By Tiisetso Makhele
Yesterday, 31 March 2021, marked 217 years since founder of the Basotho nation, Morena Moshoeshoe, first entered a ‘kgwadi’ , to undergo a process called ‘ho qacha’.
It is estimated that on 18 March 1804, Morena Moshoeshoe and his fellow initiates (thaka tsa mophato) began their process of lebollo (Basotho initiation). There, he would be given a name ‘Letlama’, and his thaka tsa mophato ‘Matlama’.
Just months after completing the initiation, the Matlama would defeat Ramonaheng in battle. Under Moshoeshoe’s leadership, they would cut like a razor (Shoe-Shoe) and seize cattle.
Contrary to some narratives, the practice of initiation remains relevant today. In fact, during this period of an onslaught against Africans by the establishment, lebollo is even more relevant. Each African, irrespective of age, gender or social standing, must undergo the practice, methinks.
In their paper, ‘Men’s initiation schools as a form of higher education within Basotho indigenous knowledge systems’ (2004), Maharasoa and Maharaswa propose the incorporation and universal application of some of thecharacteristics of lebollo.
“We observe that there is common ground between this indigenous education system and the current system, especially in the offering of selected disciplines like law, political science, medicine, etc.
However, the interdisciplinary approach adopted at lebollo is encouraged in order to produce a batch of graduates endowed with a rich balance of skills”.
The paper correctly identifies the following as teachings of lebollo:
1. Thuto-kelello (cognitive engagement): initiates are expected to remember what they are taught, including mangae and makgele songs, dithoko (praise poems), etc.2. Leruo (economic development): The Basotho have a saying: Mphe-mphe e a lapisa, motho o kgonwa ke sa hae.3. Makunutu (national secrets/confidentiality): when we encounter people who leak sensitive discussions and security details of their organizations or countries, you must know that the time has come for a process of initiating society en masse. It is uncharacteristic of true initiates to fail to keep secrets, as can be seen in current societies.4. Bonatla (warriorship): the extent to which the majority of Africans fear whites, whiteness and the white establishment is reason why the practice of lebollo remains relevant. Initiates are taught to have courage and bravery.5. Boqapi le bokheleke (the ability to compose/eloquence): artistry and culture in general are important if we are to attain social cohesion and nation-building. We need people who are able to eloquently articulate on matters that can build a truly prosperous African society.6. Lenyora la tsebo (appreciation for knowledge): I quote the authors verbatim, “The indigenous society appreciated knowledge for what it was worth. The fact thatthere was no failing student at the initiation school was indicative of this fact. Thefundamental principle was that every human being was endowed with some kindof talent which could be unearthed”.
On this day, of the occasion of the 217th year after Morena Moshoeshoe was initiated, we bow and salute this sacred practice. We appreciate that Morena Moshoeshoe is not the founder of this practice, but use this epochal moment to salute lebollo. We are not blind to the challenges and limitations facing the practice of lebollo, especially in modern day South Africa, but we are convinced that the practice is as relevant as ever.
Tiisetso Makhele, an African Marxist and a cultural activist based in Mangaung, Free State, South Africa, writing in his personal capacity.
“The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author. They do not represent the opinions or views of Central news