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About Lesotho


In October 1966, Lesotho gained independence with King Moshoeshoe II appointed as her ruler. In festivities lasting for three days, Lesotho celebrated her 40th year of independence during September 2006, with the hoisting of the new national flag by His Majesty King Letsie III proving a highlight of the event. Comprising three horizontal bands of blue, white and green from top to bottom, with a Basotho hat centred in the white panel, the colours of the new flag symbolise the national motto of peace (white), rain (blue) and prosperity (green). The Basotho hat is a symbol of national unity.

The 40th year celebrations also saw the launching of the Vision 2020 document. A long-term national blueprint capturing the dreams and aspirations of the nation.



The Kingdom of Lesotho is situated in the south eastern region of Southern Africa. Covering an area of 30,, it is entirely surrounded by South Africa. Lesotho's geographical formation is characterized by high mountains and deep valleys and it is the only country in the world to have all its territory located at more than 1,000 metres above sea level.

Lesotho is often referred to as the ‘Roof of Africa' and the ‘Switzerland of Africa' as more than 75% of Lesotho is dominated by the rugged if not picturesque mountain ranges, with only 25% considered as the lowlands. The lowest point is 1,388 metres rising to almost 3,500 metres in the Maloti mountain range which forms the border with South Africa to the north east and south west.

The Maloti mountains are more than 200 million years old and Southern Africa's highest mountain peak, Thabana Ntlenyana at 3,483 metres, is located in the eastern part of Lesotho.

One of the distinct features which makes Lesotho unique is that she has the lowest highest point in the world as shown below:

Lowest point - Junction of the Orange and Makhaleng rivers is at 1,400 m (the lowest highest point of any country in the world).

Highest point - Thabana Ntlenyana at 3483 m





Healthy and invigorating, with more than 300 days a year of brilliant sunshine, Lesotho has well-marked seasons. Summer extends from November to January and is usually hot. Autumn days are warm and ideal for outdoor pursuits such as hiking and camping. Winter from May to July, heralds snow on the Maloti mountains. It can be bitterly cold at this time on the upper peaks but the days are generally sunny. It should be noted, however, that snowfalls can occur on the highlands at its discretion at any time of the year. Spring usually arrives early and August is peach-blossom time in almost every village, turning the countryside into drifts of pale pink.

Eighty-five percent of Lesotho's rainfall - between 700 mm and 800 mm in most parts of the country - usually occurs between October and April, and brings the rivers down in full spates, providing ideal fishing conditions.

The Seasons are:

Summer - November to January
Autumn - February to April
Winter - May to August
Spring - September to October




Lesotho is inhabited by Basotho who were brought together by the founder of the nation King Moshoeshoe I during the early part of the 19th Century. Until this time, the area of modern-day Lesotho had been inhabited by groups of nomadic San people. In 1824 Moshoeshoe established a fortress for his Basotho followers at Thaba-Boisu, a fortress which protected the fledging Basotho nation from the wars of the time.

By 1836 the young nation was threatened by large numbers of Boers who were looking to settle in the area and hostilities came to a head in 1865. Fearful of the future of his people, Moshoeshoe appealed to Britain for protection and in 1868, Basutoland, as it was known, became a British Protectorate.

The British protection sought by Moshoeshoe proved to be a mixed blessing, for Britain found it convenient to annex Lesotho to the Cape Colony which in 1872 was granted internal self- government by London. The move was unfortunate for Lesotho, since the Cape Colony soon began to apply to Lesotho the same laws and methods which it found convenient for administering other areas already annexed by force.

The Gun War of 1880-81 cost the Cape Government dearly in men and money. Civil strife created further administrative problems. By 1883 chronic misgovernment induced the Cape Government to request Britain to restore direct rule over Lesotho, in return for which it was even prepared to pay any deficit in the annual recurrent budget.


In this way, as a direct consequence of the Gun War, the Basotho won the right to have their country administered separately from other parts of southern Africa. British rule was resumed in 1884.

From this period a system of dual government evolved. The British administration were mainly concerned with Lesotho's external relations, with tax collecting, the punishment of serious crime and the settling of boundary disputes between rival chiefs. Only in the eight (later nine) small government reserves or camps that became the nuclei from which Lesotho's towns developed, did the assistant commissioners have limited powers of local government.

Elsewhere the traditional but nevertheless largely democratic system of chiefs and headmen continued, a situation which remained largely unchanged for half a century. The 'pitso' or open-air assembly remained the main method by which the principal chiefs consulted the people, and the 'lekhotla' or court of village elders the venue for settling minor disputes.

It soon became impossible to hold the annual national 'pitso' because the population of Lesotho was growing too large and also because the major chiefs tended to oppose one another and undermine the possibility of creating national consensus on major issues. The British Resident Commissioner proposed as an alternative to the national 'pitso' the formation of a National Council which would be composed almost entirely of chiefs, and which would advise him and the Paramount Chief on policy matters. The Council was finally accepted and implemented by Paramount Chief Lerotholi (1891-1905) in 1903.

This development did not satisfy some sections of the nation, particularly the intelligensia who formed the Progressive Association in 1907, calling for representa- tive structures and the movement towards a parliamentary system. Later the more radical Commoners' League was founded by those who wanted a return to the older order through a revitalised and more responsible chieftainship.

The death of Lerotholi (1891-1905) marked the end of a Paramountcy which was strong and widely respected. His son Letsie 11 (1905-1913), allowed the Para- mountcy to drift, and took little interest in government.

The reign of Letsie II's successor, Paramount Chief Griffith Lerotholi (1913- 1939), was characterised by a struggle between the Paramountcy and various groups to define the future of Lesotho. Griffith sought to revitalise the Paramountcy by re-establishing control over the hundreds of minor chiefs and pressurising them to join the Catholic Church, which to him provided the correct path for the evolution of Sotho society. Griffith also opposed all efforts at reforming the system of chieftainship initiated by the Basotuland Progressive Association (BPA) and the Commoners' League(CL).

When Griffith died in 1939 he was succeeded by his son, Seeiso, who ruled for only one year. He died under mysterious circumstances and was replaced by his first wife, the Regent 'Mantsebo (1941-1960), who oversaw a turbulent period of change.

It was at this time that a new and more coherent nationalist movement emerged led by the commoner Ntsu Mokhehle, a highly educated and articulate spokesman for a party that initially embraced a wide cross-section of Basotho. His movement, the Basutoland Congress Party (BCP), called for self determination and the end of all racist practices in Lesotho.

The BCP set the political agenda for much of the 1950s and the chieftainship lost the initiative in public life. The British reluctantly agreed to the increasing pressure for constitutional change and self determination. By 1960 the National Council was composed equally of both chiefs, who were appointed, and members indirectly chosen from the nine District Councils. District Councils had been functioning since 1950 and incorporated chiefs and elected Commoners. They were intended to bring government closer to the people. Even more important was the acceptance by the Regent 'Mantsebo that the monarchy would in future be greatly limited in power.


By the time the 1960 Disctrict Council elections were held, the BCP was the best established political rnovernent - but it was no longer alone. As rnoves were made to establish a Legislative Council in the late 1950s, division began to emerge in the BCP. As early as 1957, certain senior chiefs led by S S Matete, formed the Marerna Tiou Party (MTP). They feared that commoners would dominate the Legislative Council and that the Regent 'Mantsebo would relinquish all of the prerogatives of the monarchy. They called for the immediate installation of Constantinus Bereng Seeiso as Paramount Chief and Prince Bereng Seeiso was eventually installed as Moshoeshoe II in 1960.

A second split occurred when a number of junior chiefs, allied to the Catholic Church, questioned the radical Pan Africanist views of Mokhehle. BCP`s talk of democratising the chieftainship also frightened many. These chiefs and Catholics formed the Basutoland National Party in 1958 which was led by Chief Leabua Jonathan.

The 1960 elections showed the BCP and allied independent candidates winning 32 of 40 indirectly elected seats in the Legislative Council. The MTP and BNP shared the rest. This victory did not empower the BCP to govern, however, because the other 40 seats in the Council were appointed from among chiefs and conservative elements.

The Constitutional Review Commission appointed by Moshoeshoe II in 1961, submitted its report in 1963. It approved a West minister style constitution, with the 60 seats of the Lower House being elected by universal adult suffrage, while the Senate would consist of the 22 Principal and Ward chiefs as well as 11 members nominated by the monarch. The King was to enjoy few powers and this disappointed him greatly. The Constitution enjoyed widespread support and was accepted by Britain. Elections for the first government would be held in 1965, with Independence following soon thereafter.

The results of the 1965 elections were a surprise to most observers who expected the BCP to repeat its landslide victory of the 1960 elections. The BNP won 31 seats, the BCP 25 and the MTP only 4 seats. The BNP led Lesotho to Independence on 4 October 1966.


The King is the constitutional Monarch and the Prime Minister is the Executive Head of Government. The arms of State are as follows:

  • LEGISLATURE - The Senate and the National Assembly
  • EXECUTIVE - Cabinet and Government Ministries
  • JUDICIARY - Appeal Court, High Court and Magistrate Courts




The population of Lesotho is about 1.8 million and Basotho make up the vast majority of the population with small groups of other Africans, Europeans, Asians and several other nationalities.

A substantial percentage of the population lives in rural areas in family compounds made up of nuclear or extended families. Smart modern houses, Basotho huts made of earth and stone with traditional thatch or corrugated iron roofs are found in many villages around Lesotho. The towns, including the capital Maseru, are situated in the densely populated lowland region. While modern houses and apartment buildings offer residential accommodation in the capital, and other larger towns in the country, many low income families live in simple one room apartments. The majority of the population belongs to the Roman Catholic, Lesotho Evengelical and Anglican denominations and several other faiths that make the minority.


Sesotho and English are the official languages and are widely spoken in Lesotho, however, the vast majority of the people speak Sesotho.

Here are some useful words and phrases in Sesotho:

  • Hello: Lumela
  • How are you?: U phela joang?
  • I am fine: Ke phela hantle
  • What is your name?: Lebitso la hau u mang?
  • My name is: Lebitso la ka ke...
  • Thank you: Kea Leboha
  • No: Che or Ae
  • Yes: E
  • Why?: Hobane eng?
  • What is the time?: Nako ke mang?
  • How much is this?: Ke bokae?



Lesotho is a country that is often governed by and thrives on tradition. The first inhabitants of Lesotho were of the Khoisan tribe. Evidence of this is found in the many rock art sites. Although many Basotho still live and work outside Lesotho, their attachment to their local village and traditional culture is still strong. The family is still the dominant unit, and respect for the elder generation important. Basotho culture is centred around village life, and most traditions and festivals relate to local village life and the seasons of the year.

Threshing is a highly skilled, labour intensive operation which involves the entire community, each playing his or her vital role. After harvesting comes in preparation for winter in which maize and wheat are stored in exquisitely woven giant baskets.

Music and dance feature strongly in all rituals as well as everyday life. Herd boys play lekolulo, a flute-like instrument, women play thomo and men play a stringed instrument called a setolotolo.

The Basotho hat, mokorotlo, a conical woven hat with a distinctive topknot, is a symbol of Lesotho's unification. It depicts a mountaintop, conical and topknotted, which is visible from the fortress and tomb of Moshoeshoe I (pronounced mo-SHWAY-shway) near Masaru.

More prevalent than the mokorotlo is the Sotho blanket, still worn all over the country. When King Moshoeshoe I was presented with a blanket by European traders in 1860, there were hardly any in his kingdom, the people wore karosses made of animal hides instead. Made from high-quality woven wool, the Basotho blanket is worn as a cloak, regardless of the season. The careful selection of colour and pattern allows for individual expression. Basotho take pride with their traditional attire.


Lesotho TapestryBasotho people are globally renowned for their crafts, and the traditional products have a reputation for quality, individuality and visual variety with a universal appeal. The universal appeal has helped to give Lesotho a strong identity. The traditional skills of weaving, braiding, jewellery making and pottery have also been harnessed to produce exquisite handcrafted articles. The artistic talent of many Basotho women also finds expression in much fine knitwear. Lesotho has justifiably earned a reputation as a producer of the finest wool and mohair tapestries. The highly recognisable hand-woven tapestries are works of art that display their own unique character and are noted for their beauty, softness and strength.



The literacy rate is at an estimated 85% of the population thus Lesotho boasts one of the high literacy rates in Africa. Starting in the year 2000, free primary education has been rolled out each year in Lesotho and it is starting to pay dividends as more children have access to primary education, have gone through secondary education and are bound to increase tertiary education enrolments in 2012.



Lesotho fatše la bo-ntata rona
Hara mafatše le letle ke lona
Ke moo re hlahileng
Ke moo re holileng
Rea le rata.

Molimo aku boloke Lesotho
U felise lintoa le matšoenyeho
Oho fatše lena
La bo-ntata rona
Le be le khotso.



Jacottet E. (ed) Treasury of Basuto Lore, Morija, Sesuto Book Depot, 1908

The Lesotho Education Sector Plan 2005 - 2015


Reference: Human Development Report 2006