Lesotho Its people, issues and history

Map of the location of Lesotho in Southern Africa The Kingdom of Lesotho Southern Africa

About Lesotho

Lesotho (pronounced li-soo-too), is officially the Kingdom of Lesotho, a landlocked country entirely surrounded by the Republic of South Africa which covers an area of 30 000 square km – roughly the size of Belgium or the US state of Maryland. Formerly Basutoland, the name Lesotho translates roughly into "the land of the people who speak Sotho". Lesotho is also known as the Kingdom in the Sky as the entire country lies 1000m above sea level and includes Thabana-Ntlenyana, which at 3482m is the highest peak in Africa south of Kilimanjaro. The twin spines of the Drakensberg and Maluti mountain highlands dominate Lesotho’s formidable terrain and occupy three-quarters of the country’s area giving sanctuary to a unique developing nation. The country offers an opportunity to experience Africa's natural beauty and the simplicity and warmth of the friendly Basotho people who have developed a rich culture within their towns and isolated villages.

Current issues

Basotho man LesothoThe Kingdom of Lesotho is a poor country rich in culture but with a small economy. This linked video highlights some of the issues confronting Lesotho today including how the Basotho people may be able to harness their culture to supplement their meager incomes by providing tourists with a unique African experience. We recommend viewing and hope you will become one of their tourist 'diamonds' in the near future.

A Basotho hatThe Basotho people

The Basotho people (the local inhabitants of Lesotho) are renowned for their crafts, and their traditional products have a reputation for quality, individuality and variety. For many years ponies were their only means of transport through the mountainous terrain, resulting in a strong tradition of horse-riding and breeding.

The traditional Basotho Hat, or mokorotlo, is the best known of a fine range of grass-works made in Lesotho. It's conical shape is seen everywhere in the kingdom, and is the recognized symbol of the country. The hat’s shape is believed to have been inspired by the Qiloane mountain near the mountain fortress of Moshoeshoe I - Thaba-Bosiu.

The flag of LesothoThe flag

The flag of Lesotho features a prominent black 'mokorotlo' or Basotho hat at its centre. The upper blue band signifies sky and rain, the middle white band peace and the lower green band the land of Lesotho.



A Lesotho rondavel houseThe Basotho houses

The traditional Lesotho house is called a mokhoro and being built in the rondavel style is usually round and made with local materials. The walls will often be constructed from stones held together with a mortar of sand and soil mixed with dung. The floor is finished with a tamped dung mixture to make it smooth. The roof is thatched, a process that can take as little as one weekend or up to a year when made by a skilled artisan who will sewn in one section at a time, starting from the bottom working towards the top. As each section is sewn, it may be weathered and aged in so as to form a complete weatherproof seal.

History of Lesotho

The rise of the Basotho

The Basotho people have lived in southern Africa since around the fifteenth century whereas the modern Basotho nation of Lesotho emerged during the early 1800s under the leadership of King Moshoeshoe I who gathered together different clans of Sotho-Tswana people that were dispersed across southern Africa. King Moshoeshoe I is considered the father of Lesotho’s history. He began his rise to prominence as a local chief of a small village. Around 1820 he led his villagers to Butha-Buthe, a mountain stronghold, where they survived the first battles of the Mfecane (Difaqane, or Lifaqane in the Sesotho language) an African expression meaning "the crushing" or "scattering" and exemplifies a period of widespread chaos and disturbance in southern Africa during the period between 1815 and about 1840 when Zulu chieftain Shaka created a militaristic and expansive Zulu kingdom. In 1824 Moshoeshoe moved his people to Thaba-Bosiu, a mountaintop that was even easier to defend. King Moshoeshoe I rose in diplomatic status with his acts of friendship towards his beaten enemies. He provided land and protection to various Sotho peoples and this strengthened the growing Basotho nation. His influence and followers grew from an inflow of refugees and victims of the continuing Mfecane

The nation of Lesotho

By the later part of the 1800s, King Moshoeshoe established the nation of the Basotho or Basutoland. Around the 1830s Europeans (mainly Afrikaners) started to migrate as settlers into the centre of South Africa and continued the on-going conflict between Europeans and Africans. In an attempt to be prepared for any such conflict in Basutoland, Moshoeshoe asked missionaries to come and live among his people. He believed that in this way he could buffer his country against the encroaching Europeans and other African groups.

Alliance with the Cape Colony

For strategic reasons and mainly for protection against the Voortrekkers (today’s Afrikaners), in 1843 the Basotho became allies with the British Cape Colony. During the period that followed many wars and conflicts took place between the Basotho, the Afrikaners and British. This happened at the backdrop of increased colonisation in Africa by Britain and shifts in possession of the Free State region between the Afrikaners and the British.

Annexation and independence

Eventually the British annexed Basutoland in 1868 and finally Basutoland gained its independence and became the Kingdom of Lesotho in 1966.

Today, although the Lesotho Government is a constitutional monarchy, it is the Prime Minister who is head of government and has executive authority. The king now serves a largely ceremonial function and is prohibited from actively participating in political initiatives. Letsie III is the current king of Lesotho. He succeeded his father, Moshoeshoe II in 1996..

Why is Lesotho surrounded by South Africa?

Lesotho’s sovereignty came about almost fortuitously as Basutoland was, at the time of South African unification, a British Protectorate and was not included into the Union of South Africa.

Other facts

Symbols of Lesotho

The Coat of Arms of LesothoThe Coat of Arms of Lesotho

The coat of arms of Lesotho was adopted on 4 October 1966 following independence. Pictured is a crocodile on a Basotho shield. This is the symbol of the dynasty of Lesotho's largest ethnicity, the Sotho. Behind the shield there are two crossed weapons from the 19th century. To the left and right of the shield are supporters of the shield, two Basotho horses. In the foreground there is a golden ribbon with the national motto of Lesotho: Khotso, Pula, Nala (Peace, Rain, Prosperity). The national anthem of Lesotho is "Lesotho Fatše La Bo-ntata Rona", which literally translates into "Lesotho, Land Of Our Fathers".

Main towns of Lesotho

Mapp of Lesotho

Languages: Lesotho's Basotho are a Bantu-speaking people.

Religion: Roman Catholics, the largest religious group, make up more than two-fifths of the population; smaller groups include the Lesotho Evangelical Church, Anglican and other Christian and tribal religions.

Education and literacy: An estimated 85 percent of the population 15 and over are literate. As such, Lesotho boasts one of the highest literacy rates in Africa. Although education is not compulsory, the Government of Lesotho is incrementally implementing a programme for free primary education.

Economy: Lesotho's economy is principally based on exports of water from the Orange River system to South Africa's Free State and greater Johannesburg areas. Lesotho also exports diamonds, wool, mohair, clothing, and footwear. Manufacturing, agriculture, livestock, and the earnings of labourers employed in South Africa are important sources of income. Almost 50% of the population earn some income through crop cultivation or animal husbandry.

The information on this page comes from a range of sources but is principally a summation of the Wikipedia sections dealing with Lesotho.