Identification. "Pedi," in its broadest sense, has been a cultural/linguistic term. It was previously used to describe the entire set of people speaking various dialects of the Sotho language who live in the northern Transvaal of South Africa. More recently, the term "Northern Sotho" has replaced "Pedi" to characterize this loose collectivity of groups. The Northern Sotho have been subdivided into the high-veld Sotho, which are comparatively recent immigrants mostly from the west and southwest, and the low-veld Sotho, who combine immigrants from the north with inhabitants of longer standing. The high-veld Sotho include the Pedi (in the narrower sense), Tau, Kone, Roka, Ntwane, Mphahlele, Th wene, Mathabathe, Kone (Matlala), Dikgale, Batlokwa, Gananwa (Mmalebogo), Mmamabolo, and Molet e. The low-veld Sotho include the Lobedu, Narene, Phalaborwa, Mogoboya, Kone, Kgakga, Pulana, Pai, Kutswe. Groups are named by using the names of totemic animals and, sometimes, by alternating or combining these with the names of famous chiefs.
"Pedi," in the narrowest sense, refers more to a political unit than to a cultural or linguistic one: the Pedi polity included the people living within the area over which the Maroteng dynasty established dominance during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Even this narrower usage should not be understood in a rigid sense because many fluctuations occurred in the extent of this polity's domination during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and processes of relocation and labor migration have occasioned the widespread scattering of its former subjects during the twentieth century. The present entry will consider the Pedi in this narrower sense.
Location. The present-day Pedi area, Sekhukhuneland, is situated between the Olifants River (Lepelle) and its tributary, the Steelpoort River (Tubatse). It is bordered on the east by the Transvaal Drakensberg range and crossed by the Leolo Mountains. At the height of its power, however, the Pedi polity under Thulare (about 1790 to 1820) launched raids on an area stretching from the site of present-day Rustenburg, in the east, to the low veld, in the west, and ranging as far south as the Vaal River.
The area in which Pedi could reside was severely limited when the polity was defeated by British troops in 1879. A reserve called Geluks Location—roughly coinciding with the core area of the Pedi heartland and including the village of Mohlaletse, where the paramountcy had been based—was created for them, and reserves were created for other Northern Sotho groups that had been subjugated with less effort, by the Transvaal Republic's Native Location Commission. Over the next hundred years or so, these reserves were then variously combined and separated by a succession of government planners. By 1972, this planning had culminated in the creation of an allegedly independent national unit, or "homeland," named Lebowa. Part of the government's plans to accommodate ethnic groups separately from each other, it was designed as a place of residence for all Northern Sotho speakers. Many Pedi had never resided in the reserve. During the period since the polity's defeat, they had become involved in a series of labor-tenancy or sharecropping arrangements with White farmers, lived as tenants on Crown land, or purchased farms communally as freeholders. Many had moved to live in the townships adjoining Pretoria and Johannesburg, on a permanent or semipermanent basis.
Demography. Given the changing extent of Maroteng domination, the fluidity of these subsequent residential arrangements, and the ambiguities about who the Pedi really are, it is difficult to make statements about population with any certainty. The 1961 census put the total population of Sekhukhuneland at 118,743. What can be stated incontrovertibly, however, is that the population of the Lebowa homeland increased rapidly after the mid-1950s, owing both to the forced relocations from rural areas and cities undertaken by apartheid's planners and to voluntary relocations by which former labor tenants sought independence from the restrictive and deprived conditions under which they had lived on the White farms.
Linguistic Affiliation. Sepedi, also known as "Sesotho sa Leboa" (Northern Sotho) is a southern Bantu language. The term "Sesotho" is used locally to describe not only a language but also a set of customary practices and moral codes conceived of as traditional. Whatever cultural and linguistic uniformity came to exist between the diverse peoples living in the northern Transvaal area was blurred at its geographical edges, through a variety of dialects and practices, into other languages and customs. Northern Sotho is thus closely related both to dialects not officially recognized, such as setlokwa, and to the officially recognized tongues of Setswana and Sesotho sa Borwa (Southern Sotho), with both of which it shares common origins.