The BaLobedu People
The Pedi are a Northern Sotho sub-group and offshoot of the Tswana-speaking Kgatla. Their first southern migrations from the Great Lakes area began more than 500 years ago; by the middle of the 17th century, they had settled south of the Steelport/Tubatse River. Over the next century, a series of diverse clusters of people settled in dikgoro or ruling nuclear groups according to animal totems, and the Pedi became more homogenised. Subduing and absorbing other chiefdoms, they also became more powerful – culminating with the Pedi paramountcy under the rule of Thulare (roughly 1790-1820 AD). At the height of its power, that Pedi polity stretched from present-day Rustenburg east to the lowveld and south to the Vaal River. Thulare’s rule was destabilised by the difaqane (‘scattering’), invasions by the Ndwandwe nation from the southeast, but the polity became stable again under Thulare’s son Sekwati and under Sekwati’s heir, Sekhukhune I. Both rulers had firepower – guns largely supplied by Pedi men who had worked the diamond mines in Kimberley. By 1870 the Pedis’ power rivalled that of Boer and Swazi forces competing for land and labour in the region, ultimately leading to the war of 1876 – which the Pedi won. But the British annexed the Transvaal in 1877, and in 1879 British troops and their Swazi allies defeated the Pedi. The Transvaal Republic’s Native Local Commission subsequently created reserves for the Pedi and other Northern Sotho groups.
More Recent History
Under apartheid, in 1972 Lebowa was established as a ‘homeland’ for Northern Sotho speakers, including the Pedi. Many Pedi did not live there, however, but rather lived on white farms as tenant farmers or in townships near Pretoria and Johannesburg, working jobs on the mines or in the cities. Lebowa was absorbed into South Africa in 1994. Today Pedi are concentrated in (though not limited to) Sekhukhuneland, between the Olifants and Steelport/Tubatse Rivers, with the Drakensberg mountains to the east.
Ancestors mediate between people and God (Modimo/Mmopi) in Pedi culture, and are placated and revered through offerings of incense, beer and animal sacrifice. The ngaka or diviner also holds a significant place in society; the position is generally inherited by women from their grandfather or great-grandfather. In the arts, the Pedi are particularly known for metal smithing, beadwork, pottery, painting and woodworking, especially drum making. Pedi music includes that of a six-note scale traditionally played on reeds, but today more often played on a jaw harp or autoharp. Migrant-influenced kiba music entails playing aluminium pipes of different pitches to reproduce vocal harmonies. Women’s traditional kneeling dances, usually accompanied by drums, chorus and a lead singer, involve vigourous bare-breasted shaking of the upper torso while the women kneel on the ground.