A man sat motionless astride a small, sturdy horse, a colourful, patterned blanket draped like a cloak across his shoulders, a pyramid-shaped straw hat shielding his eyes from the winter sun. In the distance, the rugged, snow-capped mountains that stared coldly back at him, and the dry, barren sand that whirled below, were vivid reminders of the distant past.

Basutoland (today called Lesotho), the Switzerland of Southern Africa, where one is greeted by the words ‘Khena Ka Khotso’ – Enter in Peace – inscribed on an arch above the road, owes its existence to a man called Moshoeshoe (Moshesh). For, it was peace that Moshesh had sought when early in the nineteenth century, he guided a small group of people away from the violence and turbulence that Shaka the Zulu Chief had precipitated.

Thaba Bosiu became the impregnable mountain fortress of the small tribe who lived in the surrounding valley during times of peace. The ‘Mountain of Night’ was flat on top and accessible only by six narrow passes. In those days, it was almost impregnable and was of immense value to the Basuto, rendering futile the hostile advances of other African tribes, and thwarting the orderly and well-equipped attempts of the Boer and the British to defeat Moshesh.

From the outset, Moshesh displayed ability, diplomacy, fairness and adaptability as a leader, and wherever possible persuaded his people to achieve a peaceful settlement to a problem. For example, during the march to Thaba Bosiu, many of the elder members of the tribe became the victims of bands what they believed were cannibals. When the indignant Sotho clamoured for revenge Moshesh restrained them with the warning that the ‘cannibals were the living tombs of their victims spirits’. Wisely, he acknowledged the superiority of powerful warrior chiefs like Shaka Zulu, and appeased them with regular tributes. In 1831, the Ndebele army suffered an embarrassing defeat on Thaba Bosiu. It was embarrassing because the Ndebele were an offshoot of the unmatched Zulu army, but they retreated, bearing the Sotho no malice, for Moshesh had astounded them with an undeserved gift of cattle.

Over the years, people from various tribes that had been scattered by the powerful, disciplined Zulu army, congregated in Basutoland, and under the leadership of Moshesh, they formed the Basuto nation. Some of the tribes were ruled by members of his family, others by their own hereditary rulers. Moshesh however, was regarded as a Paramount Chief.