Lesotho History

History of Lesotho

Lesotho is a small enclave kingdom within the borders of South Africa with a population of 2.142 million people (2020). The area was formerly inhabited by the San until around 1600 when Bantu speaking tribesmen began to settle in the area. Speaking seSotho (South Sotho) they began to be called Basotho, from which Lesotho was later to take its name as Lesotho means "the land of the people who speak Sesotho". The area, then known as Basutoland, and its peoples was unified by the tribal leader Moshoeshoe I as part of the struggle against against the wars of conquest associated with the reign of the first Zulu emperor king, Shaka. Moshoeshoe became king of the area becoming known as Morena e Moholo, (Great King.)

In 1822, Moshoeshoe 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. Despite the proclamation of the state, the the Basotho people were involved in a series of wars (1856-68) with the Boers who had taken control of traditional Basotho lands leading to Moshoeshoe (below) appealing to Queen Victoria to make Basotuland a British protectorate  ~ a request her government acquiesced to. This arrangement made Britain responsible for the protection of Basotuland, whilst allowing local chieftains to maintain control over internal affairs. This protectorate status was to successfully prevent the Orange Free State and later, the Republic of South Africa from annexing the territory.

Despite this, the year after the death of Moshoeshoe in 1870 and his burial in the graveyard on the summit of Thaba-Bosiu, the protectorate was annexed to Cape Colony despite protests from both Basotho and Boer leaders. Rule from Cape Colony saw Cape magistrates interfering with the traditional laws of the Sotho people and even saw part of Basutoland demarcated for white use only. Rumbling discontentment saw a law introduced in 1879, the Disarmament Act, that was designed to ensure that all fire arms were surrendered to prevent such conflict, however this law merely provoked open rebellion and the Gun War of 1880-1881 which saw 8000 Basuto dead and 2000 British casualties.

King Moshoeshoe

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. In 1910 the Basutoland Council was established (partly from internal pressure not to cede the protectorate to the newly emerging Union of South Africa) comprising the paramount chief, ninety nine Basotho Members and headed by the resident British Commissioner. This effectively gave the area self government for the next fifty years until 1960 when the Basutoland National Council, an indirectly elected legislative body, was created largely in response to increasing pressure for constitutional change and self determination pursued most aggressively by the Basutoland Congress Party (BCP) headed by Ntsu Mokhehle. This year also saw Prince Bereng Seeiso installed as Moshoeshoe II.

Lesotho History

Parties opposed to the BCP had also begun to emerge, the Marerna Tiou Party (MTP) led by S S Matete and the Basutoland National Party (BNP) headed by Chief Leabua Jonathan (left). A Constitutional Review Commission was appointed by Moshoeshoe II in 1961 reporting two years later with a proposal for an independent nation state with a constitution acceptable to the British. Elections were duly held in 1965 and the BNP, led by Leabua Jonathan, took the country into independence as the Kingdom of Lesotho on 4th October 1966 with a constitutional monarchy, senate and national assembly forming the governmental structure. Since then, Lesotho has suffered from internal politicking which has left an already disadvantaged country even weaker, where a third of the population has AIDS, alongside high unemployment, near economic collapse and a weak currency.

Lesotho History: Volunteer Work in Lesotho

African Volunteer Work: Lesotho

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Lesotho History: Life in Lesotho


Facts and figures about daily life in Lesotho, an impoverished country in the grip of an HIV epidemic together with a video documentary.

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Lesotho History: Sponsor a Child in Lesotho

Child Sponsor Lesotho

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Lesotho History: Lesotho Country Profile

African Country Profiles: Lesotho

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