The Kingdom of Lesotho is a landlocked country that is entirely surrounded by South Africa. It has a population of 2.233 million (2017) and a total area of 30,000 sq. km. Maseru is the largest city and capital. The country is part of the Commonwealth of Nations. Approximately 40 percent of the people in Lesotho live below the poverty line.
Khoisan hunters were the first inhabitants of the area and were later replaced by Wasja-speaking tribes during the time of the Bantu migrations. Between the 3rd and 11th centuries, the Sotho-Tswana people colonized the South African region.
Lesotho was an entity under the Great King Moshoeshoe I in 1822. He formed his own clan and became its chief in 1804. He and his followers settled at the Butha-Buthe Mountain between 1821 and 1823. His clan joined with former adversaries against the Lifaqane from 1818 to 1828.
Following the Cape Colony’s seizure by the British in 1795, evolution of Lesotho hinged on the outcome of conflicts between the British and Dutch colonists. Eugene Casalis, a missionary invited by Moshoeshoe I, acted as a translator for foreign affairs. He helped set up diplomacy and acquired weapons for use against Europeans.
Boer trekkers from the Cape Colony arrived in the area and claimed land rights. More farmers arrived and tried to colonize the area, claiming it had been abandoned by the Sotho people. The British signed a treaty with Moshoeshoe annexing the territory that the Boers had settled. A brief skirmish in 1848 led to the Boers’ suppression. The Sotho army defeated the British in 1851. Moshoeshoe repelled another British attack in 1852 and appealed to the commander to settle the dispute diplomatically.
In 1854, the British withdrew. In 1858, Moshoeshoe fought the Boers in the Free State-Basotho War, losing a portion of the western lands. In 1867, Moshoeshoe ended the last war by appealing to Queen Victoria, who agreed to make Lesotho into a protectorate of the British. The British later signed a treaty with the Boers to define the areas boundaries. These agreements cost Moshoeshoe half his kingdom.
Moshoeshoe died in 1870, which marked the colonial era’s beginning. During British rule between 1871 and 1884, Lesotho was treated similarly to forcefully annexed colonies. In 1881, this led to the Gun War. In 1884 Lesotho again became a Crown colony with Maseru as its capital. While traditional chiefs wielded internal power, the colony was under direct control of a governor.
In 1966, Lesotho gained independence from Britain. In 1970 the ruling Basotho National Party (BNP) lost the first general elections after independence. Prime Minister Leabua Jonathan refused to hand power over to the Basotho Congress Party (BCP) and imprisoned its leadership.
A rebellion then began and the BCP were trained in Libya to become the Lesotho Liberation Army (LLA). This was done under the pretext that they were soldiers of the Pan-African Congress (PAC) The Sibeko faction of the PAC deprived them of supplies in 1978, leading the LLA to be rescued from their base in Tanzania. The war was launched with outdated weapons. The attacks were sporadic and ineffective.
From 1966 to 1970, the BNO ruled Lesotho. A de facto government was led by Dr. Leabua Jonathan until 1986 when he was forced out by a military coup. King Moshoeshoe II was given executive powers by the military council. After putting forth proposals to give him more power in 1987, the king was forced out. His son, King Letsie III, was installed to replace him.
The junta’s leader, Major General Justin Metsing Lekhanya, was deposed in 1991 and Major General Elias Phisoana Ramaema took power.
Letsie III staged a coup in 1994 that deposed the BCP government. The international community did not fully recognize the new government. After negotiations, the BCP was reinstated and Letsie III stepped down in favor of his father in 1995. When Moshoeshoe II died, Letsie II against ascended the throne.
Leadership disputes split the BCP in 1997. Ntsu Mokhehle formed a new party named the Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD), which enabled him to form a new government. In 1998, the LCD won the general elections. Despite being recognized as free and fair by international organizations, the opposition rejected the results.
Opposition protest began and culminated in a demonstration outside the royal palace in 1998. Rioting intensified when South African troops raised the South African flag over the palace. When South African forces withdrew in 1999, several cities were in ruins and many South Africans and Basotho had died.
In 1998, an Interim Political Authority (IPA) was set up to review the country’s electoral structure. A new electoral system was arranged to ensure the opposition would be represented in the National Assembly. The original 80 Assembly seats remained, but 40 new ones would be filled on a proportional basis. In 2002, new elections were held with the LCD winning again. The opposition did win a significant number of seats.
Lesotho is a constitutional or parliamentary monarchy. Motsoahae Thomas THABANE is the Prime Minister and acts as the head of government. The king’s functions are largely ceremonial.
The Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) holds a majority in the National Assembly. The All Basotho Convention (ABC) was formed before the elections under Tom Thabane and is the main opposition. Other opposition parties are the Basotho National Party (BNP), the Alliance of Congress Parties (ACP, the Basotho Batho Democratic Party (BBDP), and the Basotho Democratic National Party (BDNP). A total of 12 parties are represented in the parliament.
The upper house is called the Senate and is made up of 22 chiefs with hereditary membership.
An independent judiciary is part of the constitution. It is made up of the High Court, the Court of Appeal, the Magistrate’s Courts, and traditional, rural courts. All but one Court of Appeal Justice is South African. There is no trial by jury.
Basic civil liberties are protected in the constitution, which include the freedom of association, speech, press, peaceful assembly, and religion.
The People’s Charter Movement is a growing group seeking annexation by South Africa because of the AIDS crisis. Lesotho has high unemployment, weak currency, and a collapsed economy. A report by the African Union recommended economic integration with South Africa but not annexation.
The 10 administrative districts are Berea, Butha-Buthe, Leribe, Mafeteng, Maseru, Mohale’s Hoek, Mokhotlong, Qacha’s Nek, Quthing, and Thaba-Tseka. These districts are further divided into 80 constituencies.
Lesotho is the only nation that entirely lies above 1,400 meters in elevation. Its area is 30,355 sq. km. It is entire surrounded by South Africa.
Lesotho remains cool due to its higher altitude. Most rain falls in the summer. In the lowlands, winters can be cold. Between May and September, snow is common in the highlands.
Lesotho has an economy based on water sold to South Africa and exported diamonds. Manufacturing, Agriculture, and livestock are also economic activities. Garments, such as some Levi’s jeans, are made in Lesotho. Most families subsist on farming or labor. Many miners remain in South Africa for 3 to 9 months at a time. 50 percent of the population earns a living through livestock or crop cultivation.
The Lesotho Highlands Water Project (LHWP) is a 21-year project utilizing the country’s water resources. The LHWP captures, stores, and moves water from the Orange River system to South Africa. This has allowed Lesotho to become self-sufficient in electricity and generates $40 million yearly in water and electrical sales to South Africa. Lesotho has become the largest garment exporter to the United States from the region. In 2002, these totaled $320 million.
Jack Scott and Keith Whitelock prospected for diamonds in Lesotho in 1957 and found a diamond mine in the Maluti Mountains. This has resulted in large diamond findings, including a 601-carat diamond in 1967 and a 603-carat diamond in 2006. In 2008, a 478-carat diamond was discovered in the area.
The loti is the official currency but is used interchangeably with the South African rand. Swaziland, Lesotho, Namibia, and South Africa have a common currency exchange called the Common Monetary Area.
Lesotho belongs to the Southern African Customs Union (SACU), which eliminates tariffs on goods between member countries.
Child labor is a significant problem and the government is starting an action program to address the issue.
Lesotho’s population is approximately 2,233,000 million. 25 percent live in urban areas. The urban population is increasing. In the highlands, the population is less dense than the lowlands. The population is young, with 60.2 percent between 15 and 64 years old.
Ethnic Groups and Languages
Almost all of Lesotho linguistic structure comes from Basotho, a Bantu-speaking people. 99.7 percent of Lesotho’s people identify as Basotho. There are also Europeans and Chinese in the country.
Sesotho is the first official language and is spoken ordinarily. English is another official language.
90 percent of the people are Christian, with Roman Catholics making up 45 percent of the population. 26 percent are Evangelicals. Anglican, Latter Day Saint, and other Christian groups are 19 percent. The remaining 10 percent are made up of Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Baha’i, and indigenous religions.
Education and Literacy
Of those over 15, 85 percent are illiterate, giving Lesotho one of Africa’s highest literacy rates. Unlike most countries in Africa, female literacy is higher than that in males. Education is not compulsory, but the is implementing a free primary education system.
Despite the high rate of literacy, information is difficult to fine. Only 3.4 percent use the Internet.
There is an infant mortality rate of 8.3 percent and 5 doctors for every 100,000 people.
Lesotho has one of the highest HIV/AIDS rates in the world with about 25 percent infected. In cities, 50 percent of women under 40 years of age have HIV. In 2001, life expectancy was 48 for men and 56 for women. More recent estimates have this at 37.
Lesotho took too long to recognize the HIV/AIDS crisis. Efforts to combat the spread of the disease have had limited success. In 2003, a new AIDS Commission was formed. Medication programs have been started but have few participants and limited resources. Other government and internationally sponsored programs exist and are working on the problem.
Due to its geographic position, Lesotho is vulnerable to events occurring in South Africa. It is part of regional organizations and is active in the U.N., the Non-Aligned Movement, the African Union, the Commonwealth, and others.
Ireland and Lesotho have maintained close ties. The country also has good relationships with the U.K., Germany, the U.S., and other Western countries.
Lesotho opposed apartheid in South Africa and granted asylum to political refugees during that era.
Lesotho’s laws come from a variety of sources including legislation, common law, precedent, authoritative texts, customary law, and the constitution.
After the Commencement Order was published, Lesotho’s constitution came into force. Legislation refers to law passed by the houses of parliament and to which the king assents. Although the country shares a similar legal system with Botswana, Swaziland, South Africa, Namibia, and Zimbabwe, it operates independently. Common law is also applied. South African decisions are persuasive but are referred to in opinions.
Customary law and general law operate beside one another. Customary law is derived from Basotho customs and general law is the Roman Dutch Law imported from the Cape. Basotho customs were originally all oral, but were written down in the early 1900s.
Musical instruments used in Lesotho include the lekolulo, a flute used in herding, setolo-tolo, and the stringed thomo.
The traditional dwelling is the rondavel. Traditional attire consists of the Basotho blanket, a wool covering, These are seen throughout the country during all seasons. Held annually in the town of Morija, the Morija Arts & Cultural Festival is a prominent Sesotho music and art festival.