this advice, Moshoeshoe later married well over a two hundred women from different clans, tribes. Most importantly he told him to respect his ancestors, with this Moshoeshoe was to believe that there is greater power than his, the power that he would have to respect once he started being a ruler.

Moshoeshoe ascents to Power

After Moshoeshoe met Mohlomi, he came back changed in character. He viewed leadership in a different way. He disagreed with his father in most instances, his way of leadership especially regarding the fines he levied on his people and punishments for wrong doings. As a result he gained popularity especially among younger generation and decided to leave to establish his own chieftaincy. In 1820 Moshoeshoe moved from Menkhoaneng with his family and many of his followers, particularly young men, to Butha Buthe Mountain, now simply known as Butha-Buthe, there he established himself as a herd man. His leadership skills were firstly experienced by those who lived with him at Buthabuthe. It was at ButhaButhe that he started protecting his followers; he protected them against the fights that broke in the early 1820s. According to Lundahl, Mccathy & Perterson it was there that for the first time Moshoeshoe felt the impact of the Lifaqane [1] .

LIndahl (1982). Cooper (1989), further state that by 1818 Shaka had managed to defeat his main rivals to supremacy in the northern Nguni area. It was around 1822 that The Hlubi led by their chief Mpangazitha ran off from Shaka and arrived in the territory of the Batlokwa, a large clan that was ruled by a woman called Manthatisi. The two clans fought for the supremacy of the Caledon Valley tribes, they moved up the Drakensburg until they reached Buthabuthe, however Moshoeshoe having heard about their fights, had taken his people and fled up the mountain of Butha Buthe so the fights did not affect him much. The Batlokoa ran away from.lifaqane. On the way they overpowered the tribes that they found there causing them to flee to a safer place. Coates( 1966) explains that refugees continued to brave the slopes of the Drakensburg. That was how the slaughter of the unchronicled confusion of lifaqane came to the Basutuland.

Although Moshoeshoe’s groups managed to withstand the attacks, Moshoeshoe felt that Butha Buthe was no longer safe for his people. So he sent one of his men to search for a mountain that was “rich with natural resources and which could be easily made impregnable” Coates (1966). The men who were sent came back and reported that they had seen such a place.

From ButhaButhe to Thaba Bosiu,

He made a decision that he wanted to move his people to a safer place, a decision which was contested by many people among which was his father Mokhachane, but one which later proved to be the best decision ever. In 1924 July Moshoeshoe and his people started a journey from Butha Buthe to a place which his men had found. However, the journey that lasted for nine days proved to be full of challenges.

First it was in winter, so it was not easy for Bamokoteli to enjoy the journey, secondly women, the elderly and children could not walk as fast as men, that meant the pace was slow, considering women had to carry their babies on their backs while they carried some of the luggage. The biggest challenge was of the existence of cannibals. Who ended up eating Moshoeshoe’s grand Peete father together with the eleven babies which they had snatched from their mother’s backs.

During the afternoon of the ninth day, Becker ( 1969) explains that the Bamokoteli “caught sight of the rocky pinnacle of the Qiloane Hill. Then the flat topped Hill, hoved into sight and marvelled at its steep slopes and the unending procession of sandstones cliff that lined the summit, a beautiful aura seemed to embrace the entire hill…” Bamokoteli later named the mountain ThabaBosiu, (Eldridge 1992) states that there are two interpretations to this; the first is that Moshoeshoe arrived there at dusk, whereupon immediate defensive measures took all night to prepare. The second explanation is favoured by locals, and holds that the mountain (though not looking particularly high by day) grows by night into an impossibly tall, unconquerable mountain fortress. This explanation may be more credible than it sounds; Thaba Bosiu was attacked many times during Moshoeshoe’s reign, but never conquered. It was at this mountain that Moshoeshoe’s leadership skills were show cased.

Was Moshoeshoe’s Leadership Style Different?

Moshoeshoe’s quest for peace, his intelligence and the vision he had for his nation, led him to adopt leadership skills that were different from those of other chiefs of his time. Some of the outstanding leadership skills he used are discussed below.

Absolution and Peace Making

Moshoeshoe ruled with absolution and kindness. In fact forgiveness and kindness were some of his outstanding leadership qualities. In many instances, these qualities were clearly observed. For instance, in an occasion where the cannibals had eaten the body of his grandfather-Peete, Moshoeshoe showed an outstanding absolution (forgivessness) to the cannibals of Rakotsoana [2] , (Cannibals were Zulu people who resisted Shaka’s rule and eventually ran to the caves to hide but unfortunately threatening starvation turned them into carnivals and they started eating human flesh). On the way to Thaba-Bosiu, the cannibals attacked Moshoeshoe and his people. When all people ran for safety, Peete, being an old-aged man, could not afford to move fast and was killed and eaten by the cannibals. Instead of getting angry and killing the cannibals, Moshoeshoe sought peace with them. Moshoeshoe’s father, Mokhachane, and other Basotho, demanded that the cannibals should be killed. But this was not for Moshoeshoe. He rubbed the purification offal over the canibals as a sign that they were Peete’s grave. Afterwards an ox was slaughtered and people ate the meat. This was an act of clemency (Ellenberger 1992: 217 & 227-228; Krog, 2009; Moroosi,2009). This act was a complete surprise to Moshoeshoe’s follows who actually had thought that he would order the carnivals to be killed given the instrumental role that Peete had played in his personal development and perhaps the contribution he had made in his ruling.

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Moshoeshoe wanted his people to live in peace. He exercised Peace keeping skills in the face of danger, he send tribute in the form of cattle and ostrich feathers to the Zulu king Shaka,his heirs Dingaane, Mpande and in 1828 send cattle to Amangwane leader matiwane. He paid tribute to any chief who was stronger than him, and humbled himself to defeated chiefs, this he did to prevent them from returning for war and sometimes to make them to go away from his people. For example Cassalis (1965) explains how in 1831 after he defeated the Ndebeles he send an offering of oxen after them with the message “Moshoeshoe sents you this cattle so that you may eat on your way home”. Casalis (1965) reports that the Ndebele were so surprised by this act that they swore never to attack Moshoeshoe again. He wanted to make peace with these chiefs so that they would not attack his people. He was always criticised by other chiefs that what he did was a sign of weakness, that he was afraid of fighting, however as a result of that Moshoeshoe was instilling peace among his people and expanding his nation. Some of those chiefs later came to be ruled by him.

Protection (from enemies)

In the mid nineteenth century, Moshoeshoe offered protection and allegiance to those fleeing the ravages of the Lifaqane (Eldredge 1992, 1993; Hamilton 1995). It is these people that Moshoeshoe began to assimilate into one group under the umbrella term “Basotho” (Sanders 1975; Thompson 1975). Even though many chiefs recognized Moshoeshoe’s position as the dominant figure in the region, it is important to note that they were not assimilated, as each retained its own customs and chiefs, to those who seek protection without any chief he used his sons to act as their chief. Burman (1981) reported “his government has always been characterised by humanity, mildness and justice, he has never been known to eat up his subjects”. While other chiefs used the forces to fight other chiefs and gain victory over them, Moshoeshoe used his force to protect his people from the enemies.

For Krog ( 2009) Moshoeshoe’s meeting with one of the missionaries Casalis, was one of the strategies he used to secure a safe place for his kingdom. His desire to protect his people after he heard about the Koranas led him to invite the missionaries to Thaba Bosiu in 1833.The Koranas as explained by Ellenberger (1992) were the descendants of the Hottentots who lived at the Cape before the appearance of the Portuquese in 1510. During the nineteenth century they had attacked and displaced many chiefs, they had begun to attack the Basutos. When Moshoeshoe heard of that he sought for protection for his people. It was at the end of 1832 that he met Adam Krots, a Gruiqa who was also a hunter, asked him for advice on how he could protect his people. Krots suggested that he calls missionaries and in June 1833 three missionaries came to ThabaBosiu, their names were Thomas Abbourset, Eugene Casallis and Constant Gosselin. Cassalis later proved to be a reliable assert to Moshoshoe. Cassalis practically became the King’s secretary and acted as interpreter in all dealings with white people. (Elphick 1997).

He further protected his people against wars with foreign troops. In 1820 the Ducth (boers) from the cape colony crossed to Orange River and the Caledon to graze their herds by 1830 they permanently settled but Burman (1981) explains that they lived peacefully with the basuto. The trouble started in 1835 during the great trek ( the Dutch were not happy with the imposition of the British rule in 1806 and in 1835 it culminated into a great trek). They moved to Moshoeshoe’s to the Vaal River and in most parts of the Caledon. Their greed for Moshoeshoe’s fertile land brought them into conflict with him.

In responding to these challenges Moshoeshoe through his missionaries appealed for the protection of the British government against the Boers as early as 1841. In 1845, the British agreed to protect Moshoeshoe but never really did. Instead they made him sign a treaty that recognised White settlement in the area, however no boundaries were drawn between the area of White settlement and Moshoeshoe’s kingdom. This dispute led to inevitable border clashes and a discernible boundary became necessary. The British, who then controlled the area between the Orange and Vaal Rivers (the Orange River Sovereignty) eventually proclaimed the Warden line (after Major Warden). This line divided territory between British territory and the Basotho under Moshoeshoe. These according to Bardill and Cobbe (1985) caused a lot of resentment for Basotho as the land that the Boers took was very fertile. In 1848 the Boers claimed the Orange River Sovereignty.

Moshoeshoe was not prepared to respect Warden Line and many Basotho continued to use the land. Warden then turned to Moshoeshoe and attacked him, only to suffer a defeat in 1851.Then Moshoeshoe in his attempt to make peace with the British wrote a letter to Governer George Cathcart stating that he wanted peace in his land and was turned down. Following that in 1854 the British abandoned the Orange River Sovereignty to the Boers and they renamed it the Repubic of Free State. This further angered Basotho who refused to accept that the land no longer belonged to them. This again resulted in a series of wars between Basotho and the Boers.

Moshoeshoe knew that his people could not go on and on fighting the Boers. But, he also knew that he could not just give up his land and his people to them. He realised that the only possibility of keeping any of his land was to bring it under British control. In the last effort to prevent war, Moshoeshoe continued to write letters asking for the Protection form the British Government. In 1868 Lesotho was claimed as the protectorate of the British and the Boers forced to stop war in Lesotho. Lesotho was then called Basutuland. In February 1869 the boundary negotiation were concluded with the Orange Free State, of which today forms part of the Fourisburg, Ficksburg, Ladybrand, Thabanchu, Wepener and Zastron.

Unity/nation building

But he had another clever method of building his nation. Following Mohlomi’s advice, he married women from chiefdoms and clans in his region – among them San, Zulu and Xhosa speakers. The chief of a clan whose daughter was married to Moshoeshoe would think twice before attacking him. He is reported by Burman (1981) to have had hundred and fifty wives by the age of 60. But how did moshoeshoe marry these wives? As it has been discussed above, through giving cattle to young boys who did not afford to pay bohali, he got married to their wives by cattle and the children born from those marriages were regarded as his. He appointed sons born from these marriages as headmen and chiefs in the outer regions of his jurisdiction to ensure loyalty to the central authority.

He built his nation, the Basotho nation, a nation with a unique culture, belief and practices, by giving protection to the Zulus, the Ndebeles, Tswana and other Sotho speaking tribes who were running away from Shaka. He was not the only king to have built the nation but the way he built his nation is remarkable. Unlike Shaka of the Zulus, Mzilikazi of Matebele and Manthatisi of Batlokoa, who used wars and revenge, he used a different approach, that of a peacekeeper, he protected those who needed protection thus Cassallis (1861) explains that he was a father figure, a man who created the mighty Basotho nation by bringing together people from very diverse backgrounds and cultures, and from different parts of southern Africa.

Democratic Leadership

In his democratic leadership, Moshoeshoe used a consultative approach in decision making. He formed his government where a number of elected people, senior councillors, were regularly called to advise him. This was done at Khotla. Old them?? that they can never be punished for what they say at Khotla. Another group was of men who would be called at Pitso’s (public gatherings) to discuss matters of Governance. Moshoeshoe allowed the people to criticise him and advise him. In this way men felt part of the decisions that were made. (Max Du Preez, Krog& Mathe) Later he used missionaries to advise him on matters regarding the white people and their way of thinking.

Humanity (charitable)

As a chief, Moshoeshoe felt obliged to provide for the people who came to Thaba bosiu for protection, and to improve the lives of the poor to avoid cannibalism. He introduced Mafisa system. Cattle were loaned to people under certain conditions, poor people could use the catlle and return them to Moshoeshoe once they were back on their feet so that they could also be lend to other poor people. In providing material support Bardill (1985) Not in biography? Please add states that Moshoeshoe demonstrated a high degree of impartiality.

Under the same mafisa system, he gave the cattle to the young men who did not own cattle to pay bohali. The children born from their marriages were regarded as his by cattle. This system not only earned him more respect from people but their loyal services as well as the increased wealth, (Krog, 2009, Becker 1969)

Moshoeshoe also used a tribute system. His supporters paid tribute to him by working for a time on his fields without pay or by giving him grain from the land they farmed. In the 1830s Moshoeshoe was able to use this grain, as well as cattle obtained from raids on weaker groups, to buy large numbers of guns and horses from British traders and from some missionaries. With these he could protect his followers from attack by people who were moving into the area. (Cassalis 1971)

Conclusion: What Can leaders Today Learn From Moshoeshoe?

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. If he were to advise Mugabe, Ghadaffi and many African leaders today, he would tell them to stop using war as their means to solve disputes but to find ways in which to bring peace in their own countries.

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. The likes of Mubutu, Mubarak, and Mugabe have left many people dead and others living in fear in their own countries. Mubutu who has been described by Wole Soyinka as Africa’s worst dictator lost sight of his country’s vision because he was greedy and uncompassionate. Leaders need to have positive visions as they are followed by a number of people who trust that they will protect them.


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