Over the last four decades researchers have cast the Maloti-Drakensberg Mountains as a marginal refuge for ‘Bushmen’ amidst constricting nineteenth-century frontiers. Rock art scholarship has expanded on this characterisation of mountains as refugia, focusing on heterogeneous raiding bands forging new cultural identities. Here, we propose another view of the Maloti-Drakensberg: a dynamic political theatre in which polities that engaged in illicit or ‘heterodox’ activities like cattle raiding and hunter-gatherer lifeways set the terms of colonial encounters. We employ the concept of the ‘interior world’ to refigure the region as one fostering subsistence and political behaviours that did not conform to the expectations of colonial authority. Paradoxically, such heterodoxies over time constituted widespread social logics within the Maloti-Drakensberg, and thus became commonplace and meaningful. We synthesise historical and archaeological evidence (new and existing) to illustrate the significance of the nineteenth-century Maloti-Drakensberg, offering a revised southeast-African colonial landscape and directions for future research.