Manthatisi became a regent queen of the Tlokwa when her husband died soon after 1815, acting on behalf of her son Sekonyela, then still a minor. Although portrayed as an evil woman by some contemporary Europeans, such as Dr Andrew Smith, she was a strong, capable and popular leader, both in war and peace. Her followers called her ‘Mosayane (the little one) because of her small stature. Her popularity is clearly indicated by the fact that instead of her people being known as Tlokwa, they became known as ‘ Manthatisi’. Unlike other chiefs who fell victim to the Difaqane wars, she successfully kept her people together in the midst of frequent raids by Nguni groups to the south.
With no fixed abode after having been routed by the Hlubi, Manthatisi and her bands wandered from place to place in search of security. They moved in complete family units with the few cattle and possessions they could protect from other marauders. Under these circumstances of fear and insecurity, the very young, the sick and the very old were often simply abandoned and left to die or they became victims of other marauders.
Fear and insecurity also resulted in the abandoning of agriculture and the slaughtering of livestock throughout the southern Sotho region. If they attempted to farm or rear livestock and they were successful, they became the targets of other plundering bands. Thus hunting and gathering wild foods became the major means of sustenance. Smith also reported cases of cannibalism, which subsequent writers exaggerated to give the impression that the practice was widespread.
The Tlokwa did not flee from their country but chose to retreat to more defensible
positions. Like many other communities affected by the violence of the Difaqane, the Tlokwa adopted new tactics of fighting and defence, some of which they had learnt from the Nguni. As the conflict was subsiding, the Tlokwa settled at Khoro-e-Betlwa on the north bank of the Caledon River. Their new home, near modern Fickburg, was a flattopped mountain retreat, or qhobosheane in Sesotho, and thus a natural fortress.
Numbering some 24 000 by 1833, Sekonyela’s cosmopolitan community consisted of a mixture of the Tlokwa themselves, some Sotho, as well as Hlubi and Ngwane refugees. Seeking refuge on hilltops was not necessarily the practice of only weak communities. Mokuoane, chief of the Phuting, and Moshoeshoe are other examples. People were attracted to Sekonyela’s community for two reasons. The first was the safety they offered due to their position and the military skills of Sekonyela, for which he was famous. The second was the possibility of gaining a share of plundered cattle.
From Khoro-e-Betlwa, Sekonyela’s lands extended roughly 50 kilometres to the north and eastwards to the source of the Caledon River. Headmen ruling over villages reported to Sekonyela. On the edges of his lands, Sekonyela placed satellite communities specifically to report to him about the approach of his enemies.
Although Sekonyela was a successful and strong military leader, he had certain weaknesses. During times of peace, for example, he would simply usurp his own followers’ cattle. As a way of making peace with the Tlokwa’s neighbours, Manthatisi arranged marriage alliances for her son with some of Moshoeshoe’s daughters. In May 1852, through his raids on Moshoeshoe’s kingdom, Sekonyela finally provoked conflict with Moshoeshoe, who retaliated so decisively that the Tlokwa eventually lost their independence.