The name Queen Manthatisi [Mmanthatisi] was dreaded in the early 19th Century. She was a warrior who led strong men to ward off enemies including British invaders and protected her territory during the southern African slave trade.
The people of Batlokoa (later became the Harrismith district of the Free State province of South Africa) – where she ruled – fell in love with her. She was not just a queen, but the soul of the army. Queen Manthatisi was very influential across southern Africa in her time and some chiefs surrounded instead of going to war with her.
Queen Manthatisi had a diminutive appearance, but was strong in character earning her the plaudit as a brave warrior. At some point her people nicknamed her – the tiny one. Historians have described her as “beautiful, regal, powerful and intelligent.”
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Manthatisi fell in love with a chief of a neighbouring village. The union with Mokotjo produced four sons. She shot to fame when her husband died a few years after paving way for a very young Sekonyela to become the next of kin.
However, by tradition Sekonyela was too young to rule. Manthatisi had to step in quickly in an acting capacity as the regent of Batlokoa – near present day Lesotho. That was the beginning of her story for the history books.
Her kingdom came under intense attack. Her people looked up to her. She couldn’t disappoint the dejected men and women. Manthatisi stepped up to the plate as a real leader. History has it that she led an army force of about 40,000 to conquer kingdoms hoping to expand their territories.
The book ‘Manthatisi and Sekonyela: Queen of the Batlokwa (Book 1 of 2)’ referred to her as the ‘Queen of the Wild Cat People’ as a result of her stubbornness.
Manthatisi had a royal kraal which was called ‘Nkwe’, a name gotten from the large wildcat, or leopard. The Kraal, according to was placed high on a ridge with sharp and rocky sides, and stayed there for over 150 years.
Historically known as busy people who worked with iron, the Tlokwas were experts in making walls from the ironstone boulders. They traded in tools made from iron and skins of animals.
One night in the year 1823, as the people of Batlokwa went to sleep, unexpectedly the warriors of Mpangazita stormed the village. There was confusion everywhere resulting in casualties. Lives were lost leaving families without loved ones and homes.
“It was January 1823, the time of the year crops were ripening and food was usually plentiful. But the Wild Cat People were compelled to live frugally, for so great had been the chaos brought about by difaqane/difetlwane in general and the plundering of Mmanthatisi, Mpangazita and Matiwane in particular that entire tribes had vanished from their settlements even before they had tilled their fields in preparation for planting.
“Indeed, the Central Plateau swarmed with hunger-stricken stragglers and small, detached parties of bandits. Apart from roots, bulbs and berries, there was little food to be found in the veld, certainly not enough to feed so large a horde as that of Mmanthatisi,” according to .
When the going got tough, Manthatisi led her people to flee for safety in a sister village known as Basia. Even there she turned down offers to stay as a refugee with her people and not even another show of love in Mokgalong Tlokwa, a nearby village ruled by Nkgahle who offered asylum and assistance.
reported that she turned down the offers and chose to preserve the independence of her tribe and she nursed mistrust for Nkgahle, fearing he would betray her because of his alleged involvement in a coup to overthrow her.
So Manthatisi left and moved on with her people and eventually settled on the Marabeng Mountains. One day, a famous Botswana chief, Makaba of the Bangwaketsi, stood up to Manthatisi and defeated her strong army.
Wikipedia continued: “The old Chief had decided not to surrender to Mmanthatisi without a fight. He called up every available warrior, garrisoned every pass leading to his capital, and with the guile for which he was famous, prepared traps into which he planned to lead his aggressors.
“Since her flight from the Harrismith district Mmanthatisi had managed to brush aside all opposition in the territories she traversed, but now in the stifling bushveld of Botswana, she was to come face to face with a foe whose fighting forces were as numerous as, and also better fed than, those of the Wild Cat People. The vanguard of Mmanthatisi’s army strode into ambuscades; large groups of men topped headlong into concealed pitfalls and met their death beneath volleys of barbed javelins. A battle broke out, in the course of which hundreds of the invaders were massacred. Before the situation could develop into a rout Mmanthatisi suddenly disengaged her armies and retreated with her hordes to the east. Thus Makaba became the first Sotho chief to repulse the formidable BaTlokwa (Wild Cat) Army, and to this day he is spoken of as the ‘Man of Conquest.’”
Manthatisi relinquished power to her son when she became of age. She reportedly died around 1835 and was buried outside Ficksburg in present day Free State of South Africa. The South African Navy has honoured her by naming a submarine after her: