Land of the Sesotho


THE San people were the original inhabitants of the area now known as Lesotho or Basutoland during colonisation by the British.
This is evidenced in the rock art that can be found in the mountains throughout the area.
Officially known as the Kingdom of Lesotho, the name Lesotho roughly translates into ‘the land of the people who speak Sesotho.’
In 1822, Basutoland, present day Lesotho, emerged as a single polity under King Moshoeshoe I. Moshoeshoe, son of Mokhachane, a minor chief of the Bakoteli lineage, formed his own clan and became a chief around 1804.
Between 1821 and 1823, he and his followers settled at the Butha-Buthe Mountain, joining with former adversaries in resistance against the Mfecane associated with the reign of Tshaka Zulu from 1818 to 1828.
Subsequent evolution of the state hinged on conflicts between British and Dutch colonists leaving the British Cape Colony following its seizure from the French-allied Dutch by the British in 1795, and subsequently associated with the Orange River Sovereignty and subsequent Orange Free State.
Missionaries invited by Moshoeshoe I — Thomas Arbousset, Eugène Casalis and Constant Gosselin from the Paris Evangelical Missionary Society – placed at Morija, developed orthography and printed works in the Sesotho language between 1837 and 1855.
Casalis acted as the translator and provided advice on foreign affairs and also facilitated setting up of diplomatic channels and acquired guns for use against the encroaching Europeans and the Griqua people.
Dutch Trekboers from the Cape Colony showed up on the western borders of Basutoland and claimed land rights, beginning with Jan de Winnaar, who settled in the Matlakeng area in May-June 1838.
As more Boers were moving into the area, they tried to colonise the land between the two rivers, even north of the Caledon, claiming that it had been abandoned by the Sotho people.
Moshoeshoe subsequently signed a treaty with the British Governor of the Cape Colony, Sir George Thomas Napier, that annexed the Orange River Sovereignty where many Boers had settled.
In 1848, the outraged Boers were suppressed in a brief encounter.
In 1851, a British force was defeated by the Basotho army at Kolonyama, torching an embarrassing war for the British.
In 1852, after repelling another British attack, Moshoeshoe sent an appeal to the British commander that settled the dispute diplomatically, then defeated the Batlokoa in 1853.
In 1854, the British pulled out of the region, while in 1858, Moshoeshoe fought a series of wars with the Boers in the Free Sate-Basotho War, losing a great portion of the western lowlands.
The last war in 1867 ended when Moshoeshoe appealed to Queen Victoria, who agreed to make Basutoland a British Protectorate in 1868, which it ruled until 1966, when Basutoland gained its independence from Britain and became the Kingdom of Lesotho.
In 1869, the British signed a treaty at Aliwal North with the Boers that defined the boundaries of Basutoland, and later Lesotho, which, by ceding the western territories effectively, reduced Moshoeshoe’s Kingdom to half its previous size.
Following the cession in 1869, the British initially transferred functions from Moshoeshoe’s capital in Thaba Bosiu to a police camp on the northwest border, Maseru, until administration of Basutoland was transferred to the Cape Colony in 1871.
Moshoeshoe died on March 11 1870, marking the end of the traditional era and the beginning of the colonial era. He was buried at Thaba Bosiu.
In the early years of British rule between 1871 and 1884, Basutoland was treated similarly to other territories that had been forcefully annexed, much to the chagrin of the Basotho.
This led to the Gun War in 1881.
In 1884, Basutoland had its status restored (as a Protectorate of the British), with Maseru again its capital, but remained under direct rule by a governor, though effective internal power was wielded by traditional chiefs.
Lesotho, which covers an area of
30 355 km2, has a population of approximately 2 067 000.
It lies entirely above 1 000 metres in altitude.
Its lowest point of 1 400m makes it the highest in the world; over 80 percent of the country lies above 1 800m.
It is also the southern-most landlocked country in the world and is entirely surrounded by South Africa geographically.
The economy of Lesotho is based on manufacturing, mining, agriculture and livestock.
The majority of households subsist on farming, with the western lowlands forming the main agricultural zone.
Almost 50 percent of the population earn income through informal crop cultivation or animal husbandry with nearly two-thirds of the country’s income from the agricultural sector.
Lesotho has progressed from a predominantly subsistence-oriented economy to a lower middle income economy exporting natural resources and manufacturing goods, taking advantage of the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) to become the largest exporter of garments to the US from sub-Saharan Africa.
US brands and retailers sourcing from Lesotho include Foot Locker, Gap, Gloria Vanderbilt, JC Penney, Levi Strauss, Saks, Sears, Timberland and Wal-Mart.
Water and diamonds are Lesotho’s significant natural resources.
Water is utilised through the 21-year, multi billion-dollar Lesotho Highlands Water Project (LHWP), under the authority of the Lesotho Highlands Development Authority.
The project commenced in 1986.
The Lesotho Highlands Water Project is designed to capture, store and transfer water from the Orange River system to South Africa’s Free State and greater Johannesburg area, which features a large concentration of South African industry, population and agriculture.
Completion of the first phase of the project has made Lesotho almost completely self-sufficient in the production of electricity and generated approximately
US$70 million in 2010 from the sale of electricity and water to South Africa.
The World Bank, African Development Bank, European Investment Bank and many other bilateral donors financed the project.
The exporting sectors have brought higher and more secure incomes to a significant portion of the population.
Lesotho declared its independence from the United Kingdom on October 4 1966.
It is currently a member of the United Nations, the Commonwealth and the Southern African Development Community (SADC).
Dr Michelina Rudo Andreucci is a Zimbabwean-Italian researcher, industrial design consultant lecturer and specialist hospitality interior decorator. She is a published author in her field.
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