Moshoeshoe Day is a public holiday that takes place on March 11 in Lesotho to mark the birth of Moshoeshoe I. Moshoeshoe I was the leader of the Basotho people. He helped establish the Basotho nation, which would later become the modern-day state of Lesotho. He was the country’s first king and is known for the efforts he made to establish and maintain the sovereignty of his people from nearby threats. Because his exact date of birth is unknown, Moshoeshoe Day falls on the anniversary of his death in 1870.
History of Moshoeshoe's Birthday
Born around 1776, Morena Moshoeshoe I was Lesotho’s first king. Through his efforts in uniting nearby tribes in his area of southern Africa, and maintaining the sovereignty of the Basotho people, he is considered the father of the nation. The Basotho people have inhabited the region of what is today Lesotho since around the 5th century B.C. Over their history, they split into different ethnic groups due to regional conflicts and British colonialism. Moshoeshoe I played a key role in uniting these clans, forming the Sotho nation (or ‘Basotholand’). It was only in 1829 that Moshoeshoe I’s people labeled themselves as the Basotho and their territory as Lesotho.
Moshoeshoe I became king in 1822 and oversaw the unity of southern African tribes in his area.
He used tribal marriage alliances and diplomacy as weapons of social cohesion. One of his most notable efforts to unite his people was his refusal to recognize set boundaries drawn between Lesotho and the Free State (now located in South Africa), to promote tribal unity. He would also form close relations with the colonizing British during his rule, seeking their protection during the war with the Orange Free State in 1856, but he would also engage in conflict with them. Whether by the British or neighboring states, he would continue to fight any kind of encroachment on Sotho lands, defeating the Boers in the process and signing the Treaty of Aliwal North in 1858, which guaranteed the Sotho control of the land on both sides of the Caledon River.
Moshoeshoe I was eventually defeated by the British-backed Boers and Basotholand was annexed by the British as a Crown Colony in 1868, at his request. He is still celebrated as an important figure in Lesotho’s history because of his efforts in uniting the Sotho people. He died in 1870 and was buried at the Thaba Bosiu plateau, where his struggle began.
Moshoeshoe's Birthday timeline
Moshoeshoe I is crowned king of the Basotho people.
Moshoeshoe I’s people formally name themselves ‘the Basotho’.
Basotholand is annexed into the British Empire.
Moshoeshoe I passes away.
Lesotho declares independence from the British.
Moshoeshoe's Birthday FAQs
What kind of person was Moshoeshoe?
Moshoeshoe I was one of the most successful leaders in Southern African history. He was known for his aggressive military counteraction and smart diplomatic skills against those who wished to invade his land. He was also a democratic leader who viewed cooperation with other tribes as key to maintaining the power of his people.
What types of activities take place on Moshoeshoe Day?
Aside from parades and traditional events, Moeshoeshoe Day sees various political and ceremonial leaders make important speeches. The Moshoeshoe Walk is also an annual event, where participants trek about 72 miles over three days from Menkhoaneng to Thaba Bosiu to rekindle the spirit of unity among the Basotho.
Why is Lesotho not part of South Africa?
Lesotho’s geographic location is unique as it is surrounded by South Africa. Part of Moshoeshoe I’s goal was to establish a Basotho land that stood by itself. It was through his diplomacy, and subsequent efforts by succeeding leaders, that maintained this separation. However, the British did annex Lesotho into the Cape Colony in 1871, but it later became separate in 1884.
How to Observe Moshoeshoe's Birthday
Fly the flag
Wave the Lesotho flag high and proud in the sky. Moshoeshoe Day commemorates the death of a king who helped build Lesotho into what it is today.
Visit the Thaba Bosiu plateau
Pay tribute to Moshoeshoe by visiting the sacred Thaba Bosiu plateau where his struggle began and he was eventually laid to rest. Aside from being an important site where Lesotho’s leaders traditionally place wreaths, it also offers breathtaking views of the country’s natural landscape.
Spend time with your loved ones
Typically, workers and students get the day off on Moshoeshoe Day. It is celebrated through parades and other traditional events across the country. Use this occasion to spend time with your loved ones, either by preparing a feast of delectable Lesotho foods or just taking in the events of the day. After all, without Moshoeshoe I, Lesotho wouldn’t be what it is today.
5 Interesting Facts About Lesotho
The highest of the lows
Lesotho’s lowest point is at 4,593 feet, which is the highest lowest point of any country.
A name that suits
Lesotho’s nickname is the “Kingdom of the Sky” because it's the only independent nation that sits above 3,281 feet in elevation.
It is still ruled by a king
The country is one of only three African countries still run under a constitutional monarchy (the others being Eswatini and Morocco).
It lends its name to a dinosaur
The ‘Lesothosaurus’ dinosaur species was named after the country because its fossils were discovered there.
Diamonds are crucial for their economy
Diamond mining accounts for over 9% of Lesotho’s gross domestic product (G.D.P.).
Why Moshoeshoe's Birthday is Important
Moshoeshoe fought for his people to the end
Moshoeshoe Day commemorates a figure who fought tooth and nail for the sovereignty of his people. He possessed a vast, sincere love for his people and would do whatever it took to protect them from threats such as the British or neighboring tribes. Such a person is deserving of their own day.
Moshoeshoe believed in unity
Moshoeshoe I emphasized unity over division. He managed to attract various small tribes to unite and instilled the idea that the people who lived on this land for centuries are the ones who should own it. The king promoted peace during a time where European-made wars were tearing the fabric of African unity.
His legacy shows true African spirit
Through his efforts, Moshoeshoe I showed what it was to be African. Resilient, dynamic, independent, and strong, he instilled confidence in his people and proved to them that they had the power to establish themselves as the rightful occupants of their land. Though he eventually lost the fight, he inspired Lesotho’s subsequent leaders to abide by these traits during their rule.
Moshoeshoe's Birthday dates