After tribal leader
Moshoeshoe I united the people of present day Lesotho into
Basutoland, he set his capital city high in the northern Drakensberg mountains at Buthe-Buthe, which was well placed to
defend the eventual Kingdom of Lesotho.
The capital was later
moved to Thaba Bosiu which was used as his headquarters during
the various Basuto Wars (1856-68) with the Boers who had taken
control of traditional Basotho lands leading to
Moshoeshoe appealing to Queen Victoria to make Basotuland a
British protectorate ~ a request her government
on the border with British South Africa, was then established
as a police camp from where they could extend their protection
to Lesotho and it functioned as the administrative centre of
the protectorate as well as a small trading base until a year
after Moshoehoe's death in 1870 (burial in the graveyard on the
summit of Thaba-Bosiu (left)),
when the protectorate was annexed to Cape Colony despite protests
from both Basotho and Boer leaders.
This step provoked
widespread dismay in Basutoland as magistrates in Cape Colony were seen as
interfering with the traditional laws of the Sotho people and
even demarcated parts of Basutoland for white use only.
rumbling discontentment saw Cape magistrates introduce a law in
1879, the Disarmament Act, that was designed to ensure that all
firearms were surrendered to prevent any conflict.
Instead it triggered the Gun War of 1880-1881 which saw 8000 Basuto
dead and 2000 British casualties. Although peace was eventually
established, Cape Colony was unable to establish any effective
control over Basutoland and it requested that London
re-establish direct control over the territory which it did in
1884 restoring it as a Crown Colony.
After regaining Crown
Colony status Maseru was restored as Basutoland's capital
however the British had little interest in developing it, nor,
indeed did that interest spread to anywhere in Lesotho. On
independence in 1966 it remained the capital of the renamed
Kingdom of Lesotho. In the early 1980s Maseru became known as a
place of hiding for ANC activists who were struggling against
South Africa's apartheid regime. In 1982 South African troops (SADF)
carried out what was called the 'Maseru Massacre' when they
launched a strike on Maseru in search of ANC 'militants'
killing 42, 30 of them ANC members.
16 years later in 1998 Maseru
was nearly destroyed after post-apartheid South Africa troops
'invaded' Lesotho claiming the kingdom was on the brink of a coup
and they needed to maintain stability in the enclave kingdom.
This invasion caused Â£6,000,000 worth of damage and almost
totally decimated Maseru, destroying its economy and
infrastructure not only from the attack but from the riots
and pillaging that followed it.
Today Maseru, with its
population of just over one quarter of a million, remains
Lesotho's largest town and has seen a rapid rise in its
population as many poor abandoned their countryside homes due
to increasing poverty and flocked to the capital. Whilst its
centre is modern and well developed, its outlying regions are
home to poor shanty areas filled with these 'incomers'.
Ironically the near destruction of the town in 1998 saw
traditional markets and enterprise emerge where once large
commercial organisations had been situated giving the town a
more traditional African feel.