Pedi people

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The Pedi /pɛdi/ or Bapedi /bæˈpɛdi/ people (also known as the Northern Sotho or Basotho ba Lebowa and historically known as the Marota or Bamaroteng ) – are a Southern African ethnic group that speak the Pedi language or Sepedi as it is called natively. It is unclear where the Pedi ethnonym derives from, but oral tradition states that the name originates from the early inhabitants of pre-colonial Transvaal who referred to their language as sesotho sa bobedi which roughly translates to the second Sotho language (Pedi means two in Sotho-Tswana languages and other Bantu languages)[2]. According to the 2011 South African Census, Sepedi or Northern Sotho speakers make up 9,1% of the general population, making Sepedi the 5th most spoken home language in South Africa. The group is predominantly situated in Limpopo, Gauteng, and parts of northern Mpumalanga province.

Northen Sotho
Total population
Regions with significant populations
 South Africa4,972,000
Northern Sotho(Sepedi)
Christianity , African traditional religion, Islam
Related ethnic groups

Pedi people are of Sotho origin and belong to the Sotho-Tswana meta-ethnicity which consists of 2 other Sotho speaking groups; the Southern Sotho who predominantly live in Lesotho and the Free State province in South Africa, the Tswana who predominantly live in Botswana and the North West province in South Africa.

Modern Pedi people are descendants of the Kgatla(Bakgatla) a Tswaniac clan that migrated to 'Bopedi', present Sekhukhune District Municipality, under Lellelateng who formed the nation in what is now called the Limpopo province. Due the upheavals caused by the Mfecane in the 19th century, the confederation which was under Pedi hemogeny was invaded and defeated by the Ndebele under Mzilikazi, leaving the nation scattered throughout the region.


South Africa in 1885.
A Pedi woman breastfeeding. Alfred Duggan-Cronin. South Africa, early 20th century. The Wellcome Collection, London

Proto-Sotho people migrated south from the great lake region in east Africa making their way along modern day western Zimbabwe through successive waves spanning 5 centuries with the last group of Sotho speakers, the Hurutse, settling in the region west of Gauteng around 16th century. It is from this group that the Pedi/Maroteng originated from the Tswana speaking Kgatla offshoot. In about 1650 they settled in the area to the south of the Steelpoort River where over several generations, linguistic and cultural homogeneity developed to a certain degree. Only in the last half of the 18th century did they broaden their influence over the region, establishing the Pedi paramountcy by bringing smaller neighbouring chiefdoms under their control.

During migrations in and around this area, groups of people from diverse origins began to concentrate themselves around dikgoro or ruling nuclear groups. They identified themselves through symbolic allegiances to totemic animals such as tau (lion), kolobe (pig) and kwena (crocodile).

The Pedi area, or heartland, is known as Sekhukhuneland, and is situated between the Olifants and Steelpoort Rivers, which are also known as the Lepelle and the Tubatse. The area is named after Sekhukhune I, the son of Sekwati.

Marota Empire/ Pedi KingdomEdit

The Pedi polity under King(Kgosi) Thulare (c. 1780-1820) was made up of land that stretched from present-day Rustenburg to the lowveld in the west and as far south as the Vaal river. Pedi power, at its height during Thulare's reign (about 1780-1820) was undermined during the period of the Difaqane, by Ndwandwe invaders from the south-east. A period of dislocation followed, after which the polity was re-stabilised under Thulare's son Sekwati.[3]

Sekwati succeeded Thulare as paramount chief of the Pedi in the northern Transvaal (Limpopo) and was frequently in conflict with the Matabele under Mzilikazi, and plundered by the Zulu and the Swazi. Sekwati was also engaged in numerous negotiations and struggles for control over land and labour with the Afrikaans-speaking farmers (Boers) who had since settled in the region.

These disputes over land occurred after the founding of Ohrigstad in 1845, but after the town was incorporated into the Transvaal Republic in 1857 and the Republic of Lydenburg was formed, an agreement was reached that the Steelpoort River was the border between the Pedi and the Republic. The Pedi were well equipped to defend themselves though, as Sekwati and his heir, Sekhukhune I were able to procure firearms, mostly through migrant labour to the Kimberley diamond fields and as far as Port Elizabeth. The Pedi paramountcy's power was also cemented by the fact that chiefs of subordinate villages, or kgoro, take their principal wives from the ruling house. This system of cousin marriage resulted in the perpetuation of marriage links between the ruling house and the subordinate groups, and involved the payment of inflated bohadi or bride wealth, mostly in the form of cattle, to the Maroteng house.

Sekhukhune WarsEdit

King Sekhukhune 1881

Sekhukune I succeeded his father in 1861, and repelled an attack against the Swazi. At the time, there were also border disputes with the Transvaal, which lead to the formation of Burgersfort, which was manned by volunteers from Lydenburg. By the 1870s, the Pedi were one of three alternative sources of regional authority, alongside the Swazi and the ZAR (Zuid-Afrikaansche Republiek).

However, tension increased after Sekhukhune refused to pay taxes to the Transvaal government, and the Transvaal declared war in May 1876. It became known as the Sekhukhune War, the outcome of which was that the Transvaal commando's attack failed. After this, volunteers nevertheless continued to devastate Sekhukhune's land and provoke unrest, to the point where peace terms were met in 1877.

However, unrest continued, and this became a justification for the British annexing the Transvaal in April 1877, under Sir Theophilus Shepstone. Following the annexation, the British also declared war on Sekhukhune I under Sir Garnet Wolseley, and defeated him in 1879. Sekhukhune was then imprisoned in Pretoria, but later released after the first South African War, when the Transvaal regained independence.

However, soon after his release Sekhukhune was murdered by his half-brother Mampuru, and because his heir had been killed in the war and his grandson, Sekhukhune II was too young to rule, one of his other half-brothers, Kgoloko assumed power as regent.


In 1885, an area of 1000 square kilometres was set aside for the Pedi, known as Geluk's Location, created by the Transvaal Republic's Native Location Commission. Later, according to apartheid segregation policy, the Pedi would be assigned the homeland of Lebowa.


Use of TotemsEdit

Like the other Sotho-Tswana groups the Bapedi people use totems to idenfity sister clans and kinship. The most widely used totems are as follows in Sepedi:

  • Kolobe - Pig
  • Lion - Tau
  • Kwena - Crocodile
  • Noko - Porcupine
  • Chuene - Monkey


Pedi Living Culture Route, Limpopo, South Africa

In pre-conquest times, people settled on elevated sites in relatively large villages, divided into kgoro (pl. dikgoro, groups centred on agnatic family clusters). Each consisted of a group of households, in huts built around a central area which served as meeting-place, cattle byre, graveyard and ancestral shrine. Households' huts were ranked in order of seniority. Each wife of a polygynous marriage had her own round thatched hut, joined to other huts by a series of open-air enclosures (lapa) encircled by mud walls. Older boys and girls, respectively, would be housed in separate huts. Aspirations to live in a more modern style, along with practicality, have led most families to abandon the round hut style for rectangular, flat-tin-roofed houses. Processes of forced and semi-voluntary relocation, and an apartheid government planning scheme implemented in the name of "betterment", have meant that many newer settlements, and the outskirts of many older ones, consist of houses built in grid-formation, occupied by individual families unrelated to their neighbours. Such living arrangements have not changed substantially since the advent of democracy in 1994.[original research?]


Traditional Dancers Performing at a wedding

Important crafts included metal smithing, beadwork, pottery, house-building and painting, woodworking (especially the making of drums). Pedi music (mmino wa setso: traditional music, lit. music of origin) has a six-note scale. Formerly played on a plucked reed instrument called dipela, its musicians now make use of trade-store instruments such as the jaw harp, and the German autoharp (harepa), which have come to be regarded as typically Pedi. The peak of Pedi (and northern Sotho) musical expression is arguably the kiba genre, which has transcended its rural roots to become a migrant style. In its men's version it features an ensemble of players, each playing an aluminium end-blown pipe of a different pitch (naka, pl. dinaka) and together producing a descending melody that mimics traditional vocal songs with richly harmonised qualities. In the women's version, a development of earlier female genres which has recently been included within the definition of kiba, a group of women sings songs (koša ya dikhuru- loosely translated: knee-dance music). This translation has it roots in the traditional kneeling dance that involve salacious shaking movements of the breast area accompanied by chants. These dances are still very common among Tswana, Sotho and Nguni women. This genre comprises sets of traditional songs steered by a lead singer accompanied by a chorus and an ensemble of drums (meropa), previously wooden but now made of oil-drums and milk-urns. These are generally sung at drinking parties and/or during celebrations such as weddings.[original research?]


Kgoshi – a loose collection of kinsmen with related males at its core – was as much a jural unit as a kinship one, since membership was defined by acceptance of the kgoro-head's authority rather than primarily by descent. Royal or chiefly kgoros sometimes underwent rapid subdivision as sons contended for positions of authority.

Marriage was patrilocal. Polygamy was practised mostly by people of higher, especially chiefly, status. Marriage was preferred with a close or classificatory cousin, especially a mother's brother's daughter, but this preference was most often realised in the case of ruling or chiefly families. Practised by the ruling dynasty, during its period of dominance, it represented a system of political integration and control recycling of bridewealth (dikgomo di boela shakeng; returning of bride cattle). Cousin marriage meant that the two sets of prospective in-laws were closely connected even before the event of marriage, and went along with an ideology of sibling-linkage, through which the bogadi (bridewealth) procured for a daughter's marriage would in turn be used to get a bride for her brother, and he would repay his sister by offering a daughter to her son in marriage. Cousin marriage is still practised, but less frequently. Polygyny too is now rare, many marriages end in divorce or separation, and a large number of young women remain single and raise their children in small (and often very poor) female-headed households. But new forms of domestic co-operation have come into being, often between brothers and sisters, or matrilineally linked relatives.[original research?]

Previously the oldest son of a household within a polygynous family would inherit the house-property of his mother, including its cattle, and was supposed to act as custodian of these goods for the benefit of the household's other children. With the decline of cattle-keeping and the sharp increase in land-shortage, this has switched to a system of last-born inheritance, primarily of land.

The life-cycle for both sexes was differentiated by important rituals. Both girls and boys underwent initiation. Boys (bašemane, later mašoboro) spent their youth looking after cattle at remote outposts, in the company of peers and older youths. Circumcision and initiation at koma (initiation school), held about once every five years, socialised youths into groups of cohorts or regiments (mephato) bearing the leader's name, whose members then maintained lifelong loyalty to each other, and often travelled together to find work on the farms or on the mines. Girls attended their own koma and were initiated into their own regiments (ditswa-bothuku), usually two years after the boys. Initiation is still practised, and provides a considerable income to the chiefs who licence it for a fee or, in recent years, to private entrepreneurs who have established initiation schools beyond chiefs' jurisdiction.[4]


The present-day Pedi area, Sekhukhuneland, is situated between the Olifants River (Lepelle) and its tributary the Steelpoort River (Tubatse); bordered on the east by the Drakensberg range, and crossed by the Leolo mountains. But at the height of its power the Pedi polity under Thulare (about 1780–1820) included an area stretching from the site of present-day Rustenburg in the west to the Lowveld in the east, and ranging as far south as the Vaal River. Reliable historians and sources also credit the Pedi kingdom as the first and dominant monarchy established in the region. The kingdom, which boasted numerous victories over the Boers and the British armies, was one of the strongest and largest in Southern Africa in the mid to late 1800s under the warrior king Sekhukhune I, whose kingdom stretched from the Vaal River in the south to the Limpopo River in the north.[original research?]

The area under Pedi control was severely limited when the polity was defeated by British troops in 1879. Reserves were created for this and for other Northern Sotho groups by the Transvaal Republic's Native Location Commission. Over the next hundred years or so, these reserves were then variously combined and separated by a succession of government planners. By 1972 this planning had culminated in the creation of an allegedly independent national unit or “homeland” named Lebowa. In terms of the government's plans to accommodate ethnic groups separately from each other, this was designed to act as a place of residence for all Northern Sotho speakers. But many Pedi had never resided here: since the polity's defeat, they had become involved in a series of labour-tenancy or sharecropping arrangements with white farmers, lived as tenants on crown land, or purchased farms communally as freeholders, or moved to live in the townships adjoining Pretoria and Johannesburg on a permanent or semi-permanent basis. In total, however, the population of the Lebowa homeland increased rapidly after the mid 1950s, due to the forced relocations from rural areas and cities in common South Africa undertaken by apartheid's planners, and to voluntary relocations by which former labour tenants sought independence from the restrictive and deprived conditions under which they had lived on the white farms.[original research?]

Subsistence and economyEdit

Overgrazed Bapedi reserve near Pietersburg, Drakensberg

Pre-conquest economy combined cattle-keeping with hoe cultivation. Principal crops were sorghum, pumpkins and legumes, which were grown by women on fields allocated to them when they married. Women hoed and weeded; did pottery and built and decorated huts with mud; made sleeping mats and baskets; ground grain, cooked, brewed, and collected water and wood. Men did some work in fields at peak times; hunted and herded; did woodwork, prepared hides, and were metal workers and smiths. Most major tasks were done communally by matsema (work-parties).[original research?]

The chief was depended upon to perform rain-making for his subjects. The introduction of the animal-drawn plough, and of maize, later transformed the labour division significantly, especially when combined with the effects of labour migration. Men's leaving home to work for wages was initially undertaken by regimental groups of youths to satisfy the paramount's firepower requirements, but later became increasingly necessary to individual households as population increase within the reserve and land degradation made it impossible to subsist from cultivation alone. Despite increasingly long absences, male migrants nonetheless remained committed to the maintenance of their fields: ploughing had now to be carried out during periods of leave, or entrusted to professional ploughmen or tractor owners. Women were left to manage and carry out all other agricultural tasks. Men, although subjected to increased controls in their lives as wage-labourers, fiercely resisted all direct attempts to interfere with the sphere of cattle-keeping and agriculture. Their resistance erupted in open rebellion – ultimately subdued – during the 1950s. In later decades, some families have continued to practise cultivation and to keep stock. These activities should more accurately be seen as demonstrating a long-term commitment to the rural social system to gain security in retirement than as providing a viable form of household subsistence.[original research?]

In the early 1960s, about 48% of the male population was absent as wage-earners at any given time. Between the 1930s and the 1960s, most Pedi men would spend a short period working on nearby white farms followed by a move to employment on the mines or domestic service and later – especially in more recent times – to factories or industry. Female wage employment began more recently, and is rarer and more sporadic. Some women work for short periods on farms, others have begun, since the 1960s, to work in domestic service in the towns of the Witwatersrand. But in recent years there have been rising levels of education and of expectation, combined with a sharp drop in employment rates. Many youths, better-educated than their parents and hoping for jobs as civil servants or teachers, stand little chance of getting employment of any kind.[original research?]

Land tenureEdit

The pre-colonial system of communal or tribal tenure, being broadly similar to that practised throughout the southern African region, was crystallised, but subtly altered, by the colonial administration. A man was granted land by the chief for each of his wives; unused land was reallocated by the chief, rather than being inherited within families. Overpopulation resulting from the government's relocation policies resulted in this system being modified – a household's fields, together with its residential plot, are now inherited, ideally by the youngest married son. Christian Pedi communities who owned freehold farms were removed to the reserve without compensation, but since 1994 South Africa many have now reoccupied their land or are preparing to do so, under restitution legislation. The few Pedi who still live as labour tenants on white farms have been promised some security of tenure by land reform legislation.[original research?]


Ancestors are viewed as intermediaries between humans and The Creator or God (Modimo/Mmopi)and are communicated to by calling on them using a process of burning incense, making an offering and speaking to them (go phasa). If necessary, animal sacrifice may be done or beer presented to the shades on both the mother's and father's side. A key figure in family ritual was the kgadi (who was usually the father's elder sister). The position of ngaka (diviner) was formerly inherited patrilineally, but is now commonly inherited by a woman from her paternal grandfather or great-grandfather. This is often manifested through illness and through violent possession by spirits (malopo)of the body, the only cure for which is to train as a diviner. There has been a proliferation of diviners in recent times, with many said to be motivated mainly by a desire for material gain.[original research?]


Legendary Rulers of the Bapedi pre-1824.

Name Notes
Tabane Tabane had split from the main BaKgatla tribal grouping and moved to what is now known as Skilpadfontein north of modern day Pretoria.
Motsha Motsha is said to have been the son of Tabane.
Diale/Liale Diale/Liale Son of Motsha.
Thobele "Lellelateng" Thobele "Lellelateng" was born to Motobele, the junior wife of Diale/Liale.Thobele "Lellelateng" and his people settled near the Steelpoortriver valley in c.1650. "Lellelateng"]] ("The one who cries") and his people are said to be the first to be called BaPedi .
Kabu The son of Lellelateng.
Thobejane The son of Kabu
Monkangwe The son of Thobejane.
Leseilane Eldest son of Monkangwe. died without issue.
Mohube Son of Monkangweand younger brother of Leseilane.
Mampuru I (regent) Youngest son of Monkangwe. Youngest brother of both Mohube and Leseilane. Installed as regent until Morwamoche I the son of Mohube is of age to ascend to the throne.
Morwamoche I The son of Mohube.
Dikotope The son of Morwamoche I. Succeeded by his half brother Thulare I.

Historical Rulers of the BaPedi 1824 - Present.

Name Notes
Thulare I Thulare unified many smaller Sotho-Tswana tribes and founded the Marota Empire with the Bapedi in the seat of leadership. died in 1824, on the day of a solar eclipse and this is the first definite date we can establish in the history of the Bapedi.
Molekutu I After the death of Thulare I, his eldest son Molekutu I ascended to the throne only to be killed two years later with the arrival of Mzilikazi north of the Vaal.
Phetedi I Molekutu I was succeeded by his brother. Phetedi but Phetedi ruled for less than a year before befalling the same fate as his older brother Molekutu under the spear of Mzilikazi's impi.
Sekwati I Sekwati was the youngest son of Thulare I repelled Mzilikazi and the Mthwakazi attacks by holding ground in the forests north of Magoebaskloof. Long after the defeat of Mzilikazi at Silkaatsnek, Sekwati I returned to the lands of the Marota and ascended to the throne as Kgošigolo. Sekwati died in 1861.
Sekhukhune I Upon the death of Sekwati, Sekhukhune challenged his brother Mampuru II to combat in a succession dispute. Mampuru II is said to have declined and Sekhukhune was made Kgoši. Sekhukhune expanded both the wealth and military power of the Marota empire and when war broke out between the ZAR and the Marota, Sekhukhune was victorious. After another war with British forces Sekhukhune was captured and held in Pretoria. Sekhukune was later assassinated by his brother Mampuru II.
Mampuru II There is much debate over the succesion dispute of Sekhukhune and Mampuru II. What is known is that with the aid of British forces, Mampuru succeeded in overthrowing Sekhukhune and personally killed him in 1882. Mampuru himself ruled in exile for about a year before being executed by the ZAR government for the murder of his brother.
Kgoloko (regent) After the death of Sekhukhune's son Morwamoche II, It was decided that Kgoloko the son of Sekwati and half brother of both Sekhukhune I and Mampuru II would rule as regent until Sekhukhune's grandson and son of Morwamoche II was old enough to rule.
Sekhukhune II Sekhukhune II was the grandson of Sekhukhune I and the son of Morwamoche II and succeeded his uncle Kgoloko as soon as he was deemed old enough.Sekhukhune II took advantage of wartime conditions during the Anglo - Boer War to reshape the pattern of colonial relations imposed on them by the ZAR, to attempt to re-establish the dominance of the Marota in the eastern Transvaal and to negotiate favourable terms with the occupying British military forces once the ZAR was defeated.
Thulare II Thulare II the son of Sekhukhune II died without issue.
Morwamoche III Upon the death of his older brother, Morwamoche III held the throne until his death.
Mankopodi (regent) When Morwamoche III died, his heir Rhyane Thulare was too young to rule and so Morwamoche III's wife and mother to Rhyane ruled as regent.
Rhyane Thulare Had allegedly refused to ascend to the throne without his mothers blessing. Rhyane however did not renounce his claim to the ruler ship. Rhyane reasserted his claim for the throne in 1989. Rhyane Thulare died in 2007.
Kgagudi Kenneth Sekhukhune as Sekhukhune III (regent) Kgagudi Kenneth Sekhukhune was the son of Morwamoche III and was installed as "acting king" in 1976 until such time as the complications surrounding Rhyane Thulare's succession was sorted out. However, when Rhyane Thulare died, Kgagudi Kenneth Sekhukhune attempted to establish himself as the rightful Kgoši of the BaPedi.
Thulare Victor Thulare as Thulare III (incumbent) Thulare III is the son of Rhyane Thulare and has laid a claim to the throne upon which his uncle Sekhukhune III sits feuling a succesion dispute between Thulare III and Sekhukhune III. A court ruling in 2018 ended a long battle over the throne of the BaPedi with Thulare III was recognised as the incumbent Kgošigolo of the BaPedi ba Marota.

Notable Pedi peopleEdit


  1. ^ "Pedi, North Sotho". Retrieved 15 March 2018.
  2. ^ "Sepedi not dialect of North Sotho". SowetanLIVE. Retrieved 9 July 2020.
  3. ^ "History of the Pedi". Retrieved 9 July 2020.
  4. ^ Roberts & Winter 1916.

Further readingEdit

  • Amies, C; Murray, N.L.; Scott, J.G.; Warren, R.S. (1953). "Trachoma in the South African Bantu; a survey in Sekukuniland". International review of trachoma. 30 (3): 405–410. PMID 13135066.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
  • Longmore, L. (1952). "Death and burial customs of the Bapedi of Sekukuniland". African Studies. 11 (2): 83–84. doi:10.1080/00020185208706871. ISSN 0002-0184.

External linksEdit