Lesotho marks 53 years of Independence from the British:Here is what you need to know

Lesotho marks 53 years of Independence from the British:Here is what you need to know:

About Lesotho

The Kingdom of Lesotho is a landlocked country that is entirely surrounded by South Africa. It has a population of 2,285,392 million (2018) 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.


Basutoland: 1868-1966

After being annexed by Britain in 1868 as Basutoland, Moshoeshoe’s kingdom is transferred in 1871 to the administrative control of the Cape Colony. The Sotho tribes profoundly resent this development, about which they have not been consulted, and the 1870s are a time of increasing unrest in the region. This culminates in the Gun War of 1880, so called because it begins with an attempt by the administration to disarm the tribesmen.

The Sotho score several notable successes against the Cape military (most notably an ambush at Qalabani in 1880). An uneasy truce in 1881 does little to resolve the conflict.

Wearying of its responsiblities, the Cape government persuades the British to accept Basutoland back as a protectorate in 1884. After the union of South Africa, in 1910, there is strong and successful pressure within Basutoland to prevent the British ceding the territory to the new republic.

Economically Basutoland thrives at first on the export of grain to the flourishing mining regions of South Africa. But increasingly it is Basutoland’s own manpower which needs to be exported, to provide migrant labour in the mines. Thus the landlocked territory becomes almost entirely dependent on the powerful nation which surrounds it.
The British high commissioners leave largely intact the tribal structures of the Sotho, among whom many minor chiefs owe allegiance to a single paramount chief (a role invariably filled by a descendant of Moshoeshoe).

During the 1950s, with internal self-government in prospect, two political parties are formed – the left-wing Basutoland Congress Party and the more traditional Basutoland National Party, headed by Chief Leabua Jonathan. The BNP defeats the BCP by a narrow margin in the region’s first elections, in 1965. The following year Basutoland becomes independent, as Lesotho. Chief Jonathan is prime minister. The paramount chief Moshoeshoe II is head of state.
Independence: Lesotho attained Independence in 1966

The early years of independence are characterized by continuing tension over the nature of Lesotho’s constitutional monarchy. In the very first year, 1966, Moshoeshoe II agitates for greater powers. He is placed under house arrest by Chief Jonathan. Over the coming decades Moshoeshoe is frequently arrested or in exile, but he has a talent for bouncing back. He is still head of state when he is killed in a car crash in 1995.

Chief Jonathan has an almost equally stormy career. Suspending the constitution when the Basutoland Congress Party wins the first post-independence elections, in 1970, he has to resort to repressive measures to put down the resulting unrest.

Chief Jonathan’s political stance (one of profound hostility to South Africa) wins him much international approval as a virtuous David confronting the evil Goliath. But it also brings many political refugees across his border and a correspondingly aggressive response from South Africa, with frequent military raids and border closures.

A virtual blockade in 1986 causes a pro-South African faction in Lesotho to depose Jonathan. The new government, a military council acknowledging Moshoeshoe as head of state, makes the necessary concessions to South Africa and gets the blockade lifted. Many refugees are expelled. Political activity is banned.

In 1991, after another military coup, the new junta promises to introduce a democratic constitution. A general election in 1993 at last brings the Basutoland Congress Party to power in a landslide victory (winning all 65 seats in the national assembly). Moshoeshoe II and his eldest son, Letsie III, alternate on the throne during this troubled period as they side with rival factions.

Internal disputes within the BCP disrupt the second half of the 1990s, when there is at last a friendly democratic government in South Africa.
In 1996 a dissident faction within the BCP tries to oust its leader, the prime minister Ntsu Mokhele, on the grounds that he is incompetent and at seventy-eight too old for office. His response is to form a new party of his loyal supporters, calling it the Lesotho Congress for Democracy, and to remain in office as leader of the majority.

For elections in 1998 Mokhele’s place is taken by his former deputy prime minister, Pakalitha Mosisili. Under his guidance the new party is almost as overwhelmingly successful as its predecessor five years previously. The LCD wins seventy-eight of the eighty seats in an expanded national assembly.

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 entirely 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 2,285,392 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.

Foreign Relations

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.

Credit: Africa and History


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