History Podcasts

Lesotho Gains Independence - History

Lesotho Gains Independence - History

We are searching data for your request:

Forums and discussions:
Manuals and reference books:
Data from registers:
Wait the end of the search in all databases.
Upon completion, a link will appear to access the found materials.

Lesotho Gains Independence
On October 4th the British colony of Basutoland became independent and was renamed Lesotho. The country became a monarchy under King Moshoeshoe. Chief Leabua Jonathan became Prime Minister.

About Lesotho

Lesotho (li-soo-too) is a small, mountainous country (12,727 square miles) completely enclosed by South Africa. The major ethnic group in Lesotho are the Basotho (the people of Lesotho), making up 99.7% of the population of 2 million people. Lesotho is one of three remaining monarchies in Africa.

One of the largest problems facing Lesotho today is HIV/AIDS. Lesotho has one of the highest HIV/AIDS ratio in the world, around 23.6%. In cities, the rate is even higher at 50% for women under 40. The life expectancy in Lesotho is 42 years. 40% of the population lives under the international poverty line of $1.25/day.

Lesotho is the only country in the world that lies completely above 1,000 meters in elevation. The lowest part of Lesotho is 1,400 meters above sea level. Lesotho summers are characterized by thunderstorms in which most of the annual rainfall occurs. An average summer temperature is 86 degrees fahrenheit and winters will hover around the freezing mark.

Traditional Basotho attire is centered around the Basotho blanket, a brightly colored wool blanket. It is very common to see men, women, and children wearing a blanket during all times of the year.

Lesotho gained independence from Britain in 1966 after a long road to statehood beginning in 1822 with King Moshoeshoe I. Many wars and conflicts in Lesotho were the result of the Dutch-British conflict.

The economy of Lesotho is hand-in-hand with that of South Africa. Main industries include agriculture (2/3 of economic activity), livestock, manufacturing, and mining.

Linda, our board member, speaks about her experiences with the Basotho people:

The people of Lesotho are warm and welcoming. They have an intense interest in keeping their traditions and unique culture alive and part of their everyday life. They know development brings both good and bad to their Mountain Kingdom and many of them are reluctant to embrace the ways of the world. Traveling in the rural parts of Lesotho is a step back in time. People are busy with their animals and fields. Because surviving is, for the most part, wholly dependent on what they grow, agriculture is the most important element to most Basotho people. Everywhere in the country you will find approachable, peace-loving people.

Lesotho is mostly rural and mountainous. Here is a common scene of a herdman with some of his animals near Mohale’s Hoek.

Lesotho - History

What is now Lesotho was inhabited by hunter-gatherers, called the San Bushmen by the whites, until about 1600, when refugees from Bantu tribal wars began arriving. In 1818, Moshoeshoe, a minor chief of a northern tribe in what was to become Basutoland, brought together the survivors of the devastating Zulu and Matabele raids and founded the Basotho nation. During the early days of its existence, the Basotho also had to contend with incursions by Boers from the Orange Free State. Moshoeshoe sought UK protection, but not before much land had been lost to white settlers. His urgent appeals for assistance went unheeded until 1868, when Basutoland became a crown protectorate. Moshoeshoe died in 1870. The following year, Basutoland was annexed to the Cape Colony, over the protests of both Basotho and Boer leaders. In 1880, the so-called Gun War broke out between the Basotho and the Boers over the attempt to disarm the Basotho in accordance with the provisions of the Cape Peace Preservation Act of 1878. A high point in Basotho history was the successful resistance waged against the Cape's forces.

In 1884, Basutoland was returned to UK administration under a policy of indirect rule. Local government was introduced in 1910 with the creation of the Basutoland Council, an advisory body composed of the British resident commissioner, the paramount chief, and 99 appointed Basotho members. In effect, for the next 50 years the chiefs were allowed to govern. Under a new constitution that became effective in 1960, an indirectly elected legislative body, the Basutoland National Council, was created.

A constitutional conference held in London in 1964 approved the recommendations for a preindependence constitution that had been made by a constitutional commission. The new constitution went into effect on 30 April 1965, following the general election. The resident commissioner became the British government representative, retaining powers for defense, external affairs, internal security, and the public service.

In April 1966, a conflict arose in parliament between the government and the opposition over Prime Minister Leabua Jonathan's motion requesting that Britain set a date for independence. To forestall passage of the motion, Paramount Chief Moshoeshoe II replaced 5 of his 11 senatorial appointees with 5 opponents of the government. The High Court subsequently invalidated that action, declaring that his right to appoint 11 senators did not entail the right of dismissal. The Senate and National Assembly eventually passed the independence motion, the latter by a vote of 32 to 28, but the dispute foreshadowed a constitutional crisis that was not conclusively resolved at independence. The final independence conference was held in June 1966. Charging that the United Kingdom was granting independence to a minority government, and demanding a more significant role for the paramount chief, delegates representing the opposition withdrew. Moshoeshoe II himself declined to sign the final accord.


The United Kingdom granted independence to the newly named Kingdom of Lesotho on 4 October 1966 Moshoeshoe II was proclaimed king on that date. The first general election following the attainment of independence was held in January 1970. When it appeared that the ruling party, the Basotho National Party (BNP), would be defeated, Prime Minister Jonathan, its leader, declared a state of emergency and suspended the constitution. The Basotho Congress Party (BCP), led by Ntsu Mokhehle, claimed that it had won 33 seats to the BNP's 23. Leabua Jonathan admitted he had lost the election but nevertheless arrested the opposition leaders. The unrest, he said, was due to Communist influence, and since the majority of the people were behind him he would suspend the constitution and hold new elections later. King Moshoeshoe II was placed under house arrest, and in April 1970 the Netherlands gave him asylum. He was permitted to return in December.

Scattered attacks on police posts occurred in January 1974 in an alleged attempt by supporters of the BCP to overthrow the government of the ruling BNP. The abortive coup dɾtat resulted in the arrest, killing, imprisonment, or exile of many people. In March 1975, 15 BCP followers were found guilty of high treason. The struggle against the Jonathan government continued through the late 1970s and early 1980s, with the Lesotho Liberation Army (LLA), the military arm of the BCP in exile, claiming responsibility for periodic bombings in Maseru, ambushes of government officials, and attacks on police stations. The Lesotho government charged that South Africa was allowing the LLA to use its territory as a base of operations.

Relations with South Africa deteriorated after that nation granted independence in 1976 to the Bantu homeland of Transkei, on Lesotho's southeastern border. When Lesotho (like all other nations except South Africa) declined to recognize Transkei, the Transkeian authorities closed the border with Lesotho, which also angered South Africa by harboring members of the banned African National Congress (ANC), an exiled South African insurgent group. On 9 December 1982, South African troops raided private residences of alleged ANC members in Maseru 42 persons were killed, including at least 12 Lesotho citizens. In the early 1980s, South Africa used economic pressures against Lesotho.

Parliamentary elections scheduled for August 1985 by the Jonathan government were called off because all five opposition parties refused to take part, charging that the voters' roll was fraudulent. Later that year, South Africa stepped up its destabilization activities, conducting a commando raid and aiding antigovernment elements. On 1 January 1986, South Africa imposed a near-total blockade of Lesotho that resulted in severe shortages of food and essential supplies. On 20 January, a military coup led by Maj. Gen. Justin Metsing Lekhanya overthrew the government. All executive and legislative powers were vested in the king, acting on the advice of a six-man military council. On 25 January, a number of ANC members and sympathizers were flown from Lesotho to Zambia, whereupon South Africa ended its blockade of the country. All political activity was banned on 27 March.

There was widespread skepticism about the military government and its links to Pretoria, and agitation to return to civilian rule. In 1990, Lekhanya had Moshoeshoe II exiled (for a second time) after the king refused to agree to the dismissal of several senior officers. In November 1990, a new law was announced providing for a constitutional monarchy but barring Moshoeshoe from the throne. Later that month, Moshoeshoe's son (King Letsie III), was elected king by an assembly of chiefs.

In April 1991, rebel army officers staged a bloodless coup, forcing Lekhanya to resign. He was succeeded by Colonel Elias Ramaema as leader of a military junta. In July 1992, the king was allowed to return to a hero's welcome.

Multiparty elections were scheduled for 28 November 1992, but they were postponed until 1993 because of delays in delimiting parliamentary constituencies. Finally, on 27 March 1993, in the first democratic elections in 23 years, the Basotho Congress Party, the major opposition party, won all 65 seats in the Assembly. The BCP formed a government under Prime Minister Dr. Ntsu Mokhehle. The BCP offered to nominate four BNP members but only one opposition politician accepted. Several cabinet members were appointed from opposition ranks.

On 25 January 1994, army troops mutinied in Maseru after the government refused their demands for a 100% pay increase. Prime Minister Mokhehle requested military assistance from South Africa, but that request was denied. After three weeks of sporadic fighting, the two factions within the military agreed to a Commonwealth-brokered deal for negotiations with the government.

In August 1994, Lesotho's first democratically elected government faced another challenge when King Letsie III suspended Parliament and imposed a "Ruling Council." The king had been angered by the Mokhehle government's creation of a board of inquiry to investigate the dethroning of his father. Although Letsie had the support of the security forces, his royal coup was condemned internally and internationally, and the United States cut off aid. On 14 September the crisis was resolved when the king agreed to return the throne to his father. However, two years later King Moshoeshoe was killed in a car crash, and his son reclaimed the throne—much to the consternation of pro-democracy groups and Lesotho's neighbors.

Although the government increased military salaries in line with other government workers in 1995, an uprising three years later by a disgruntled faction of the Lesotho Defense Forces necessitated Botswana and South Africa military intervention. Over 50 soldiers were taken into custody and charged with mutiny in September 1998 on the heels of rioting and looting that destroyed parts of the capital following the March elections. The violence cost Lesotho untold millions as it sent the economy into a tailspin. Peacekeepers remained in the country as 1999 came to a close, prompting demands from the opposition alliance that the UN remove all foreign troops from Lesotho.

Lesotho remains among the poorest countries in Africa with the majority of the population living below the poverty line on less than $1 a day. In June 2003, Lesotho had an HIV/AIDS prevalence rate of 31% among the adult population, and unemployment stood at 51%. Poverty, lack of jobs and food shortages in the sub-region were driving rural to urban migration, and increasing the likelihood that young women and women heads of household would engage in commercial and risky sex to provide for their families.


The separation from the Tswana is assumed to have taken place by the 14th century. The first historical references to the Basotho date to the 19th century. By that time, a series of Basotho kingdoms covered the southern portion of the plateau ( Free State Province and parts of Gauteng ). Basotho society was highly decentralized and organized on the basis of kraals, or extended clans, each of which ruled by a chief[4] Chiefdoms were united into loose confederations[4]
19th century
In the 1820s, refugees from the Zulu expansion under Shaka [5] came into contact with the Basotho people residing on the highveld. In 1823, those pressures caused one group of Basotho, the Kololo , to migrate north, past the Okavango Swamp and across the Zambezi into Barotseland, now part of Zambia .[6] In 1845, the Kololo conquered Barotseland. [7]
At about the same time, the Boers began to encroach upon Basotho territory.[8] After the
Cape Colony had been ceded to Britain at the conclusion of the Napoleonic Wars, the
voortrekkers ("pioneers") were farmers who opted to leave the former Dutch colony and moved inland where they eventually established independent polities. [8][9]
At the time of these developments,
Moshoeshoe I gained control of the Basotho kingdoms of the southern Highveld. [9] Universally praised as a skilled diplomat and strategist, he was able to wield the disparate refugee groups escaping the Difaqane into a cohesive nation. [10] His inspired leadership helped his small nation to survive the dangers and pitfalls (the Zulu hegemony, the inward expansion of the voortrekkers and the designs of imperial Britain) that destroyed other indigenous South African kingdoms during the 19th century [11]
In 1822, Moshoeshoe established his capital at Buthe-Buthe, an easily defendable mountain in the northern Drakensberg mountains, laying the foundations of the eventual Kingdom of Lesotho. [12] His capital was later moved to Thaba Bosiu [13]
To deal with the encroaching voortrekker groups, Moshoeshoe encouraged French missionary activity in his kingdom. [14]
Missionaries sent by the Paris Evangelical Missionary Society provided the King with foreign affairs counsel and helped to facilitate the purchase of modern weapons. [15]
Aside from acting as state ministers, missionaries (primarily Casalis and Arbousset) played a vital role in delineating Sesotho orthography and printing Sesotho language materials between 1837 and 1855. [16] The first Sesotho translation of the Bible appeared in 1878. [17]
In 1868, after losing the western lowlands to the Boers during the Free State–Basotho Wars Moshoeshoe successfully appealed to
Queen Victoria to proclaim Lesotho (then known as Basotuland) a protectorate of Britain and the British administration was placed in Maseru , the site of Lesotho's current capital. [8] Local chieftains retained power over internal affairs while Britain was responsible for foreign affairs and the defence of the protectorate. [18] In 1869, the British sponsored a process by which the borders of Basutoland were finally demarcated. [8] While many clans had territory within Basotuland, large numbers of Sesotho speakers resided in areas allocated to the Orange Free State, the sovereign voortrekker republic that bordered the Basotho kingdom.
20th century
Britain's protection ensured that repeated attempts by the Orange Free State, and later the Republic of South Africa, to absorb part or all of Basutoland, were unsuccessful. [3] In 1966, Basutoland gained its independence from Britain, becoming the Kingdom of Lesotho.
Internal migration explains why Sesotho is widely spoken throughout the sub-continent. To enter the cash economy, Basotho men often migrated to large cities in South Africa to find employment in the mining industry. [19] [ page needed ] Migrant workers from the Free State and Lesotho thus helped to spread Sesotho to the urban areas of South Africa. Migrant work is generally agreed to have had a negative impact on family life for most Sesotho speakers since adults (primarily men) were required to leave their families behind in impoverished communities while they were employed in cities located hundreds of kilometers away. [20] [ page needed ]
Attempts by the apartheid government to force Sesotho speakers to relocate to designated homelands had little effect on human settlement patterns, and large numbers of workers continued to leave the traditional areas of Black settlement throughout the last century. [21]

King Moshoeshoe II, the paramount chief of Lesotho, is killed in an accident

King Moshoeshoe II of Lesotho died in a car accident shortly after he reclaimed his royal throne in 1995. The car he was travelling in rolled down a cliff on a mountain road on the way to Maseru, the capital city of Lesotho. After four months of investigations the police reported that the King's driver was under the influence of alcohol and that caused him to lose control of the vehicle.

Moshoeshoe II (1938-1996) was the paramount chief of Lesotho, succeeding paramount chief Seeiso from 1960 until Lesotho gained full independence from Britain in 1966. He was king of Lesotho from 1966 until his death in 1996, however, his political power was limited and his reign was interrupted twice. Early in his reign, Leabua Jonathan became Prime Minister of Lesotho and gained control of the government. Jonathan deposed Moshoeshoe in 1970 in order to reestablish his control in the country after his party lost the election. Moshoeshoe went into temporary exile in the Netherlands.

A few months later, when he gained control, Jonathan allowed Moshoeshoe to reassume the title of king. Jonathan was deposed in 1986 and the king gained power, but he was deposed again in 1990, while his son Letsie III was forced to take his place as king. Moshoeshoe went to exile again this time in the United Kingdom. He was able to become king again in 1995. The following year he was killed in a car accident on a mountain road, and Letsie became king again a month later. During the political turmoil of 1970 and 1990, and for a month after his death in 1996, his wife and Letsie's mother, Ma Mohato was regent.

Malawi and Zambia

By the late 1950s more militant national movements had emerged in the Central African Federation and were attempting to mobilize a disaffected peasantry in all three territories. The emergence of these nationalist movements profoundly disturbed the federal authorities. After sporadic unrest in Nyasaland in 1959 a state of emergency was declared, while in all three territories nationalist leaders were arrested and their organizations banned. The crackdown set off further disorder, and in the northern territories the British were persuaded to move toward decolonization. By 1961–62 the nationalists had been released and new constitutions drawn up, and in 1963 the federation was dissolved. In the following year the Malawi Congress Party under Hastings Kamuzu Banda and the United National Independence Party (UNIP) under Kenneth Kaunda won the first universal suffrage elections in Nyasaland and Northern Rhodesia, respectively, and led them into independence as Malawi and Zambia.

Banda and Kaunda differed greatly in their relations with the liberation struggles in the rest of Southern Africa. In the hope of gaining control of northern Mozambique, Banda negotiated with the Portuguese and withheld assistance from Mozambican nationalists, who during the 1960s were beginning their military campaign. He also established close ties with the white South African government, which supplied much of Malawi’s direct aid. Malawi thus became the foundation of South Africa’s “outward-looking” foreign policy in Africa.

Although initially Zambia was as tied economically to Rhodesia and the Portuguese colonies, Kaunda backed the resistance movements there and supported United Nations (UN) sanctions against the white government in Rhodesia. He paid a heavy price. The sanctions closed Zambia’s major trade and transportation routes through Rhodesia, and, although alternate routes were established through Angola and new east-west lines through Tanzania were constructed by the mid 1970s, subsequent armed incursions from Rhodesia and South Africa and continued warfare in Angola and Mozambique disrupted the costly new trade and transportation lines. Zambia’s economy contracted by nearly half between 1974 and 1979, and its collapse was prevented only by intervention from the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

During the late 1970s Malawi, long believed to have successful rural development policies, also faced economic crisis. The lean years of the 1980s saw a widening gap between rich and poor, which was worsened by Banda’s support of the Mozambican insurgency movement Renamo and the influx of vast numbers of refugees from the civil war in Mozambique.

Lesotho emerged in the 1820s, when Basutoland was founded by King Moshoeshoe I who united the tribes in the area in order to defend themselves from attacks by the Zulus.

Basutoland then found itself in territorial disputes with the Boer trekkers from the Orange Free State. King Moshoeshoe turned to the British for help and Basutoland was made a British protectorate in 1868, before gaining colony status in 1884.

On October 4th 1966, Basutoland was formally granted its independence from Great Britain as the Kingdom of Lesotho, with Moshoeshoe II as king and Chief Leabua Jonathan (Basotho National Party) as prime minister.

Did you know?

The lowest point above sea level in Lesotho is 1,500 metres, making it the country with the highest low point in the world.

Lesotho Gains Independence - History

U.S. Department of State, August 1999
Bureau of African Affairs

Background Notes:

Official Name:
Kingdom of Lesotho

Area: 30,355 sq. km. (11,718 sq. mi.), about the size of Maryland.
Cities: Capital--Maseru (1997 pop. est. 386,000). Other cities--Teyateyaneng (240,754), Leribe (300,160), Mafeteng (211,970), Mohale's Hoek (184,034).
Terrain: High veld, plateau and mountains.
Climate: Temperate summers hot, winters cool to cold humidity generally low and evenings cool year round. Rainy season in summer, winters dry. Southern hemisphere seasons are reversed.

Nationality: Noun--Mosotho (sing.) Basotho (pl.) Adjective--Basotho.
Population (1998 est.): 2,089,829.
Annual growth rate (1998 est.): 1.9%.
Ethnic groups: Basotho 99.7% Europeans 1,600 Asians 800.
Religions: 80% Christian, including Roman Catholic (majority), Lesotho Evangelical, Anglican, other denominations.
Languages: Official--Sesotho and English others--Zulu, Xhosa.
Education: Years compulsory--None. Literacy (1998)--71.3%.
Health: Infant mortality rate (1997 est.)--80.3/1,000. Life expectancy (1997 est.)--51.66 years.
Work force (1997 est.): 689,000. 86% subsistence agriculture.

Type: Modified constitutional monarchy.
Constitution: April 2, 1993.
Independence: October 4, 1966.
Branches: Executive--monarch is chief of state prime minister is head of government and cabinet. Legislative--Bicameral parliament consists of nonelected senate and elected assembly. Judicial--High Court, Court of Appeals, Magistrate's Court, traditional and customary courts.
Administrative subdivisions: 10 districts.
Political parties: Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD), Basotho National Party (BNP), Basotholand Congress Party (BCP), Marematlou Freedom Party (MFP), United Democratic Party (UDP), Popular Front for Democracy (PFD), Sefate Democratic Union (SDU).
Suffrage: 18 years of age.
Central government budget (FY 96-97 est.): Revenues--$507 million Expenditures--$487 million.
Flag: Diagonal fields of green and blue with a traditional Basotho shield in brown on a diagonal field of white occupying remaining half of flag.

GDP (1997 est.): Purchasing power parity--$5.1 billion.
Annual growth rate (1997 est.): 9% (although this decreased significantly in 1998 because of political unrest).
Per capita GDP (1997 est.): Purchasing power parity--$2,500.
Average inflation rate (1998 est.): 8.7%.
Natural resources: Water, agricultural and grazing land, some diamonds and other minerals. Lesotho is an exporter of excess labor.
Agriculture (1997 est.: 14% of GDP): Products--corn, wheat, sorghum, barley, peas, beans, asparagus, wool, mohair, livestock. Arable land--11%.
Industry (1997 est.: 46% of GDP): Products--food, beverages, textiles, handicrafts, construction, tourism.
Trade (1996 est.): Exports--$218 million clothing, furniture, footwear and wool. Partners--South Africa, Botswana, Swaziland, Namibia, North America, EU. Imports--$1.1 billion corn, clothing, building materials, vehicles, machinery, medicines, petroleum products. Partners--South Africa, Asia, EU.
Fiscal year: 1 April - 31 March.
Economic aid received (1998): Primary donors--World Bank, IMF, EU, UN, UK, other bilateral donors. U.S. assistance--$400,000.

Basutoland (now Lesotho--pronounced le-SOO-too) was sparsely populated by San bushmen (Qhuaique) until the end of the 16th century. Between the 16th and 19th centuries, refugees from surrounding areas gradually formed the Basotho ethnic group.

In 1818, Moshoeshoe I (pronounced mo-SHWAY-shway) consolidated various Basotho groupings and became their King. During Moshoeshoe's reign (1823-1870), a series of wars with South Africa (1856-68) resulted in the loss of extensive Basotho land, now known as the "Lost Territory." In order to protect his people, Moshoeshoe appealed to Queen Victoria for assistance, and in 1868 the land that is present-day Lesotho was placed under British protection. After a 1955 request by the Basutoland Council to legislate its internal affairs, in 1959, a new constitution gave Basutoland its first elected legislature. This was followed in April 1965 with general legislative elections with universal adult suffrage in which the Basotho National Party (BNP) won 31 and the Basutoland Congress Party (BCP) won 25 of the 65 seats contested.

On October 4, 1966, the Kingdom of Lesotho attained full independence, governed by a constitutional monarchy with a bicameral parliament consisting of a Senate and an elected National Assembly. Early results of the first post-independence elections in January 1970 indicated that the BNP might lose control. Under the leadership of Prime Minister Chief Leabua Jonathan, the ruling Basotho National Party (BNP) refused to cede power to the rival Basotholand Congress Party (BCP), although the BCP was widely believed to have won the elections. Citing election irregularities, Prime Minister Leabua Jonathan nullified the elections, declared a national state of emergency, suspended the constitution, and dissolved the Parliament. In 1973, an appointed Interim National Assembly was established. With an overwhelming progovernment majority, it was largely the instrument of the BNP, led by Prime Minister Jonathan. In addition to the Jonathan regime's alienation of Basotho powerbrokers and the local population, South Africa had virtually closed the country's land borders because of Lesotho support of cross-border operations of the African National Congress (ANC). Moreover, South Africa publicly threatened to pursue more direct action against Lesotho if the Jonathan government did not root out the ANC presence in the country. This internal and external opposition to the government combined to produce violence and internal disorder in Lesotho that eventually led to a military takeover in 1986.

Under a January 1986 Military Council decree, state executive and legislative powers were transferred to the King who was to act on the advice of the Military Council, a self-appointed group of leaders of the Royal Lesotho Defense Force (RLDF). A military government chaired by Justin Lekhanya ruled Lesotho in coordination with King Moshoeshoe II and a civilian cabinet appointed by the King.

In February 1990, King Moshoeshoe II was stripped of his executive and legislative powers and exiled by Lekhanya, and the Council of Ministers was purged. Lekhanya accused those involved of undermining discipline within the armed forces, subverting existing authority, and causing an impasse on foreign policy that had been damaging to Lesotho's image abroad. Lekhanya announced the establishment of the National Constituent Assembly to formulate a new constitution for Lesotho with the aim of returning the country to democratic, civilian rule by June 1992. Before this transition, however, Lekhanya was ousted in 1991 by a mutiny of junior army officers that left Phisoane Ramaema as Chairman of the Military Council.

Because Moshoeshoe II initially refused to return to Lesotho under the new rules of the government in which the King was endowed only with ceremonial powers, Moshoeshoe's son was installed as King Letsie III. In 1992, Moshoeshoe II returned to Lesotho as a regular citizen until 1995 when King Letsie abdicated the throne in favor of his father. After Moshoeshoe II died in a car accident in 1996, King Letsie III ascended to the throne again.

In 1993, a new constitution was implemented leaving the King without any executive authority and proscribing him from engaging in political affairs. Multiparty elections were then held in which the BCP ascended to power with a landslide victory. Prime Minister Ntsu Mokhehle headed the new BCP government that had gained every seat in the 65-member National Assembly. In early 1994, political instability increased as first the army, followed by the police and prisons services, engaged in mutinies. In August 1994, King Letsie III, in collaboration with some members of the military, staged a coup, suspended Parliament, and appointed a ruling council. As a result of domestic and international pressures, however, the constitutionally elected government was restored within a month.

In 1995, there were isolated incidents of unrest, including a police strike in May to demand higher wages. For the most part, however, there were no serious challenges to Lesotho's constitutional order in the 1995-96 period. In January 1997, armed soldiers put down a violent police mutiny and arrested the mutineers.

In 1997, tension within the BCP leadership caused a split in which Dr. Mokhehle abandoned the BCP and established the Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) followed by two-thirds of the parliament. This move allowed Mokhehle to remain as Prime Minister and leader of a new ruling party, while relegating the BCP to opposition status. The remaining members of the BCP refused to accept their new status as the opposition party and ceased attending sessions. Multiparty elections were again held in May 1998.

Although Mokhehle completed his term as Prime Minister, due to his failing health, he did not vie for a second term in office. The elections saw a landslide victory for the LCD, gaining 79 of the 80 seats contested in the newly expanded Parliament. As a result of the elections, Mokhehle's Deputy Prime Minister, Pakalitha Mosisili, became the new Prime Minister. The landslide electoral victory caused opposition parties to claim that there were substantial irregularities in the handling of the ballots and that the results were fraudulent. The conclusion of the Langa Commission, a commission appointed by SADC to investigate the electoral process, however, was consistent with the view of international observers and local courts that the outcome of the elections was not affected by these incidents. Despite the fact that the election results were found to reflect the will of the people, opposition protests in the country intensified. The protests culminated in a violent demonstration outside the royal palace in early August 1998 and in an unprecedented level of violence, looting, casualties, and destruction of property. In early September, junior members of the armed services mutinied. The Government of Lesotho requested that a SADC task force intervene to prevent a military coup and restore stability to the country. To this end, Operation Boleas, consisting of South African and Botswanan troops, entered Lesotho on September 22, 1998 to put down the mutiny and restore the democratically elected government.

After stability returned to Lesotho, the SADC task force withdrew from the country in May 1999, leaving only a small task force (joined by Zimbabwean troops) to provide training to the LDF. In the meantime, an Interim Political Authority (IPA), charged with reviewing the electoral structure in the country, was created in December 1998. The army mutineers were brought before a court martial. In general, Lesotho's political situation has stabilized substantially, and the next elections are expected to take place in 2000.

The Lesotho Government is a modified form of constitutional monarchy. The Prime Minister, Pakalitha Mosisili, is head of government and has executive authority. The King serves a largely ceremonial function he no longer possesses any executive authority and is proscribed from actively participating in political initiatives.

The Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) won the majority in parliament in the May 1998 elections, leaving the once-dominant Basotho National Party (BNP) and Basotholand Congress Party (BCP) far behind in total votes. Although international observers as well as a regional commission declared the elections to have reflected the will of the people, many members of the opposition have accused the LCD of electoral fraud. The 1998 elections were the third multiparty elections in Lesotho's history. The LCD, BNP, and BCP remain the principal rival political organizations in Lesotho. Distinctions and differences in political orientation between the major parties have blurred in recent years.

The constitution provides for an independent judicial system. The judiciary is made up of the High Court, the Court of Appeal, magistrate's courts, and traditional courts that exist predominately in rural areas. There is no trial by jury rather, judges make rulings alone, or, in the case of criminal trials, with two other judges as observers. The constitution also protects basic civil liberties, including freedom of speech, association, and the press freedom of peaceful assembly and freedom of religion.

For administrative purposes, Lesotho is divided into 10 districts, each headed by a district secretary and a district military officer appointed by the central government and the RLDF, respectively.

Principal Government Officials

Head of State--King Letsie III
Head of Government--Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili

Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance and Development Planning-- Kelebone A. Maope
Minister of Foreign Affairs--Motsoahae Thomas Thabane
Minister of Natural Resources--Monyane Moleleki
Minister of Local Government and Home Affairs--Mopshatla Mabitle
Minister of Human Rights, Law, Constitutional Affairs and Rehabilitation--Shakhane Mokhehle
Minister of Industry, Trade and Marketing--Mpho 'Mali Malie
Minister of Education--Archibald Lesao Lehohla
Minister of Communications Information, Broadcasting, Posts and Telecommunications--'Nyane Mphafi
Minister of Health and Social Welfare--Tefo Mabote
Minister of Employment and Labor--Notsi Victor Molopo
Minister of Agriculture, Cooperatives and Land Reclamation--Vova Bulane
Minister of Tourism, Sports and Culture--Hlalele Motaung
Minister of Environment, Gender and Youth Affairs--Mathabiso Lepono
Minister in the Prime Minister's Office--Sephiri Motanyane
Minister of Works and Transport--Mofelehetsi Moerane
Ambassador to the United States--Lebohang Moleko, designated July 1999
Permanent Representative and Ambassador to the United Nations--P.M. Mangoaela

Lesotho maintains an embassy in the United States at 2511 Massachusetts Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20008 (tel: 202-797-5533). Lesotho's mission to the United Nations is located at 204 East 39th Street, New York, NY 10016 (tel: 212-661-1690).

The security forces are composed of the Lesotho Defense Force (LDF) and the Lesotho Mounted Police. The LDF consists of an army, an air wing, and a newly formed paramilitary wing. The LDF is answerable to the Prime Minister through the Ministry of Defense, while the Lesotho Mounted Police report to the Minister of Home Affairs. There also is a National Security Service, Intelligence, which is directly accountable to the Prime Minister. Relations between the police and the army have been tense, and in 1997 the army was called upon to put down a serious police mutiny.

Lesotho's economy is based on agriculture, livestock, manufacturing, and the earnings of laborers employed in South Africa. Lesotho is geographically surrounded by South Africa and economically integrated with it as well. The majority of households subsist on farming or migrant labor, primarily miners in South Africa for 3 to 9 months. The western lowlands form the main agricultural zone. Almost 50% of the population earn some income through crop cultivation or animal husbandry with nearly two-thirds of the country's income coming from the agricultural sector.

Water is Lesotho's only significant natural resource. It is being exploited through the 30-year, multi-billion dollar Lesotho Highlands Water Project (LHWP), which was initiated in 1986. The LHWP is designed to capture, store, and transfer water from the Orange River system and send it to South Africa's Free State and greater Johannesburg area, which features a large concentration of South African industry, population and agriculture. At the completion of the project, Lesotho should be almost completely self-sufficient in the production of electricity and also gain income from the sale of electricity to South Africa. The World Bank, African Development Bank, European Investment Bank, and many other bilateral donors are financing the project.

Until the political insecurity in September 1998, Lesotho's economy had grown steadily since 1992. The riots, however, destroyed nearly 80% of commercial infrastructure in Maseru and two other major towns in the country, having a disastrous effect on the country's economy. Nonetheless, the country has completed several IMF Structural Adjustment Programs, and inflation declined substantially over the course of the 1990s. Lesotho's trade deficit, however, is quite large, with exports representing only a small fraction of imports.

Lesotho has received economic aid from a variety of sources, including the United States, the World Bank, the United Kingdom, the European Union, and Germany.

Lesotho has nearly 6,000 kilometers of unpaved and modern all-weather roads. There is a short rail line (freight) linking Lesotho with South Africa that is totally owned and operated by South Africa. Lesotho, is a member of the Southern African Customs Union (SACU) in which tariffs have been eliminated on the trade of goods between other member countries, which also include Botswana, Namibia, South Africa, and Swaziland. Lesotho, Swaziland, Namibia, and South Africa also form a common currency and exchange control area known as the Rand Monetary Area that uses the South African Rand as the common currency. In 1980, Lesotho introduced its own currency, the loti (plural: maloti). One hundred lisente equal one loti. The Loti is at par with the Rand.

Lesotho's geographic location makes it extremely vulnerable to political and economic developments in South Africa. It is a member of many regional economic organizations including the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and the Southern African Customs Union (SACU). Lesotho also is active in the United Nations, the Organization of African Unity, the Nonaligned Movement, and many other international organizations. In addition to the United States, South Africa, China, the United Kingdom, and the European Union all currently retain resident diplomatic missions in Lesotho.

Lesotho has historically maintained generally close ties with the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany, and other Western states. Although Lesotho decided in 1990 to break relations with the People's Republic of China (P.R.C.) and reestablish relations with Taiwan, it has since restored ties with the P.R.C. Lesotho also recognized Palestine as a state, established relations with Namibia, and was a strong public supporter of the end of apartheid in South Africa.

The United States was one of the first four countries to establish an embassy in Maseru after Lesotho gained its independence from Great Britain in 1966. Since this time, Lesotho and the United States have consistently maintained warm bilateral relations. In 1996, the United States closed its bilateral aid program in Lesotho. The Southern African regional office of USAID now administers most of the U.S. assistance to Lesotho through SADC regional programs, although estimated U.S. assistance to Lesotho in 1998 was $400,000. The Peace Corps has operated in Lesotho since 1966. Peace Corps volunteers concentrate in the sectors of agriculture, education, rural development, and the environment. The Government of Lesotho encourages greater American participation in commercial life and welcomes interest from potential U.S. investors and suppliers.

Principal U.S. Officials

Ambassador--Katherine Peterson
Deputy Chief of Mission--Raymond Brown
Administrative/Consular Officer--Teresa Stewart
Director, Peace Corps--Carol Chappelle

The mailing address of the U.S. Embassy is P.O. Box 333, Maseru 100, Lesotho. Telephone: (266) 312-666, Fax: (266) 310-116. E-mail: [email protected]

The U.S. Department of State's Consular Information Program provides Consular Information Sheets, Travel Warnings, and Public Announcements. Consular Information Sheets exist for all countries and include information on entry requirements, currency regulations, health conditions, areas of instability, crime and security, political disturbances, and the addresses of the U.S. posts in the country. Travel Warnings are issued when the State Department recommends that Americans avoid travel to a certain country. Public Announcements are issued as a means to disseminate information quickly about terrorist threats and other relatively short-term conditions overseas which pose significant risks to the security of American travelers. Free copies of this information are available by calling the Bureau of Consular Affairs at 202-647-5225 or via the fax-on-demand system: 202-647-3000. Consular Information Sheets and Travel Warnings also are available on the Consular Affairs Internet home page: http://travel.state.gov. Consular Affairs Tips for Travelers publication series, which contain information on obtaining passports and planning a safe trip abroad are on the internet and hard copies can be purchased from the Superintendent of Documents, U.S. Government Printing Office, telephone: 202-512-1800 fax 202-512-2250.

Emergency information concerning Americans traveling abroad may be obtained from the Office of Overseas Citizens Services at (202) 647-5225. For after-hours emergencies, Sundays and holidays, call 202-647-4000.

Maseru, Lesotho (1869- )

Maseru is the capital of Lesotho as well as its largest city. Maseru, a Sesotho word, means “place of the sandstone.” The city is situated along the west central border between Lesotho and South Africa on the Calderon River. The 2006 census showed its population as approximately 227,880.

The city of Maseru was officially founded in 1869 following the Free State-Basotho Wars between the Boers and the British. Maseru was originally established as a small police camp by the British. Between 1871 and 1884, Lesotho was governed from the Cape Colony (present-day South Africa) and remained the administrative capital after Basutoland (current-day Lesotho) became a British colony in 1884. The small settlement survived being burned down during the Gun War of 1880-1881 between British forces and Basotho political leaders over the right of indigenous people to bear arms. The Basotho people won the conflict.

At the beginning of the twentieth century, Maseru was a small settlement that consisted of a small number of colonial administrative buildings, a trading store, and several outlying villages. It later grew into a busy market town. A Chamber of Commerce was formed in 1890 and two newspapers, Mochochonono (“The Comet”) and Basutoland News, were founded in 1911 and 1927, respectively. By 1933 the town had streetlights and an improved water-supply system was built in 1949. In addition, the class structure of this colonial capital became more complex. It now included British colonial officials, European traders and professionals, African professionals, both black and white clerks and interpreters, and a small service class of domestic workers and shop assistants. Tensions remained high across these classes and divisions under British colonial rule partly because the racial hierarchy was maintained through a variety of laws such as residential segregation.

During the early to mid-1950s, the country of Lesotho began to make progress toward independence. In 1952 the Basutoland African Congress was formalized as a Pan-Africanist and left-wing political party. It was renamed the Basutoland Congress Party in 1957. In 1961, the African population came together to protest unfair labor practices, discriminatory legislation and social practices, and other elements of the colonial regime. In 1963, neighboring South Africa imposed documentation laws that required Lesotho citizens to provide travel documentation in crossing the Lesotho-South African border. These developments, along with the ongoing colonial rule in the country, gave rise to calls for national independence.

Lesotho gained its independence in 1966 and Maseru became the capital. Following independence, the population began to increase steadily as people moved throughout the country and into the city in search for wage labor. Maseru is the only major urban center of Lesotho and its population increased from approximately 20,000 in in 1966 to over 200,000 by the end of the twentieth century. Maseru’s population accounts for nearly 10% of the total population of Lesotho. Today, approximately 80% of the city’s population is Christian and 20% practice indigenous beliefs.

It’s here: the NEW Britannica Kids website!

We’ve been busy, working hard to bring you new features and an updated design. We hope you and your family enjoy the NEW Britannica Kids. Take a minute to check out all the enhancements!

  • The same safe and trusted content for explorers of all ages.
  • Accessible across all of today's devices: phones, tablets, and desktops.
  • Improved homework resources designed to support a variety of curriculum subjects and standards.
  • A new, third level of content, designed specially to meet the advanced needs of the sophisticated scholar.
  • And so much more!

Want to see it in action?

Start a free trial

Choose a language from the menu above to view a computer-translated version of this page. Please note: Text within images is not translated, some features may not work properly after translation, and the translation may not accurately convey the intended meaning. Britannica does not review the converted text.

After translating an article, all tools except font up/font down will be disabled. To re-enable the tools or to convert back to English, click "view original" on the Google Translate toolbar.


  1. Mooguk

    I'm sorry, but I think you are wrong. I'm sure. Let's discuss this. Email me at PM, we'll talk.

  2. Mazahn

    Yes, I looked at everything. On the one hand, everything is beautiful, on the other hand, everything is bad in connection with the latest events.

  3. Alvis

    ATP I like it!

  4. Mezikazahn

    Congratulations, excellent communication

Write a message