The forgotten tribe of Balobedu, also known as “The Rain Queen Kingdom”

Nzama Madzenga

Having one of the most respected Constitutions in the world, which guarantees equal rights for all in our country, I am puzzled by the fact that Kelobedu is not the 12th language in the list of the 11 official languages. It is also surprising that it is still referred to as a sub tribe of the BaPedi Tribe.

Who is this nation?

The population of BaLobedu numbers around 2 million. According to Dr. Tlou Setumu, in his book titled OUR HERITAGE: WARS OF RESISTANCE IN LIMPOPO, the Balobedu of Modjadji migrated to South Africa from Zimbabwe, and have lived in their present domain for about 400 years.

A STATS SA report released in 2011 estimated that around 30%-40% of Northern Sotho speakers are of Lobedu ethnicity. Their population is distributed in around Mopani and Vhembe District. The community of the Modjadji Queenship is located under Letaba Municipality in Limpopo Province. The language is known as Khelobedu, which is a “non-Pedi” dialect of Northern Sotho. Khelobedu is grammatically similar to other Sotho–Tswana languages. Important to note is that most Khelobedu speakers learn to speak sePedi at school whilst some speak Xitsonga depending on their geographical area.

Until recently, Khelobedu existed only in an unwritten form, and the standard SePedi language and orthography was usually used for teaching and writing. As of 2018, a Khelobedu dictionary is being compiled and a specific Khelobedu orthography is also in the process of being developed. This is the first Queenship in the Republic of South Africa.

Succession among the Balobedu of Modjadji differs from that of the other tribes. Before it became customary for female rulers to reign over the tribe, the eldest son of the senior wife to the kgoshi (tribal chief) succeeded to the throne. But since the start of the Modjadji dynasty (in about 1800 with the inauguration of Modjadji I – daughter of Kgoshi Mokoto), it has been customary for the rain queen to be succeeded by her eldest daughter. The rain queen seldom appears in public, except during her inauguration or at traditional ceremonies.

In 2016 the former President of the Republic of South Africa, Jacob Zuma, officially approved the recognition of the Modjadji Queenship in terms of Sec 2 (a) of the Traditional Leadership and Governance Framework Act 41 of 2003, after it was dethroned in 1972 by the apartheid regime.

Queen Succession routes: Colonial attacks on the Balobedu took place during the reign of Kgošigadi Modjadji II, Masalanabo. One of the longest reigning Rain Queens in the history of the Balobedu was Mokope, Rain Queen V. After her long reigning period, she died in 2001. She was then succeeded by a relatively young Rain Queen VI, Makobo, who passed away at an early age in 2005.

These are the successive Modjadji Rain Queens:

 Modjadji I – Maselekwane (1800 – 1854);

 Modjadji II – Masalanabo (1854 – 1895);

 Modjadji III – Khesethwane (1896 –1959);

 Modjadji IV – Makoma (1960 – 1980);

 Modjadji V – Mokope (1982 – 2001);

 Modjadji VI – Makobo (2003 – 2005);

 Current Regent Mpapatla (2005 –).

In the meantime, the Royal Family has appointed Bakhoma to run the kingdom, as the current regent is 14 years old, and will officially take the reigns when she’s 18 years or older; The new queen elect, Masalanabo is the first daughter of the late queen Modjadji VI who died of meningitis in 2005 following a protracted illness.

Rain Queen Power

Balobedu are renowned throughout Africa for their female rulers and it is traditionally accepted that their queen has the power to produce rain. We are told that even Shaka, king of the amaZulu, treated Queen Modjadji with great respect and often paid tribute to her. The rain queen Modjadji remains to this day the focal point and source of strength of the kingdom. The Balobedu are essentially a federation of smaller groups united by their common allegiance to the queen. “The political power resides in the majority group, descended from the original Balobedu, who have the “kolobe”, or bushpig, as their totem”.


Balobedu have their own traditional dances called “khekhapa” for women and “dinaka” for men. They also have a male initiation ceremony called “Moroto”, and the female initiation ceremony called “Dikhopa”, not to also forget their own way of praising and talking to their God through “Dithugula”. They sit next to a traditionally designed circle in their homes and start calling the names of their ancestors.

Few Notable names:

 King Monada (Musician).

 Candy Tsa Mandebele, Musician.

 Lebogang Manyama (Kaizer Chiefs FC Midfielder)

 Simon Ramafalo, Thobela FM presenter.

 Mathole Motshekga, (ANC NEC Member, current Member of Parliament and former Premier of Gauteng).

Nzama Madzenga is Cultural Activist & Chairman of Ndhavuko Makomba-Ndlela

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