Posted on January 29, 2013

Photograph credit: Jo-Anne Duggan

Photograph credit: Jo-Anne Duggan

Lesotho made another stride in preservation of its archive. On 30th November 2012 , the Royal Archives and Information centre was officially opened to the public. The Royal Archives building in Matsieng, is adjacent to the Royal Home. The Achive, Museum and Information center will preserve and present the royal archive 'saved' from the royal village in 2007 by the National University of Lesotho. The center is located within the royal village in the office of the late Paramount Chieftainess 'Mantåebo Seeiso and King Moshoeshoe II. The official opening itself was quite eventful with a full cultural programme from elders reciting praise poems of Moshoeshoe1 and other important historical figures to performances of Ndlamo, Mokhibo by traditional dancing groups and school groups.

The origins of the Matsieng village has an interesting history traced to the time when Moshoeshoe I sent his senior sons, Letsie I and Molapo to Morija to keep an eye on and provide security for the Paris Evangelical Missionary Society (P.E.M.S.). In 1858, following the burning down of his village in Morija by Free State troops during the first Basotho-Boer War, also called the ‘War of Senekal', Letsie I relocated to Ha Rakhuiti later called Matsieng (Place of Letsie) about 6 km north-east of Morija. Upon the death of Moshoeshoe I, Matsieng became the royal capital of Paramount Chiefs during the colonial period and has been the traditional home of Lesotho's royalty since independence. The Royal Family of Lesotho has been based in Matsieng since just after the 1858 war, when Matsieng was established by the second Lesotho king, Mohato (Letsie 1).

The royal family has been based at Matsieng continuously since the founding of Matsieng, which has been a 'royal hub' of the Basotho kingship and chieftainship. The documents that have accumulated at Matsieng cover material dating from the early 19th century. The collection includes records of historical, political, legal and economic significance: The collection was rescued from the Royal residence by the National University of Lesotho Archives in 2007 after the ceiling of their building collapsed, leaving the paper documents exposed to the rain. Among the records are: records on chieftainship and succession to high office; court proceedings and judgements; boundary disputes and resolutions; traditional marriage systems and records; inheritance documentation and disputes; official speeches; correspondence; publications; official administrative records; records of public works; and financial records of government divisions.

The Royal Archives, Museum and Information Resource Centre is a registered non-governmental organization which was established in March 2008 by the Royal family and is administered on its behalf by professionals in various fields of academia. The Royal Archives, Museum and Information Resource centre is administered, on behalf of the Royal Family, by a ten member Board of Trustees, all of whom are volunteers, experts and professionals in fields related to anthropology, cultural, historical and library studies, archives and museum, and architecture.

The institution has already achieved a lot. rescuing of the archives, treatment, cataloguing, digitisation. with the official opening the archives will now be open to the public. The Royal Archives and Museum will work hand in hand with Matsieng Community in various developmental projects meant to empower residents of Matsieng and surrounding areas. These strategies are planned to empower the community whilst eradicating poverty. Youth empowerment is among key outreach programmes that the Royal Archives and Museum has planned for the future.

The monarch in Lesotho holds a special place in the history of Lesotho. Basotho emerged as a nation when Moshoeshoe I gathered together remnants of various clans and ethnic groups fleeing the ravages of the tribal wars or "lifaqane", settling on the top of a small hill, Thaba-Bosiu. From here Moshoeshoe continued to amalgamate remnants of tribal groups eventually building up a small but steadily growing nation. During his reign, the young Basotho nation fought a series of wars with, among others, the Boer Republic of the Orange Free State, losing substantial amount of productive land in the process of post war settlement in which the British colonial Government played a central role. In 1870, Moshoeshoe I died to be succeeded by;

Paramount Chief Letsie I, 1870-1891
Paramount Chief Lerotholi, 1891-1905.
Paramount Chief Letsie II, 1905-1913..
Paramount Chief Griffith, 1913-1939
Paramount Chief Seeiso Griffith, 1939-1940.
Paramount Chieftainess 'Mantåebo Seeiso, 1940-1960.
King Moshoeshoe II, 1960-1996.,
King Letsie III, 1996- now

For more information contact:
Royal Archives & Museum
P.O. Box 1, Maseru, 100, Lesotho,

Jesmael Mataga is a PhD fellow in the UCT Archive and Public Culture Forum, Tefetso Mothibe is a Professor of History at the National University of Lesotho and a Board member for the Royal archives, Museum and Information Center and Maseokho Matsoai is the Assistant Project Manager at the Royal Archives , Museum and Information Center.