Power in Colonial Lesotho: Conflict and Discourse in Lesotho, 1870-1960

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Power in Colonial Lesotho: Conflict and Discourse in Lesotho, 1870-1960. By Elizabeth Eldredge. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2007. Pp. xii, 264. $65.00 cloth.

Elizabeth Eldredge's work provides important detail and critical analysis of some defining moments in Leostho's history, and successfully uses Lesotho to illustrate how Africans used hidden messages in public discourse to challenge colonial rule. The book makes excellent use of archival material, and provides insightful analysis of colonial documents, but would have benefited from a more extensive use of oral sources. The critique of older scholarly work in the introduction does not seem necessary for her argument.

Chapter 2 begins with a general political history of Lesotho from 1868 to 1966 that provides context for the subsequent chapters. In Chapters 3 and 4 Eldredge dissects the use of rhetoric between Moorosi and colonial officials leading up to war in 1879. Her analysis demonstrates how Moorosi's rebellion was a prelude to the Gun War of 1880-81. Chapters 5 and 6 focus on the Gun War between the Basotho and Cape Administration. Eldredge refutes the idea that the Gun War was a civil war between the Basotho, instead arguing that the Basotho mutually agreed upon the roles of loyalist and rebel. Although this may have been the case in some instances, the violence between Joel and Jonathan Molapo in Leribe suggests that not all Basotho were on the same side. The author states that Letsie I assigned the roles of rebel and loyal to Joel and Jonathan, and although this is a new and intriguing approach to Lesotho history, the evidence does not fully support this conclusion. Although most of the literature on Lesotho has portrayed Letsie I as a weak and powerless paramount chief, Eldredge does an excellent job of correcting this impression and demonstrates that he cultivated this image to obscure his role in the rebellion to avoid angering the British. She argues that Letsie I was using the political tactic of dissembling- a tactic that his father Moshoeshoe had used with the British. Although she is not the first scholar to put forward this analysis of Letsie's political style, she provides to date, the most detailed research in support of it. Eldredge's work provides a fundamental shift in how we view the Gun War. She may, however, have tried to push the argument a bit too far. Building on the previous arguments, Chapter 7 demonstrates how Letsie à s son and successor, Lerotholi, used similar means of discourse in claiming weakness during the events leading up to war with his uncle Masupha in 1898. Once again Eldredge makes an intriguing case that this war should be seen as a colonial war rather than a civil war amongst the Basotho. …