Lesotho, The Mountain Kingdom
The lesser known country of Lesotho is not what comes to mind when thinking of the perfect African holiday or tour. One generally thinks of Kenya, Botswana, South Africa or Namibia, but the mostly over-looked landlocked Country within South Africa’s borders, is a true gem and a must see for any person looking for something special and entirely unique.
This magnificent Kingdom in the sky offers a great deal to tourists and adventure seekers alike, with endless outdoor activities and something to do for anybody and everybody. Understanding what makes the Country as special as it is requires understanding the history of it’s people. The Basotho people are 1 of the 4 major Sotho-Tswana ethnic groups. The others are the Batswana, Bapedi and the Balozi.
Lesotho owes a history of political autonomy to the mountains that surround it and protected it from historical encroachment over a extended period of time. Before the 19th century, the region was inhabited by the Khoi-San people just like most of Southern Africa was. As well as various scattered small Basotho tribes that entered the area between the 3’rd and 11th century AD. Both the Khoi-San and the Basotho lived mostly in peace with one another with no external invasion from anywhere else before the arrival of the Europeans and the expansion of the Zulus under King Shaka in the 19th century.
In 1804, Mashoeshoe , a minor Chief of the Bakoteli linage set about to form a united Basotho clan with all the smaller clans in the area. This was provoked initially by the Zulu expansion and the threat of being raided by the mighty Zulu militant force. This unification gave birth to Basotholand with it’s capital made Thaba Bosiu and King Mashoeshoe settling in the area of Bathu Bathu. The mountains stopped the Zulus from ever achieving this, but this threat would become a reality for King Mashoeshoe, however from another people entirely.
In 1834 the Boer Voortrekkers under Andries Pretorius entered the region, sparking a series of events and wars that followed. Their arrival was at first peaceful and trade relations were established. The Boers successfully traded horses and weapons for cattle and land with King Mashoeshoe. The Boers were heavily armed and all on horseback which led to the King arming his own warriors and training them to ride horses. The British who were also aiming to colonialize the interior of South Africa at the time were unhappy with the relationship between the Boers and the Basotho people and with King Mashoeshoe refusing the terms set by the British, hostilities followed and the British attacked the Basotho, one such attack was the battle of Viervoet in 1851 saw the Basotho defeating the British heavily and again at Berea Plateau the British suffered heavy casualties under the equipped and armed Sotho warriors and the backing of the Boers.
In 1858 war broke out between the Boers and the Basotho. 3 wars were fought and all 3 ended in favour of the Boers, however not once was the fortress at Thaba Bosiu penetrated or captured by the invaders. After this series of defeats, King Mashoeshoe was forced to seek assistance from the British who annexed Basotholand and declaring the Basotho Kingdom as a British protectorate. In 1966, Basotholand gained her independence from the British as the Kingdom of Lesotho under King Mashaoeshoe II as the Monarch who appointed Chief Leabua Jonathan as Prime Minister. In 1990 King Mashoeshoe II is forced into permanent exile and is replaced by his son Letsie III. Mashoeshoe II returns as an ordinary citizen shortly after. Political unrest and coups followed which led to Letsie III abdicating and the restoration of King Mashoeshoe as King and monarch in 1995. He dies in a car crash less than a year later leading to Letsie III being re-instated and officially being sworn in as King of Lesotho. Today Lesotho is still a monarchy with King Letsie III still at the throne, and the Prime Minister position being held by Moeketsi Majoro.
Lesotho’s economy previously relied heavily on South Africa, however it’s growing and developing at a good rate with large projects opened in combination with South Africa, such as the Lesotho Highlands water Project that compromises a system of several large dams and tunnels that supplies the Vaal-Orange river systems with water and finally hydro-electrical power to the largely populated South African province of Gauteng. Tourism also plays a massive role in the Country’s economy
Reaching Lesotho from Johannesburg takes one 4 hours by road with access into the country via various border posts. Or you can fly into Lesotho, however this option can be a sketchy deal. The country has 28 airports but only 3 of them has propped paved runways with the largest being the world-class Mashoeshoe Int. Airport near Maseru, the country’s capital city that offer daily flights to and from Johannesburg as well as Cape Town. One of the Airports in Lesotho, the Matekane airstrip has a runway that is only 400m long with a steep cliff face that drops down 800m. Taking off here takes nerves of steel.
Lesotho has a population of 2,1 million citizens. 80% of the country is Christian and the majority of the people are Sotho speakers. The 2 official languages are Sesotho and English but Zulu is also widely understood and spoken. The Basotho identify and associate themselves through the use of clan names which specify their ancestral origins. Namely the Basai, Bataung, Bafokeng, Makgolokoe and Bakuena amongst others. The royal family of Lesotho is largely made up of the Bakuena clan.
Traditionally Basotho people had different unique ways of dressing that depended on the individual’s age or the occasion. Traditionally young girls would be dressed in a neckpiece made out of clay beads known as “sefaha sa letsopa” and a dress made also from clay beads called a “thethana ea banana” . More recently the same neckpiece and dress would be made out of woven fibre or cowskin. Young boys would be dresses in a “tseha” which is an undergarment made out of sheepskin, men would also adorn the iconic blankets made from animal skin or sheep wool, known as “setipe”. For Chiefs this blanket was made from wild cat skins such as leopard or lion, this was called “lehlosi”
Another unique dress code of the Basotho people is the conical shaped straw or grass hats or “mokorotlo” . This goes hand in hand with Basotho culture and is even printed on the national flag of Lesotho. Traditional music , dancing , clapping, chanting and story telling is part of Basotho culture. Praise songs of previous leaders and warriors such as King Mashoeshoe I, instils pride even until today. However Lesotho is known as a nation of peace and rightfully deserves this title.
There are countless outdoor activities to do in Lesotho, the mountains offer a large number of sports such as mountain biking, abseiling , hiking, bungee jumping, 4by4 tours. But skiing and snowboarding dominates during the winter months when the mountain is covered by thick snow. Afriski ( Afriski.net) is one of many resorts that offer this skiing and other activities, during the summer months they shift their focus to activities such as mountain biking with the resort hosting the annual Crank-Chaos cycling event.
Lesotho has 2 National Parks. Ts’ehlanyane National Park and Sehlabatheba National Park plus a number of smaller game reserves that offer fantastic safaris and game drives. You can also visit the Thaba Bosiu Cultural village, Thaba Bosiu is a National monument and the famous impenetrable fortress where King Mashoenoe I and his warriors stood of invasions from the Zulus, the Boers and the British. The village offers a great insight to the traditions and cultural significance of the Basotho people. The country’s capital is Maseru, a world class city with shopping malls, hospitals, museums and arts & crafts markets in abundance. Smaller towns are found scattered through the mountainous country. The National currency is the Loti but the South African Rand is accepted everywhere.
More than 2 thirds of Lesotho is covered in mountains and with all the clean, fresh mountain air and abundant African sun, who wouldn’t want to experience this breath-taking kingdom in the sky. At Greenlion Adventures we design and operate tours that specialize in bringing out the very best of what the destination has to offer. Visit our website or contact us to plan your next trip to Lesotho, South Africa or anywhere in Southern Africa. Book with us now and experience the magic of this magnificent Country
AWESOME FACTS ABOUT THIS INCREDIBLE COUNTRY
- Lesotho is one of only 3 countries in the world that is landlocked and completely surrounded by 1 other nation, Lesotho is engulfed by South Africa. The other countries are Vatican city and San Marino, both surrounded by Italy.
- Over 20 000 Basotho soldiers fought alongside Great Britain in WW2
- Lesotho is home to a number of the oldest and most significant Dinosaur footprints on Earth. “kayentapus ambrokholohali” footprints were recently discovered in Lesotho, this giant carnivorous dinosaur roamed much of Southern Africa up to 230 million years ago and was much larger than the infamous T-Rex. The country also has another dinosaur named after it, “Lesothosaurus”
- When referring to a single Sotho speaking person the term Mosotho is used. When referring to 2 or more, its referred to as Basotho.
- Lesotho holds the world record of having the highest “lowest point above sea level” with the lowest point in the country being over 1500m above sea level.
- The National animal of Lesotho is the Black Rhinoceros and the National flower is the Spiral Aloe
- Basotho clan names are often named after animals such as Crocodile, Lion, Elephant and Hippo etc…
- The Country is very young and only in 2017 did it celebrate it’s 50th birthday
- Lesotho has practically 100% renewable electricity, thanks largely due to the Lesotho Highlands Water Project
- Thabana Ntlenyana is the country’s highest point at 3482m above sea level
Etela ‘muso oa rona – Visit our Kingdom