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
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).
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.
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.
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
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
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
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