With natural borders being the Caledon River from the North to the South West, the Drakensberg range in the East, and the High lands in the South, the small kingdom of Lesotho is landlocked in South Africa, sitting on the Highveld at 1200m above sea level.
With its Thabana-Ntlenyana peak (3482m), the highest summit in Southern Africa, its people, the Basotho, and its spiral aloe, the endemic national flower, a visit of Lesotho is an unforgettable experience within your exploration of Southern Africa.
Lesotho offers true authenticity as well as mountainous landscapes giving way to high plateaus, spectacular gorges and untouched valleys, hut villages still deprived of electricity and with basic comforts, home to very warm hearted people. It is also a paradise for horse riding.
The kingdom of Lesotho has 2.1 million inhabitants (2004) including:
- 96.7% Sotho
- 2.3% Zulu
- 0.4% Xhosa
The rest of the population includes English and Afrikaners.
The official languages are Sotho (also called Sesotho) and English.
Like most of its neighbouring countries, Lesotho was originally populated by Bushmen communities who lived relatively isolated until the 17th century. At that time, Sotho farmers, fleeing the Zulu expansion and the Afrikaners advance, settled in this region.
At the end of the 19th century, one of the most remarkable Sotho Chiefs, Moshoeshoe I, managed to unify the 23 Sotho ethnic groups in the South during the Mfecane, a series of conflicts between Afrikaners and Zulus.
Later on, he formed an alliance with the British to fight against the expansion of the Boers next to his lands and the kingdom of Lesotho asked for British Protection in 1868.
As a British Protectorate, Lesotho was called “Basotholand”. In 1881, the alliance was broken and the Sotho initiated a series of conflicts against their “protector”. The two parties reached a compromise stipulating that no whites could acquire a land in the country.
In 1871, the territory was placed under the rule of the Cape colony despite the opposition of the local population who once again took up the arms, but the British rapidly managed to regain control in 1874.
Against the will of Sotho Chiefs, the British were planning on incorporating Lesotho to South Africa but the Sotho managed to keep their autonomy and fought against a forced annexation.
Modern politics were born in 1952 with the creation of the Basotholand Congress Party which won the first elections in 1960. Basotholand gained independence and officially became the kingdom of Lesotho on the 4th October 1966 as a Parliamentary Monarchy.
The 1970 elections were cancelled by the Prime Minister Joseph Jonathan who declared a state of emergency and run the country as a dictator until a coup overthrew him in 1986.
Initiated by the army, this political change was supposed to give the King all the power but instead handed the actual autonomy to General Justin Lekhanya. King Moshoeshoe was eventually forced into exile in 1990.
South African liberalisation in the beginning of the 1990s encouraged the development of a democratisation process in Lesotho leading to multi party elections held in 1993 with Ntsu Mokhele as Prime Minister, but his government was quickly discharged by Letsie III, son of the exiled king Moshoeshoe.
Under pressure from neighbouring countries, Letsie eventually re-established the government and abdicated in favour of his father. He was made king again in 1996 at his father’s death and is now running the Parliamentary Monarchy of Lesotho.
Area: 30 000 km2
Lesotho is a small country, landlocked in South Africa (it is about the size of Belgium) and has natural borders stretching over 900km, from North to South West along the Caledon River, the Drakensberg Range in the East and the High lands in the South.
The highest point is Mount Thabana Ntlenyana, standing at 3482 m above sea level in the North East.
The lowest point stands at 1400 m above sea level at the confluence of the Orange and Caledon Rivers.
Lesotho winters are cold and clear. Frosts are common and there are snowfalls in the high country and sometimes at lower altitudes. At other times of the year, snow has been known to fall but rain and mist are more common bugbears for drivers and hikers. Nearly all of Lesotho’s rain falls between October and April, with spectacular thunderstorms in summer. Down in the valleys, summer days can be hot with temperatures exceeding 30C.
Food producing represents most income of the country. It consists mainly of the production of roots, tubers, maize, sorghum and wheat. Other activities include sheep, goats and cattle farming.
Hydroelectricity is the main wealth of the country. Current projects are aiming at supplying the country with electricity as well as supplying South Africa with water.
Lesotho is experiencing serious economic difficulties. The unemployment rate peaks at 45% of the active population.
After 2001, international agreements facilitated the creation of thousands of jobs, in the textile industry in particular. However these agreements are now being questioned which caused the suppression of 10 000 jobs since 2004.
Lesotho is still very dependent on its neighbour South Africa and many people expatriate there to find work.
The Maloti-Drakensberg Range spanning Lesotho and South Africa is unquestionably one of the most interesting places of the country in terms of flora and fauna. Recent botanical studies showed that among the 2520 plant species to be found in these mountains, more than 330 are endemic to the massif and 600 others are only to be found in Southern Africa.
Moreover, 11% of these plants are endangered species. A Transfontier Conservation and Development Project between Lesotho and South Africa was implemented in order to protect this exceptional area.
The country is not home to big predators but the Drakensberg offers diverse processions of mammals (baboons, African wild cats, klipspringers, caracals…). These mountains are also the kingdom of birds of prey such as the cape vulture, the bearded vulture or Verreaux’s eagle.
One of the rare bird species in the country is the northern bald ibis, an endemic breeding species that gave its name to a face of the Drakensberg Mountain, “Mokhotlong” next to the highest point of the country, the Thabana Ntlenyana, literally meaning “the place of the northern bald ibis” as it is home to a colony of this endangered species.
There are not more than 300 bird species but many of them are rare and not found in the mountainous environment.