The organization of the Sotho state in the 19th century

The organization of the Sotho state in the 19th century

Political organization

  • The Basuto Nation was built by Mosheshe through his strong leadership and magnetic personality.




  • The state was headed by the king and in the 19th century it was hereditary kingdom.ie. The king’s eldest son could inherit the father.
  • The tribe was the biggest political unit with several thousands of people and each had a central clan The central clan provided chiefs for the tribe.
  • The state was made up of semi-independent chiefdoms which had been gathered together by Mosheshe
  • Each chiefdom remained with its local leaders. Mosheshe retained the conquered chiefs in their position but were directly answerable to him.
  • The local chiefs remained with some freedom and power over their own people.
  • The king’s administration was assisted by several chiefs provided by central clans.




  • Chiefs paid tribute to Mosheshe as a sign of respect and loyalty. This was in form of life stock and food stuffs.
  • The smaller conquered groups in Sotho state were controlled by the family members of Mosheshe who were placed in different parts of the kingdom.
  • Chiefs were very powerful and respected leaders in all aspects of life. However,a harsh and unpopular chief could not last for a long time. His subjects could leave him and
    join a good one.
  • Chiefs ruled according to accepted rules and customs and on the advice of the elders
  • The chiefs were assisted by two councils i.e. the inner council and outer council which was also called the assembly.
  • The inner council was also made up of the chiefs’ secret advisers who gave him adviceon important issues.
  • The wider assembly also called the Pitso was open to every adult male member to attend.
  • In the Pitso, democracy was practiced as chiefs could be openly criticized for their ills the society.




  • The process of decision making took long time but it satisfied different groups in the kingdom.
  • The Basuto did not have a centralized standing army. But different age groups were mobilized to defend the kingdomwhenever need arose.
  • The Basuto had a peaceful foreign policy. Peace with neighbours was valued highly and was first priority.
  • Mosheshe gave gifts to his neighbors in order not to attack his kingdom. For example he gave cattle to Shaka Zulu , the Ndebele and land to the Boers
  • The Sotho used fire arms and horses acquired from Europeans at the cape during the times of war

Economic organization:

  • The Basuto had a mixed economy that is; they grew crops and reared animals.
  • Crops were grown in fertile valleys and cattle grazed on hill slops since their land was mountainous




  • Cattle were highly valued as a source of wealth and those who had large herds were respected in the community.
  • Land was the property of the community and was controlled by the chiefs on behalf of the king. In fact the king was regarded as the keeper and giver of land.
  • Trade was carried out with the Europeans at the cape. For example they exchanged their cattle for guns, horses and consumer goods.
  • After the discovery of minerals the Basuto moved mines, farms and industries in search for employment opportunities.
  • Hutting was also common among the Sotho and provided game meat, ivory and honey. in fact meat and honey enriched the diet of the Basuto
  • Metal works (iron smith) was also practiced. They had a metal industry at Mabotsa which made many tools.




Social organization:

  • A family formed a basic social unit among the Sotho.
  • A number of families made up a clan and a number of clans formed a tribe.
  • Initiation into adult hood was a very important social activity. It qualified one into clan membership.
  • Elders were greatly respected in the Sotho society.
  • They believed in life after death and respected thedead. The dead were believed to have powers to bless and to punish.
  • Polygamy was highly practiced among the Basuto. For example kings married from various clans.
  • Members of the same initiation group formed an ageregiment and during the times of war, these age regiments fought under a royal age mate.

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