The reasons for the annexation of Lesotho 1868 a new perspective

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Lelimo, Martin Moloantoa
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University of the Free State
The annexation of Lesotho in 1868 by Great Britain has been interpreted by previous historians in various ways. Most have emphasised the economic, humanitarian and moral factors which compelled Wadehouse to declare Basotho to be British subjects. While these factors were real and cannot be ignored, the more important immediate cause of the annexation at that point in time were Britain's regional geo-political concerns: namely, the need Fa prevent the Orange Free State from breaking out of the neo-colonial framework imposed on it by Britain through the Bloemfontein Convention of 1854. In other words, if the OFS were to overrun Lesotho and head for the Transkei coast, it could then establish independent relations with foreign powers through Port St. John's. This factor has been played down or even forgotten by most historians. The new perspective articulated in this thesis seeks to place it back on centre-stage. In order to put the final act of annexation into proper historical perspective, this thesis explores carefully the various treaties and relations which existed between Lesotho and Britain from 1842 onwards. During the period 1842-47, Britain was pleased to assert Lesotho' s right to its land and protection for its citizens against the encroachments of the white settlers of Transorangia. This period of the Treaty States gave way to that of the Orange River Sovereignty in 1848, when Sir Harry Smith annexed the entire region for Britain and tried to establish proper mechanisms for peace and justice for both black and white. As this experiment failed, a scapegoat was needed. Moshoeshoe, previously viewed as the source of peace and as a man prepared to compromise for the common good, now became in Smith's view the source of tension and a proud ruler who needed to be put in his place. Attacked twice by the British, Moshoeshoe was not humbled militarily; through skilful diplomacy, he regained the confidence of Governor Cathcart. As Britain had already decided upon a policy of abandoning the Orange River Sovereignty, the only question which needed to be answered was this: What status would Moshoeshoe, her traditional ally, enjoy under the new dispensation. Clerk, entrusted with the task of disentangling Britain from the ORS, gave Moshoeshoe strong assurances concerning his land claims while at the same time he told the white settlers the opposite, thus leaving the border situation confused and unresolved. Clerk also agreed to the white settlers' request for an embargo on arms and ammunition against the Basotho. Britain's "neutrality" was thus highly advantageous to the newly formed Orange Free State. Nonetheless, during the First Basotho-Boer War of 1858, the Basotho emerged victorious due to their numerical superiority and the Boer's realisation .that they could win individual battles but they could not subdue the Basotho. The British, through Governor Grey, gave more land to the Free State however in the hope of persuading it to join a white federation of states. Moshoeshoe had thus won the war but lost the peace. Though disillusioned with the British, Moshoeshoe knew that in the long run, he had no choice but to seek closer ties with Britain ifhe was to have any hope of resisting the land hungry white settlers. In 1861, Moshoeshoe formally asked to become a subject of the Queen. This request was followed up carefully but, unfortunately, came to nothing. Seven more years were to pass and the Basotho would be terribly humbled in battle during the Second and Third Basotho-Boer Wars before the British finally acted to save the Basotho from complete defeat, fearing as has been said that a victorious OFS would then push on to the coast/and break out of the encirclement imposed on it by Britain. The historical legacy of injustice from this period has never been forgotten by the Basotho nation. The issue of Lesothos Conquered Territory, lost to the Orange Free State with the blessing of Britain, is still alive and perhaps the time has finally arrived for justice to be done now that South Africa is finally ruled by a government elected by all of her people.
Lesotho -- History, To 1966, Dissertation (M.A. (History))--University of the Free State, 1998