south african history online

location: home | governance & politics | Land Wars: Pedi

Land Wars

The Pedi Wars

The largest North-Sotho language group in South Africa are the Bapedi group, who arrived in the northern province around the 1650s, and became powerful after subjugating the Kopa, Kone and the Tau chiefdoms, among others. They incorporated some aspects of the cultures of the older populations such as totems, and the koma (circumcision) lodges, and announced they were ritual superiors over subordinate chiefs. The paramount chief exacted tribute in the form of thatch grass, clay and cattle, while using women as political patronage in the giving of a bride ( Setima Mello the Snuffer of Fires) to a subordinate chief always a Pedi of the paramount chief's house. This gift confirmed the subordinate's chieftainship, and through the union, the paramount chief remained influential in local succession.

Campaigns against the Pedi. The Swazi conducted campaigns against the Pedi, but could not take their mountain strongholds. Later, Pedi fugitives were able to regroup themselves. By 1800, Chief Thulare had established an empire with a capital, Manganeng, on the Steelpoort River and the Pedi became a ruling caste. His death was followed by the usual succession disputes until in about 1826 Mzilikazi's Ndebele overthrew the Pedi regime and killed a number of Thulare's sons.

Sekwati . This onslaught caused the Pedi to flee northwards with Sekwati, one of Thulare's surviving sons. Sekwati later returned with his followers and, choosing a mountain stronghold at Phiring as his base, he became paramount chief over an accretion of chiefdoms and reunited his peoples. The Pedi were establishing a kingdom when white expansion in southern Africa checked their independent progress. By maintaining diplomatic ties with the Boers, the Swazi, and the Zulu, Sekwati established peace and prosperity. By 1852, relations had deteriorated and Hendrik Potgieter led a commando out against Chief Sekwati. The Boers besieged the Pedi stronghold, hoping they would run out of food and water. But they managed to maintain themselves by sending young warriors to steal through the Boer lines at night. On the twenty-fourth day, the Boers departed with the Pedi cattle. Sekwati realized the value of an abundant water supply and moved his capital to Thaba Mosega (Mosega Kop). He signed a treaty with the Boers declaring the Steelpoort River the boundary between the lands of the Pedi and the Lydenburg Republic and allowed Alexander Merensky and C H T Grützner to begin evangelical work in his territory.

Sekhukhune. After the death of Chief Sekwati in 1861, his sons Mampuru and Sekhukhune both became rivals for the succession. Sekhukhune executed all Mampuru's councillors and declared himself ruler. Mampuru swore vengeance, although his life had been spared. Between 1876 and 1879, conflict broke out, first between the Boers and the Pedi and then between the British and the Pedi.

The Pedi did not undergo extensive conversion to Christianity, as did the Tswana. This was a result of conflict between the Berlin Missionary Society and Bapedi kingdom. The Berlin missionaries believed that African kingdoms were obstacles to christianisation. As a result, they systematically undermined chiefly authority among the Bapedi. Chief Sekhukhune was also against conversion to Christianity and from 1864 he began to persecute Christian converts. As a result, Christian converts fled from the kingdom and established Botshabelo (place of refuge) mission place.

It was during the Anglo-Pedi war that Sekhukhune was defeated and captured in 1879. In 1881, the Boers, who had regained their independence, set him free. Soon afterwards, Mampuru murdered Sekhukhune and fled to Nyabela, an Ndebele chief, for asylum. This action brought the downfall and imprisonment of Nyabela, and Mampuru was executed in Pretoria in 1881. Regents ruled the Pedi until Sekhukhune II came to power in the 1890s.

Source:

Howcroft, P. (undated). South African Encyclopaedia: prehistory to the year 2000, Unpublished papers with SA History Online.