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Marking the Day of Moshoeshoe the Great

ALTHOUGH some historians point out rightly that Lesotho was annexed by the British on the request of Moshoeshoe the Great in 1868, they are unable to contextualise the request and therefore make sense of the act. 

The debate on this topic can go a long way in helping the long-neglected popular concern over the appropriate day and activities to mark Moshoeshoe’s Day.

During the Basotho National Party (BNP) reign, Basotho marked Moshoeshoe’s Day on March 12 through school competitions on songs, cultural games and other joyful activities.

This was a day marked with celebrations in the whole country and almost all schools took part in the regional school activities organised by teachers.

When the Basutoland Congress Party (BCP) came to power in 1993, it changed the Public Holidays Law to include some and exclude others as the government found appropriate.

The BCP abolished the National Tree Planting Day holiday on the argument that trees could be planted all-year round and that tree planting day can be marked without the necessity of a holiday.

When the BCP came into power a holiday falling either on Saturday or Sunday was effectively marked on the following working day, but this was changed.

A holiday had to be marked on the exact calendar date.

Heroes’ Day was also introduced on April 4. 

Moshoeshoe’s Day was switched from March 12 to 11 on the argument that the 12th was a day of doom to the sovereignty of Basotho as it was the day on which the British cheated Basotho.

Marking Moshoeshoe’s Day on the 12th was seen as the nation celebrating its own demise.

The 11th was the day on which the Great Leader passed away.

In the mind of a legislator, the 11th was appropriate because his birthday is unknown.

Given the nature of political contestations over the 12th and the 11th March critical consideration was missed out.

What activities would be related to Moshoeshoe’s Day now marked on his day of death?

Would schools continue to celebrate, jubilate, dance, etc?

This has been difficult despite the explanations by the government.

What is surprising and actually belittling our democracy is the arrogance displayed by politicians and bureaucrats on this issue. 

There is no question about it; there must be wider consultations on this issue. Some announcers at the national broadcaster even refer to the day as celebrating the death of Moshoeshoe the Great. 

Why did Moshoeshoe I ask for British Protection? When he realised that Xhosas, Hottentots, Griquas, San, Barolong, etc were defeated and subsumed into the Boer republics and also aware of the defeat of the Matebele and demolition of the Zulus, and worried by the threatening aggressive behaviour of the trekkers, he decided to manipulate animosity between the British and the Boers for his survival.

He appealed for British Crown Protection against the Dutch who were already advanced in terms of the military weaponry. 

They took their time and it was only on March 12, 1868 that Sir Phillip Wodehouse got permission from the British to annex Basutoland, so that British could protect it from Boers. 

The British intervention at this particular time and not as earlier as requested proved that the British were not so much after the interests of Basotho but their own imperialist objectives. 

Proclamation 14 of 1868

Annexation Proclamation

With a view to the restoration of Peace and the future maintenance of tranquility and good government on the north eastern border of the Colony of Cape of Good Hope, Her Majesty, the Queen, having been graciously pleased to comply with the request made by Moshesh, the  paramount chief and the other Headmen of the tribe of the Basutos, that the said tribe may be admitted into the allegiance of Her Majesty from 12th March 1868 and after the publication hereof, the said tribe of the Basutos shall be and shall be taken to be, for all intents and purposes, British subjects, and the Territory of the said tribe shall be, and shall be taken to be, British Territory.

Moshoeshoe asked for protection but he was turned into a colony.

Clearly the 12th is controversial for national pride and the 11th is equally controversial.

The question is: Why does the government not pick up the discontent over the issue and identify any other day free of controversy among 365 days of the year?

Why should Basotho be forced into the naïve debate of two unacceptable dates of the 11th and 12th March?

The Heroes’ Day of the 4th of April was changed to Africa Day May 25 – simply because the government wanted to comply with the African Union call for the recognition of the Day of the Continent.

Indeed this had to change because the government for all the years has not marked it and no one explained the relevance of the 4th of April except the realisation that it was the day on which Ntate Ntsu Mokhehle was sworn in as the Prime Minister in 1993.

The 11th is a flop, drop it if you really value Moshoeshoe I.

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