The heterogeneous Northern Sotho are often referred to as the baPedi (Pedi people), because the Pedi make up the largest of their constituent groups. Their language is sePedi.
This society arose in the northern Transvaal as a confederation of small chiefdoms some time before the 17th century. A succession of strong Pedi chiefs claimed power over smaller chiefdoms and were able to dominate important trade routes between the interior plateau and the Indian Ocean coast for several generations.
During the 19th century, Pedi armies were defeated by the Natal armies of Mzilikazi and were revived under the command of a Pedi chief, Sekwati. Boer Voortrekkers in the Transvaal acquired some Pedi lands peacefully, but later clashed with them over further land claims.
By the 1870s, the Voortrekker armies were sufficiently weakened from these clashes that they agreed to a confederation with the British colonies of Natal and the Cape until tensions eventually lead to the South African War in 1899.
The smaller Lobedu population makes up another subgroup among the Northern Sotho. The Lobedu are closely related to the Shona population, the largest ethnic group in Zimbabwe, but the Lobedu are classified among the Sotho primarily because of linguistic similarities. The Lobedu have unique magical powers attributed to a female authority figure known as the Rain Queen.
The Northern Sotho homeland of Lebowa was declared a ‘self-governing’ (not independent) territory in 1972, with a population of almost 2 million. It has, of course, along with all the former self-governing territories and ‘homelands’, been fully re-incorporated into South Africa following the first free elections in 1994.
The Southern Sotho peoples are a diverse group many of whom live in South Africa in the area surrounding Lesotho (2 million), and in Lesotho itself (1.6 million). They are often simply referred to as baSotho (Sotho people).
The Sotho were unified during the reign of King Moshoeshoe I in the 1830s. Moshoeshoe established control over several small groups of Sotho and Nguni speakers, who had been displaced by the mfecane.
Some of these communities had established ties to San peoples who lived just west of Moshoeshoe’s territory. As a result, Sotho speech, unlike sePedi, incorporates a number of ‘click’ sounds associated with Khoisan languages.
Sotho peoples were assigned to the tiny homeland of QwaQwa on the Lesotho border during the apartheid era. QwaQwa was declared ‘self-governing’ in 1974, but Chief Minister Kenneth Mopeli rejected independence on the grounds that the homeland did not have a viable economy. Only about 200,000 Sotho people lived in QwaQwa during the 1980s. Tribes, nations & languages
Xhosa; Zulu; Afrikaner; Khoisan
A community of more than 300,000 people, Botshabelo, was incorporated into QwaQwa in 1987. Officials in the homeland capital, Phuthaditjhaba, and many homeland residents objected to the move, and the South African Supreme Court returned Botshabelo to the jurisdiction of the Orange Free State a short time later.
The Western Sotho, more commonly called the baTswana (Tswana people), are a heterogeneous group, including descendants of the once great Tlhaping and Rolong societies, as well as the Hurutshe, Kwena, and other small groups.
There are about three million baTswana living in South Africa and one million in Botswana. Their language, seTswana, is closely related to Sesotho, and the two are mutually intelligible in most areas.
In South Africa, many baTswana live in the area that formed the numerous segments of the former homeland, Bophuthatswana, as well as neighbouring areas of the North-West Province and the Northern Cape.
By the nineteenth century, several Tswana groups were politically independent, loosely affiliated chiefdoms that clashed repeatedly with Afrikaner farmers (Boers).
In the late nineteenth century Afrikaner and British officials seized almost all Tswana territory, dividing it among the Cape Colony, Afrikaner republics, and British territories.
In 1910, when the Cape and the Transvaal were incorporated into the Union of South Africa, the Tswana chiefs lost most of their remaining power, and the Tswana people were forced to pay taxes to the British Crown.
Tswana culture was distinguished for its complex legal system, involving a hierarchy of courts and mediators, and harsh punishments for those found guilty of crimes.
Tswana farmers often formed close trading relationships with nearby Khoisan-speaking hunters and herdsmen; the Tswana generally received meat and animal pelts in return for cattle.
Bophuthatswana was declared ‘independent’ in 1977, although no country other than South Africa recognized it. The homeland consisted primarily of seven disconnected enclaves near, or adjacent to, the border between South Africa and Botswana.
Efforts to consolidate the territory and its population continued throughout the 1980s, as successive small land areas outside Bophuthatswana were incorporated into the homeland.
Bophuthatswana’s residents were overwhelmingly poor, despite the area’s rich mineral wealth. Wages in the homeland’s industrial sector were lower than those in South Africa, and most workers travelled to jobs outside the homeland each day. The poverty of homeland residents was especially evident in comparison with the world’s wealthy tourists who visited Sun City, a holiday and gambling resort in the former Bophuthatswana homeland.

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