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Lesotho(ləsō`tō), officially Kingdom of Lesotho, kingdom (2015 est. pop. 2,175,000), 11,720 sq mi (30,355 sq km), S Africa. It is an enclave within the Republic of South Africa. MaseruMaseru
, city (1996 pop. 137,837), capital of the Kingdom of Lesotho, on the Caledon River, near the border with the Republic of South Africa. It is Lesotho's only sizable city and its administrative center.
..... Click the link for more information. is the capital and largest city.
Land and People
The Drakensberg Range occupies the eastern part of the country; elevations vary from more than 11,000 ft (3,353 m) along the eastern frontier to c.8,000 ft (2,440 m) farther west. The rest of the kingdom is a heavily populated, rocky tableland with a semiarid to semihumid climate. The population is comprised almost totally of the Sotho people. About 80% are Christian, and the balance adhere to indigenous religions. Most of Lesotho's small non-African population is engaged in administrative, commercial, or missionary work. English and Sesotho (a Bantu tongue) are the official languages of the kingdom; Zulu and Xhosa are also spoken.
All land in Lesotho is held by the king in trust for the Sotho nation and is apportioned on his behalf by local chiefs; non-Sotho may not hold land. Only a tenth of Lesotho's land is arable. Corn, wheat, pulses, sorghum, and barley are cultivated; much of the workforce is engaged in subsistence farming. Many staples, however, must be imported from South Africa. Agricultural production has been hurt by soil exhaustion and erosion and recurring drought. Sheep are bred for wool, and cattle and Angora goats are raised.
Lesotho is a water-rich nation in a water-starved region. The Lesotho Highlands water scheme, a six-dam project scheduled to be completed in 2015, already provides water and hydroelectricity for Lesotho and South Africa. Mineral resources include some diamonds.
The country has light industries, including food and beverages, textiles, apparel assembly, and handicrafts. Tourism is also important; the country has two national parks bordering on the Drakensberg Range. Some 60,000 citizens are employed in South Africa's mining industry, down considerably from the 1980s; their remittances nonetheless provide an important source of revenue. Lesotho's main exports are clothing, footwear, road vehicles, wool and mohair, foodstuffs, and live animals. Imports include food, building materials, vehicles, machinery, medicines, and petroleum products. The United States, China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan are the main trading partners.
Lesotho is a parliamentary constitutional monarchy and is governed under the constitution of 1993. The king is head of state but has no executive or legislative powers. The government is headed by a prime minister, who is the leader of the majority party in the Assembly. There is a bicameral Parliament. The 33-member Senate consists of the 22 principal chiefs and 11 other members appointed by the ruling party. Of the 120 members of the Assembly, 80 are elected by popular vote and 40 by proportional vote, all for five-year terms. Administratively, Lesotho is divided into ten districts.
, people of SW Africa (mainly Botswana, Namibia, Angola, and South Africa), consisting of several groups and numbering about 100,000 in all. They are generally short in stature; their skin is yellowish brown in color; and they have broad noses, flat ears, bulging foreheads,
..... Click the link for more information. (Bushmen), who were the region's earliest known inhabitants, were supplanted several centuries prior to colonization by various Bantu-speaking peoples, including those that came to be the Sotho and the Zulu. The Sotho are made up of remnants of ethnic groups that were scattered during the disturbances accompanying the rise of the Zulu (1816–30). They were rallied c.1820 by MoshoeshoeMoshoeshoe
, c.1786–1870, Sotho king. A remarkable leader, he was a superior military tactician and was able to unite several small groups into the Sotho nation. By the mid-1820s he ruled approximately 25,000 citizens.
..... Click the link for more information. , a commoner who founded a dynasty in what is now Lesotho. Moshoeshoe not only defended his people from Zulu raids but preserved their independence against Boer and British interlopers. He also welcomed Catholic and Protestant missionaries.
Following wars with the Boer-ruled Orange Free State in 1858 and 1865, Moshoeshoe put the Sotho under British protection (1868), establishing the protectorate of Basutoland. The protectorate was annexed to Cape Colony in 1871 without Sotho consent, but in 1884 it was placed under the direct control of Britain. When the Union of South Africa was forged in 1910, Basutoland came under the jurisdiction of the British High Commissioner in South Africa. Provisions were made for the eventual incorporation of the territory into the union, but Sotho opposition, especially after the rise of the Nationalist party with its apartheid policy, prevented annexation. In 1960 the British granted Basutoland a new constitution that paved the way to internal self-government.
On Oct. 4, 1966, Basutoland became independent as Lesotho. Following general elections in early 1970, which the opposition Basutoland Congress party (later the Basotho Congress party; BCP) apparently won, Prime Minister Leabua JonathanJonathan, Joseph Leabua
, 1914–87, prime minister of Lesotho (1965–86). He founded (1959) and led the Basutoland National party working for separate independence from Great Britain (rather than, as had originally been planned, becoming part of the Union of South
..... Click the link for more information. declared a state of emergency and suspended the constitution. King Moshoeshoe II went into exile but returned at the end of the year, thereafter serving largely as a figurehead. In 1973 an interim assembly began work on a new constitution, but the BCP, led by Ntsu Mokhehle, refused to participate.
In Jan., 1974, Jonathan accused the BCP of attempting to stage a coup; the party was outlawed and hundreds of its members reportedly killed. Armed clashes between the Lesotho Liberation Army (the militarized segment of the BCP) and the government were common throughout the 1970s and 80s. In the late 1970s, Jonathan exploited growing popular resentment of South Africa and its policies of apartheid. South Africa responded by organizing economic blockades and military raids against Lesotho.
Maj. Gen. Justinus Lekhanya led a coup in 1986 that installed King Moshoeshoe II as head of state. After prolonged disputes with Lekhanya over power, the king went into exile. In 1990, Moshoeshe II's son, Letsie III, became king but was reduced to a purely ceremonial role. Lekhanya was overthrown (1991) in a bloodless coup, and Col. Elias Tutsoane Ramaena came to power as chairman of a six-member military council.
A free election in 1993, the first in 23 years, resulted in a BCP landslide, and Ntsu Mokhehle became prime minister. In 1994 fighting between two rival army factions unsettled the young democracy; the king ousted Mokhehle but was pressured by other S African nations to reinstate him. In Jan., 1995, Letsie abdicated in favor of his father, Moshoeshoe II. After Moshoeshoe was killed in an automobile accident in Jan., 1996, Letsie was restored to the throne.
In 1997, Mokhehle remained prime minister as he broke from the BCP and founded the Lesotho Congress for Democracy party (LCD), reducing the BCP to the opposition. Mokhehle died in Jan., 1998; new elections were called in May, and Pakalitha Mosisili of the LCD secured the prime ministership. Demonstrators charging election fraud staged violent protests in Maseru, causing severe damage. In Sept., 1998, South Africa and Botswana sent troops into the country to restore order.
In Oct., 1998, the government and the opposition agreed to form a transitional body to organize new elections within 18 months. Elections were held in May, 2002, under a revamped electoral system designed to increase opposition representation in the parliament. The LCD again won the elections. The effects of a three-year drought led Prime Minister Mosisili to appeal for international food aid in early 2004. A split in the LCD in Oct., 2006, reduced its majority in parliament to one vote and led to new elections in Feb., 2007, that again resulted in an LCD victory. Opposition unhappiness with the elections led to internationally mediated negotiations (2009–11) that resulted in constitutional and electoral law revisions.
Serious drought and food shortages were again a problem in 2007. Mosisili survived an apparent assassination attempt in Apr., 2009. Frustration within the LCD over Mosisili's refusal to step down as party leader led Mosisili to form the Democratic Congress (DC) in 2012. In the May, 2012, elections the DC won the largest bloc of seats, but the All Basotho Convention (ABC), the LCD, and three other parties formed a coalition government in June, with ABC leader Thomas Thabane as prime minister.
Two years later Thabane suspended parliament, leading to tensions in the coalition. In Aug., 2014, after Thabane fired defense forces chief Tlali Kamoli and replaced him with Maaparankoe Mahao, Kamoli's supporters in the army moved against the police and Thabane fled to South Africa, accusing the army and Deputy Prime Minister Mothetjoa Metsing of a coup, which they denied. A South African–mediated agreement returned Thabane to office but also called for new elections in Feb., 2015; parliament reconvened in Oct., 2014.
The DC won a narrow plurality in the 2015 elections, and formed a multiparty coalition that included the LCD. Mosisili became prime minister and restored Kamoli as defense forces chief. In June, 2015, Mahao was killed by soldiers, sparking new tensions. Parliament was dissolved in Mar., 2017, after Mosisili lost a confidence vote; the ABC won a plurality in the June elections, and Thabane became prime minister. In Sept., 2017, defense forces chief Khoantle Motsomotso, who succeeded Kamoli in Dec., 2016, was assassinated by officers suspected of killing Mahao; the officers were also killed.
In early 2020, Thabane announced he would retire at the end of July as prosecutors moved to charge his current wife with the murder of his first wife in 2017; they subsequently also sought to charge him in the case. In Mar., 2020, Thabane prorogued parliament, where he had lost support, in order to avoid a no-confidence vote, but the constitutional court ruled against the move in April. He finally resigned in May, and Moeketsi Majoro, the finance minister, succeeded him. AIDS is a serious health issue in the country, and has contributed to economic difficulties in the early 21st cent.
See J. D. Omer-Cooper, Zulu Aftermath: A Nineteenth Century Revolution in Bantu Africa (1966); B. M. Khaketla, Lesotho 1970 (1972); J. E. Bardill and J. H. Cobbe, Lesotho: Dilemmas of Dependence in Southern Africa (1985).
(Kingdom of Lesotho; before 1966, the British protectorate of Basutoland), a state in southern Africa; a member of the British Commonwealth. An enclave within the Republic of South Africa, Lesotho has an area of 30,300 sq km. Population, approximately 1 million (1972, estimate). The capital is Maseru. Administratively, Lesotho is divided into nine districts.
Constitution and government. Lesotho is a constitutional monarchy, and according to the constitution of 1966 the king is the head of state. Parliament consists of two houses: the Senate and National Assembly (60 members elected for five years on the basis of universal and direct suffrage). The upper house (the Senate) is made up of 33 senators—22 principal chiefs occupying seats by virtue of their positions and 11 senators appointed by the king. Executive power is exercised by the government—a cabinet consisting of a prime minister and not less than seven ministers appointed by the king from representatives of the political party having a majority in the National Assembly. All citizens who have reached the age of 21 can vote. In January 1970 the constitution was suspended and Parliament dissolved. The king was deprived of all prerogatives. State power is actually exercised by the government. In April 1973 an interim national assembly, whose members are appointed by the government, was formed. One of the tasks of this body is to prepare a new constitution for Lesotho.
Local administrative organs consist of district councils elected by the population. A number of judicial and administrative functions are carried out by local chiefs.
The judicial system includes a court of appeal, a high court, and district courts. Judicial commissioners’ courts deal with appeals from lower-level Basuto courts. Central and local Basuto courts review cases on the basis of norms of customary law. Decisions and sentences of all courts in Lesotho may be appealed to a judicial committee of Great Britain’s Privy Council.
Natural features. Lesotho occupies the Basuto plateau (average elevation, 2,300–3,000 m), which is composed of sandstones and shales overlain by basalts and is bounded by the Drakensberg Mountains (Mount Thabana Ntlenyana, 3,482 m) on the east and south. The average temperature is 25°-26°C in January and 15°C, in July; however, there are frequent frosts, and snow falls in the mountains. From east to west annual precipitation decreases from 1,000 to 750 mm (summer maximum). The rivers are full of rapids and contain considerable reserves of hydroelectric power. The major river is the Orange. Soils in the western region are sandy and shallow, and in the east they are fertile and volcanic. Vegetation consists mainly of gramineous steppes, with shrubs and alpine mountain meadows in the Drakensberg Mountains.
Population. About 98 percent of the population consists of Africans, mainly Basuto, a people who speak Sesotho (a language of the Bantu language family). The Zulu, a people related to the Basuto in terms of language and culture, live near the eastern border of the country. There are approximately 2,000 Europeans (Englishmen) and Afrikaners (emigrants from the Republic of South Africa). Sesotho and English are the official languages. The majority of the population are Christians (Catholics and Protestants), but part of the population maintains local traditional religious beliefs. The official calendar is the Gregorian.
The natural growth rate of the population amounts to 2.5 percent per year. The overwhelming majority of the economically active population is employed in agriculture. Owing to the low level of economic development, approximately 200,000 Basuto are recruited annually for work in the coal and gold mines and farms of the Republic of South Africa. About one-seventh of the able-bodied population is unemployed. Most of the population lives in the eastern part of Lesotho. The major towns are Maseru, Leribe, and Mafeteng.
Historical survey. The early history of Lesotho has been poorly studied. Bushmen, who constituted the original population of the country, were displaced in the 17th and 18th centuries by Basuto who came from the north. In the first half of the 19th century Moshoeshoe (Moshesh) I, the leader of one of the Basuto clans, united under his authority various scattered tribes. By the 1830’s the Basuto occupied territory more than twice the size of present-day Lesotho.
In 1836, the Boers began to seize Basuto lands, and at the same time the English showed an interest in these territories. The Basuto waged a stubborn struggle for their independence, which did not cease even after the territory of the Basuto was proclaimed the British protectorate of Basutoland. (In 1868, Moshoeshoe I concluded a “protection treaty” with Great Britain; in 1871 the territory of Lesotho was transferred to the Cape Colony, and in 1884 it was officially declared a protectorate of Great Britain.) Having established a system of “indirect rule” (through a council of tribal chiefs under an English commissioner), the British authorities converted Basutoland into a source of cheap manpower for the industry of other colonial holdings of Great Britain in southern Africa.
The Basutoland Progressive Association, the first Basuto organization, was formed in 1907. The organization united teachers, clerks, and petty merchants and advocated social reforms and “greater opportunities for Africans in the areas of education, commerce, and enterprise.” The League of Commoners (Lekhotla la bafo), formed several years later, called for the democratization of public life and the elimination of colonial rule. The great contribution of the League of Commoners was its struggle against the attempts of the racists of the Union of South Africa to annex Basutoland. During World War II thousands of Basuto fought with the British colonial forces in Europe, Africa, and the Middle East.
After the war the national-liberation movement experienced a new upsurge. In 1952 a group of young people from the League of Commoners, headed by the teacher N. Mokhehle, organized a party called the Basutoland African Congress, which called for immediate self-government for the protectorate, to be followed by complete independence. Other parties (including the National Party) also emerged in the late 1950’s. Activization of the liberation struggle forced the British authorities to undertake reforms. In 1960 local organs of self-government were established; in elections to these organs the Congress Party (before 1959 the Basutoland African Congress) was victorious. In 1965 a constitution came into force, in accordance with which Basutoland was granted internal self-government. The first general elections for parliament were held in 1965; the National Party was victorious, and its leader, L. Jonathan, became prime minister of the government. The formation of the Communist Party of Lesotho was an important event in the political life of the country. On Oct. 4, 1966, Basutoland became independent, remaining in the Commonwealth, and became known as the Kingdom of Lesotho (King Moshoeshoe II) in accordance with the new constitution adopted in 1966. Lesotho joined the United Nations on Oct. 17, 1966.
The government of Lesotho pursued a policy of strengthening ties with the Republic of South Africa and suppressing democratic forces. After the defeat of the ruling National Party in the general parliamentary elections of Jan. 27, 1970, L. Jonathan declared a state of emergency, annulled the results of the elections, and suspended the constitution. The Communist Party of Lesotho was declared illegal. Negotiations for solving the political crisis were conducted in 1971–73 between L. Jonathan and leaders of the opposition. In 1973 the state of emergency was lifted.
L. N. RYTOV
Political parties and trade unions. The National Party was founded in 1959. It represents the interests of tribal leaders and the Catholic Church and is the ruling party. The Congress Party was founded in 1952 (before 1959, the Basutoland African Congress); it is the opposition party, and it represents the interests of the nationalistically minded intelligentsia and enjoys the support of the popular masses. The Marematlou Freedom Party was founded in 1962; it is the party of the supporters of King Moshoeshoe II and favors expansion of the power of the monarch. The groundwork for the establishment of the Communist Party of Lesotho was laid in November 1961, and the founding congress was held on May 5, 1962. The Communist Party has been banned since February 1970.
There are eight trade unions (1973). The largest ones are the Lesotho General Workers’ Union (founded in 1954), the Industrial Commercial and Allied Workers’ Union, and the Union of Printing, Bookbinding, and Allied Workers.
Economy. Lesotho is economically one of Africa’s least developed countries. It is economically completely dependent on the Republic of South Africa, with which it is linked by a common currency and customs system. Monopoly capital of the Republic of South Africa controls the main sectors of Lesotho’s national economy (including foreign and domestic trade). During the period of British rule Lesotho’s role was that of a supplier of cheap manpower for the Republic of South Africa. Nor did this situation change after Lesotho became politically independent. The per capita income averages only US $64 (1970).
The principal occupation of the population is agriculture. Its development is being retarded by survivals of precapitalist relations, insufficient land, soil erosion, low levels of agricultural technology, and shortages of manpower (much of which, moreover, is recruited for work in the Republic of South Africa). All land, essentially, is under the control of tribal chiefs. Livestock raising is the main branch of agriculture. In 1970–71 there were 410,000 cattle, 1,750,000 sheep, and 940,000 goats (Angora). Horses, mules, and donkeys are also raised. Livestock raising is of the extensive and distant pasture variety. Depletion of pastures and frequent droughts hinder increases in the number of livestock. Crop farming is developed only in the plains regions. Crops include corn (100,000 hectares [ha], with a yield of 80,000 tons in 1971), sorghum (72,000 ha, 60,000 tons), wheat (87,000 ha, 70,000 tons), barley, and vegetables. Agricultural production is not sufficient to supply the needs of the population.
There is almost no industry. By 1972 manufacturing industry consisted of about 12 small enterprises, including a rug-weaving factory, plants producing fertilizers and candles, a sawmill, a brickyard, and a mill; each enterprise employed from 20 to 30 persons. Half of the shares of enterprises belong to the Lesotho National Development Corporation, and the other half is controlled by foreign capital. Diamond deposits are being worked in the Kao region, with mining (16,900 carats in 1971) operations being conducted by a branch of the British-South African company De Beers. Further explorations for diamonds as well as for oil are being carried out. Electric power plants produce approximately 5 million kilowatt-hours per year (1970).
The city of Maseru is linked by a railroad branch with the South African Bloemfontein-Durban main line. There are more than 1,000 km of macadam roads (1971) and four airstrips.
In 1970 exports totaled 3.7 million rand, and imports, 22.9 million rand. The trade balance is usually unfavorable, and deficits are partially covered through foreign loans and “invisible” exports (export of manpower). All foreign trade is conducted with or through the Republic of South Africa. Sheep’s wool, mohair, livestock, and diamonds are the main exports; imports consist of manufactured goods, cereals (corn, sorghum), fats, and tobacco. The country’s finances, in essence, are controlled by two banks—Barclays Bank (England) and the Standard Bank of South Africa (Republic of South Africa). Remittances sent back to Lesotho by workers employed in South African mining industry are an important source of foreign exchange.
Lesotho does not have its own currency unit but uses the rand (1 rand = US $1.1 as of February 1973), the currency unit of the Republic of South Africa.
L. N. RYTOV
Medicine and public health. From 1965 to 1970 the average annual birthrate was 38.8 per 1,000 population, and the death rate was 21 per 1,000 population; child mortality was 179 per 1,000 live births. The basic causes of death are tuberculosis, infections in newborns, typhoid and paratyphoids, cardiovascular diseases, malignant neoplasms, and diseases associated with malnutrition. There have been mass vaccinations (1967) against tuberculosis, smallpox, typhoid and paratyphoids, yellow fever, cholera, and childhood infections.
As of 1969 there were 78 hospitals (including 34 state hospitals) with 1,900 beds (about 2 beds per 1,000 population). Outpatient care was delivered by four health centers, 31 dispensaries, 35 outpatient clinics, and two dental centers. There were (1968) 48 women’s and 40 children’s medical consultation offices. There were (1969) 39 doctors (1 doctor per 23,000 persons), 21 of whom were state employees, and more than 350 medium-level medical personnel (of whom about 150 were employed by the state).
In 1967–68, expenditures for public health accounted for 9.8 percent of the state budget. Lesotho receives assistance from the World Health Organization and the International Children’s Emergency Fund (US $70,500 in 1971).
A. L. SOKOLOVA
Press, radio, and television. There are no daily newspapers (as of 1975). The most important periodical publications are The Africa Digest (circulation, 2,000; a quarterly Catholic journal published in English), Lesotho News (published since 1927; circulation, 800; weekly newspaper in English), Lesotho Times (circulation, 3,000; weekly government newspaper in English and Sesotho), Moeletsioa Basotho (published since 1933; circulation, 15,000; weekly Catholic newpaper in Sesotho and English), and Nketu (published since 1965, weekly newspaper in Sesotho and English; organ of the National Party). There are two radio stations (government and Catholic), which broadcast in Sesotho and English. Television service began in 1971.
Folk art. Rock paintings and engravings, apparently executed by Bushmen, have been preserved in Lesotho. The indigenous population (Basuto) lives in regularly laid out large villages, in which huts of diverse form are arranged in a circle (with the meeting house in the center). They are built of stone or adobe brick; walls are decorated with colored geometric designs (carved or inlaid with stone); and roofs have two or four sloping surfaces made of straw. In the mountains a tunnel-like corridor of trees bent in an arc is arranged before the entrance to the hut. Wooden household utensils are decorated with carved geometric designs. Primitive wooden figurines and ceramics are encountered. Necklaces and aprons are made from colored glass beads.
REFERENCESNoveishaia istoriia Afriki, 2nd ed. Moscow, 1968.
Lagden, G. The Basutos, vols. 1–2. London, 1909.
Duncan, P. Sotho Laws and Customs. Cape Town, 1960.
Stevens, R. Lesotho, Botswana and Swaziland. London, 1967.
Spence, J. Lesotho: The Politics of Dependence. London, 1968.
Wallman, S. Take Out Hunger. London, 1969.
Medvedkov, Iu. V. Basutolend, Svazilend, Bechuanalend. Moscow, 1960.
Wellington, J. H. Southern Africa: A Geographical Study, vols. 1–2. Cambridge, 1955.
Official name: Kingdom of Lesotho
Capital city: Maseru
Internet country code: .ls
Flag description: Three horizontal stripes of blue (top), white, and green in the proportions of 3:4:3; the colors represent rain, peace, and prosperity respectively; centered in the white stripe is a black Basotho hat representing the indigenous people; the flag was unfurled in October 2006 to celebrate 40 years of independence
Geographical description: Southern Africa, an enclave of South Africa
Total area: 11,718 sq. mi. (30,355 sq. km.)
Climate: Temperate; cool to cold, dry winters; hot, wet summers
Nationality: noun: Mosotho (singular), Basotho (plural); adjective: Basotho
Population: 2,125,262 (July 2007 CIA est.)
Ethnic groups: Sotho 99.7%, Europeans, Asians, and other 0.3%
Languages spoken: Sesotho (southern Sotho; official), English (official), Zulu, Xhosa
Religions: Christian 80%, including Roman Catholic (majority), Lesotho Evangelical, Anglican, other denominations; other religions include Islam, Hindu, indigenous religions