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Morosi (or Moorosi; died 20 November 1879) was a Baphuthi chief in the wild southern part of Basutoland. He led a revolt against the Cape Colony government in 1879, in defence of his independence south of the Orange River.[1] The British refused to help the Cape Government.[2] However, Letsie, the paramount chief and first son of Moshoeshoe, and many of the Sotho ruling establishment, rallied to support the Cape forces, and the rebellion was put down after several months of arduous fighting.[3][4] Morosi was beheaded and his body mutilated by Cape troops.

Died(1879-11-20)20 November 1879
Cause of deathShot

Early lifeEdit

Morosi was the son of Mokuane, a Baphuthi man, and Maidi (daughter of chief Tshosane) at Marunyeng (the present day Thoteng) in Mohale's hoek district. This was during the journey to the new home, the foothills of Thaba-Linoha, now known as Maphutseng. According to Major David Hook, who met him, he was small and had yellow skin.[5]

Chief of the BaphuthiEdit

As the Boer Great Trek progressed, the Boers began to encroach on Basuto territory.[6] Moshoeshoe I, paramount chief of Basutoland introduced Morosi to Benjamin D'Urban, Governor of the Cape Colony, at Graham's Town in September 1837.[6]

Morosi won a skirmish against the British at Dulcie's Nek on the border between the Herschel District of the Cape Colony and the Quthing District of Basutoland on 21 February 1851.[7][8] In April 1851, Morosi along with Loperi, Mohali and Letsi attacked Major Donovan.[9] Battle of Berea. When Sir George Cathcart brought a force into Basutoland in 1852, Morosi was largely responsible for defeating him.[10] Poshuli and Morosi ravage country, junction Caledon and Wilgeboom Rivers, killing 13 white men, 20 June 1865.[11] November 1852, Cathcart, finding Moshoeshoe not amenable to reason, decided to move against him.[12] 20 December 1852.[13] Cathcart's forces under Col Eyre vastly outnumbered and in trouble.[14] After battle, from Thaba Bosiu, Moshoeshoe writes: "This day you have fought against my people and taken much cattle. As the object for which you have come is to have a compensation for Boers, I beg you will be satisfied with what you have taken. I entreat peace from you. You have shown your power, you have chastised - let it be enough I pray you, and let me be no longer considered an enemy to the Queen. I will try all I can to keep my people in order in the future."[15]

Basutho - Boer battles 1858. Hostilitiles commenced at Beersheba Mission Station on 23 March 1858.[16] 6 May, Free State forced marched on Thaba Bosiu and defeated.[17] President Boshof appealed to Sir George Grey, Governor of the Cape... treaty signed eventually on 15 October 1858.[18]

No hostilities until June 1865. President Brand sends ultimatum to Moshoeshoe after some Free State burghers had been imprisoned and illtreated by the latter, then proclaims war.[19]

19 June 1865, Mr Burnet, Civil Commissioner for Aliwal North writes to the High Commissioner to say that a wholesale system of thieving was determined on by Poshuli and Morosi and that the Boers and Basutho had come into collision.[19] Ongoing hostilities.

20 June 1865, before daylight 2000 warriors under Poshuli and Morosi crossed the Caledon near its junction with Wilgeboom Spruit, and commenced to ravage the district before them. From the farm adjoining the commonage of Smithfield they laid waste a broad belt of country for a distance of thirty miles towards Bloemfontein. The inhabitants warned just in time to save their lives, fled without being able to remove anything. The invaders burned the houses, broke whatever implements they could not set fire to, and drove off more than 100,000 sheep, besides great droves of horned cattle and horses. In an hour the richest men in the district of Caledon River were reduced to destitution. 13 white men killed.[20]

Attempt to storm Thaba Bosiu on 15 August 1865.[21]

12 March 1868, Basutoland declared British territory.[22] 11 March 1870, Moshoeshoe dies.[23] 3 November 1871, Basutoland annexed to the Cape.[23] 23 November 1872, responsible government established at Cape Town.[23]

Morosi's Mountain 1879 CampaignEdit

Morosi's Mountain
Morosi's Mountain (Lesotho)

In recognition of Morosi's military assistance and successes, most recently in the war with the Orange Free State, Moshoeshoe granted him lands in the southwestern corner of Basutoland.[10][3] Here, in 1879, Morosi's son Doda and some other Baphuthi tribesmen were refusing to pay the hut taxes which had been agreed upon between the chiefs and the Cape Government on the annexation of Basutoland to the Cape Colony in 1868.[10] John Austen, the Resident Magistrate, imprisoned the offenders but a force of Baphuthis set them free.[24] A troop of Cape Mounted Riflemen (CMR) responded but were repulsed by Morosi, who refused to give up his son.[24] Morosi and the approximately 1,500 Baphuthi men, along with their women and children took refuge on a mountain, where he requested a week to respond to the Cape Government's offer of safe return if he gave up the offenders.[24]

During that week, Morosi gradually and stealthily moved to another mountain 20 miles away in the Drakensberg range, which came to be known as Morosi's Mountain.[24] During the previous ten years, Morosi had worked on building a mountain top fortification.[25] The mountain has sheer drops on three sides and the fourth consists of a 30° slope, which he reinforced with a series of strong walls, 8–12 feet (2.4–3.7 m) high, impervious to artillery, with loopholes for guns.[25] There Morosi took refuge with around 300 Baphuthi soldiers and sufficient ammunition, food and cattle to resist a long siege, beginning 24 March, until he was finally overrun on 20 November.[25][26][27]

Morosi was besieged by up to 800 Cape soldiers and 1,500 Sotho, who had been lured by Griffith on the understanding that they would not be subject to disarmament under the Cape Peace Preservation Act of 1878.[26] A first assault on the mountain took place on 8 April but was repulsed.[8] Two men in that assault received the Victoria Cross: Sergent Robert Scott and Trooper Peter Brown.[28][29] A second assault took place on 5 June, involving the recently formed Cape Mounted Yeomanry.[8] This assault was also unsuccessful and Surgeon Major Edmund Hartley was awarded the Victoria Cross for his part.[28]

The final assault on Morosi's stronghold took place on the night of 19–20 November 1879 under the command of Colonel Zachary Bayly.[27] A mortar and ammunition was sent up from King William's Town and fixed about 400 metres (1,300 ft) from the first wall behind a rapidly built, stone bastion.[30] Mortar was fired over the walls of Morosi's fortifications for four days and nights prior to the attack.[31] At 12.30 am an attempt was made on the mountain by scaling up a fissure, which became known as Bourne's Crack.[32] The storming party reached the top before Morosi's men could regroup against the assault.[33] On reaching the top, the CMR cut down the enemy then set out to find Morosi.[34] Several small parties of Baphuthi were hiding in caves, within one of which was Morosi.[34]

A private of the CMR named Whitehead shot and killed Morosi.[34] After his death, Morosi was decapitated, his head then boiled and stripped down to the bone.[35][2] In the storming of his stronghold, Morosi's sons were also killed, with the exception of Doda, who escaped with around 120 men by jumping into the Orange River. Morosi's wives were also killed, as were some 200 of his men.[36]

For eight months Morosi and the Baphuthi had succeeded in holding off superior Cape forces with the skillful use of firearms.[37]

Personal lifeEdit

Morosi had a number of sons, including Doda and Letuka.[38] Letuka, who was killed at the same time as Morosi, was the father of Mocheka.[39] Mocheka, in 1913, tried and failed to have himself reinstated as chief of the Baphuthi.[40]


The conflict between Morosi and the Cape forces was one of the defining events of the exercise of authority in Phuthiland and Basutoland overall, which relied on the use of firearms and control of economic production.[41][42]

The Cape Government of Prime Minister Gordon Sprigg, in eventually overcoming Morosi, was assisted by Basuto soldiers armed with guns. However the Cape Government's subsequent policies destroyed any remaining trust or loyalty which the Basuto may have had to the Cape Colony. Firstly, the Cape Government imposed disarmament on the Basuto by extending the 1878 "Peace Preservation Act" into Basutoland for the first time in 1880. It also appropriated Morosi's lands in the Quthing District for white settlement.[43]

The Basuto resisted disarmament and rose in rebellion, which led to the Basuto Gun War from September 1880 to April 1881.[3] The Cape forces were ultimately incapable of enforcing the order and gave back Basutoland to Britain in 1884.[44]

Morosi's rebellion therefore played a significant role in maintaining the identity of the territory and the existence of Lesotho as a nation state today.[4]


  1. ^ Murray 1983, p. 267.
  2. ^ a b Watson 1980, p. 368.
  3. ^ a b c Atmore 1983, p. 145.
  4. ^ a b Watson 1983, p. 519.
  5. ^ Jolly 1995, p. 71.
  6. ^ a b Moodie 1888, p. 71.
  7. ^ Hook 1906, p. 80.
  8. ^ a b c Tylden 1969.
  9. ^ Moodie 1888, p. 73.
  10. ^ a b c Moodie 1888, p. 183.
  11. ^ Moodie 1888, p. 540.
  12. ^ Moodie 1888, p. 76.
  13. ^ Moodie 1888, p. 77.
  14. ^ Moodie 1888, p. 84.
  15. ^ Moodie 1888, p. 83.
  16. ^ Moodie 1888, p. 86.
  17. ^ Moodie 1888, pp. 88–89.
  18. ^ Moodie 1888, p. 89.
  19. ^ a b Moodie 1888, p. 91.
  20. ^ Moodie 1888, p. 104.
  21. ^ Moodie 1888, p. 109.
  22. ^ Moodie 1888, pp. 120, 541.
  23. ^ a b c Moodie 1888, p. 541.
  24. ^ a b c d Moodie 1888, p. 184.
  25. ^ a b c Moodie 1888, p. 185.
  26. ^ a b Atmore & Sanders 1971, p. 542.
  27. ^ a b Hulme 1990.
  28. ^ a b Tylden 1936.
  29. ^ Hook 1906, p. 267.
  30. ^ Moodie 1888, pp. 193–194.
  31. ^ Moodie 1888, p. 196.
  32. ^ Moodie 1888, pp. 196–197.
  33. ^ Callwell 1906, p. 488.
  34. ^ a b c Moodie 1888, p. 199.
  35. ^ Boon 1885, p. 110.
  36. ^ Moodie 1888, p. 200.
  37. ^ Atmore & Sanders 1971, pp. 542–543.
  38. ^ Hook 1906, pp. 83, 265.
  39. ^ Hook 1906, pp. 371–2.
  40. ^ Gocking 1997, p. 72.
  41. ^ Atmore 1970, p. 34.
  42. ^ Nkemdirim 1977, p. 78.
  43. ^ Weisfelder 2011, p. 188.
  44. ^ Atmore 1980, p. 421.


  • Atmore, Anthony (1970). "The Moorosi Rebellion". In Rotberg, R.; Mazrui, A. (eds.). Protest and Power in Black Africa. New York.
  • Atmore, Anthony (1980). "Review: The Justice of the Queen's Government: The Cape's Administration of Basutoland, 1871-1884 by S. B. Burman". The Journal of African History. 21 (3): 421–422. doi:10.1017/s0021853700018545. JSTOR 181208.
  • Atmore, Anthony (January 1983). "Review: Chiefdom Politics and Alien Law: Basutoland under Cape Rule, 1871-1884 by S. B. Burman". African Affairs. 82 (326): 145. doi:10.1093/oxfordjournals.afraf.a097496. JSTOR 721497.
  • Atmore, Anthony; Sanders, Peter (1971). "Sotho Arms and Ammunition in the Nineteenth Century". The Journal of African History. 12 (4): 535–544. doi:10.1017/s0021853700011130. JSTOR 181011.
  • Boon, Martin James (1885). The immortal history of South Africa : the only truthful, political, colonial, local, domestic, agricultural, theological, national, legal, financial and intelligent history of men, women, manners and facts of the Cape Colony, Natal, the Orange Free State, Transvaal, and South Africa. Vol.1. London: William Reeves. hdl:2263/8874.
  • Callwell, Col C. E. (1906). Small Wars. Their Principals and Practice (3rd ed.). London: HMSO.
  • Gocking, Roger (1997). "Colonial Rule and the 'Legal Factor' in Ghana and Lesotho". Africa: Journal of the International African Institute. 67 (1): 61–85. doi:10.2307/1161270. JSTOR 1161270.
  • Hook, David Blair (1906). With sword and statute (on the Cape of Good Hope frontier). Cape Town: J. C. Juta & Co. OL 7247141M.
  • Hulme, J. J. (June 1990). "Morosi's Mountain 1879, A Royal Engineer's Report". Military History Journal. South African Military History Society. 8 (3).
  • Jolly, Pieter (June 1995). "Melikane and Upper Mangolong Revisited: The Possible Effects on San Art of Symbiotic Contact between South-Eastern San and Southern Sotho and Nguni Communities". The South African Archaeological Bulletin. 50 (161): 68–80. doi:10.2307/3889275. JSTOR 3889275.
  • Moodie, Duncan Campbell Francis (1888). The history of the battles and adventures of the British, the Boers, and the Zulus, &c. in Southern Africa : from the time of Pharaoh Necho to 1880 : with copious chronology. Vol. II. Cape Town: Murray & St Leger. hdl:2263/16781.
  • Murray, Colin (April 1983). "Review: Chiefdom Politics and Alien Law: Basutoland under Cape Rule, 1871-1884 by S. B. Burman". Journal of Southern African Studies. 9 (2): 267. JSTOR 2636306.
  • Nkemdirim, Bernard A. (March 1977). "Reflections on Political Conflict, Rebellion, and Revolution in Africa". The Journal of Modern African Studies. 15 (1): 75–90. doi:10.1017/s0022278x0001449x. JSTOR 159792.
  • Tylden, Geoffrey (1936). "The capture of Morosi's Mountain, 1879". Journal of the Society for Army Historical Research. 15: 208–15.
  • Tylden, Geoffrey (December 1969). "Basutoland Roll of Honour 1851-1881". Military History Journal. South African Military History Society. 1 (5).
  • Watson, R. L. (1980). "The Subjection of a South African State: Thaba Nchu, 1880-1884". The Journal of African History. 21 (3): 368. doi:10.1017/s0021853700018351. JSTOR 181189.
  • Watson, R. L. (1983). "Review: Chiefdom Politics and Alien Law: Basutoland under Cape Rule, 1871-1884 by S. B. Burman". The International Journal of African Historical Studies. 16 (3): 519. doi:10.2307/218766. JSTOR 218766.
  • Weisfelder, Richard F. (December 2011). "Review: "Throwing Down White Man:" Cape Rule and Misrule in Colonial Lesotho, 1871-1884 by Peter Sanders". African Studies Review. 54 (3): 187–189. doi:10.1353/arw.2011.0049. JSTOR 41304805. S2CID 142909941.

Further readingEdit

  • Burman, Sandra B. (1976). The Justice of the Queen's government. Leiden: Afrika-Studiecentrum. ISBN 9789070110123. OCLC 905668281.
  • Burman, Sandra B. (1980). Chiefdom politics and alien law. New York: Holmes and Meier Publishers. ISBN 9780841905917. OCLC 5830529.
  • Fysh, Graham (2012). Moorosi: A South African king's battle for survival. Seattle: LifeTime Creations. ISBN 9780962898730.
  • Tylden, Geoffrey (1950). The Rise of the Basuto. Cape Town: Juta. OCLC 468950930.