Lesotho is a constitutional monarchy – one of only three which remain in Africa – and gained its independence from Britain on 4 October 1966. This small, land-locked country with a population of just over 2 million people has been referred to as the ‘Switzerland of Africa’ because of its rugged topography and high altitude: its lowest point is approximately 1 400 metres above sea level.

The country is encircled by the economic powerhouse of South Africa, and has forged strong regional ties and trade links with its neighbours. It is currently a member of the Southern African Development Community (SADC), Common Monetary Area (CMA) and Southern African Customs Union (SACU), as well as benefiting from a fixed exchange rate regime with South Africa. Furthermore, trade preferences such as the United States’ African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) have been beneficial for the textile and garments industry.

While agriculture was once the dominant sector, today Lesotho’s most important economic activities include construction, mining and manufacturing, and its chief exports are textiles and garments, diamonds, water, wool and mohair. Notable developments over the past few decades include the multi-billion dollar Lesotho Highlands Water Project (LHWP), which harnesses the country’s most abundant natural resource – water – for the industrial complex of Gauteng Province in neighbouring South Africa.

Lesotho’s economy grew at an average rate of 4.5 percent per annum between 2011 and 2015. However, growth slowed in 2016 as activities in the services sector decelerated and agricultural output fell because of the region-wide drought. This was exacerbated by weak regional and global growth. The economy has performed much better in 2017, boosted by a recovery in agriculture as well as mining activity. However, unemployment remains high, as do inequality and poverty, despite Lesotho having made some progress in poverty reduction over the past decade and a half.

A more dynamic private sector is seen as being integral to the country’s future success. In this regard, Lesotho has made important progress in improving its business climate. The country jumped by 12 places in the World Bank’s 2017 ‘Doing Business’ report, thanks to factors such as the streamlining of business and property registration processes, and the increased ease of obtaining credit and trading across borders. Further advances look likely under the Second Private Sector Competitiveness and Economic Diversification
Project (PSCEDP II).

CLIMATE & GEOGRAPHY

Lesotho’s climate is classified as ‘continental’, meaning that it experiences significant annual variations in temperature because of the absence of large bodies of water in the vicinity. Temperature deviations may be extreme. In the lowlands the range is from -7°C in winter to 30°C in summer. Winter in the highlands is more severe: heavy snowfalls sometimes cut off access to mountain settlements, and temperatures may drop to -18°C. The mean summer temperature is about 25°C and the mean winter temperature about 15°C. Lesotho’s elevation – averaging 2 161 metres above sea level – makes it is cooler than most other regions at a similar latitude.

Annual precipitation varies from some 600 millimetres in the lowland valleys to about 1 200 millimetres on the northern and eastern escarpment. Although summers, which last from November to January, are generally sunny, the weather is also notoriously unpredictable. Sudden rain, mist or localised thunderstorms are common between October and April, when approximately 85 percent of annual precipitation occurs. Winters are characterised by clear skies, with snowfalls usually occurring from May to September, although snow may fall on the highest peaks at any time of year. The Mountain Kingdom is surrounded by the Republic of South Africa and bounded by the province of KwaZulu-Natal to the east, the Eastern Cape to the south, and the Free State to the north and west. With a total area of 30 355 square kilometres, making it similar in size to Belgium, Lesotho measures 434 kilometres from north to south and is encircled by a border of some 909 kilometres.

Because of its altitude, which is on average 2 161 metres above sea level, Lesotho remains cooler throughout the year than most other regions at the same latitude.

Highlands cover around 65 percent of Lesotho’s land area at elevations ranging between 2 300 and 3 482 metres. From the sandstone hills of the lowlands to the basalt cliffs of the highlands, this is the only independent state in the world that lies entirely above 1 000 metres.

Two of the region’s principal rivers, the Senqu (Orange) and Tugela, have their source in the Malotis, as do tributaries of the Mohokare (Caledon) River, which form Lesotho’s western border. The western quarter of the country comprises lowlands, with the lowest point the junction of the Senqu and Makhaleng rivers at 1 380 metres. Lesotho’s tallest peak – and the highest in Southern Africa – is the 3482-metre Thabana-Ntlenyana in the Maloti range.

Habitats in Lesotho contain a high degree of biodiversity and endemic plant and animal varieties as well as a remarkable prehistoric and cultural heritage. The mountain highlands are home to spectacular birdlife as well as rare wildlife species which have developed specialised adaptations to the high altitude environment. Vegetation is predominantly grassland with patches of evergreen trees and shrubs. Less than 1 percent of the country is covered by indigenous forests.

HISTORY & POLITICS

The first inhabitants of Lesotho were the San, who had lived here for thousands of years before a written record of their existence appeared. The accelerating competition for land and resources that marked the history of the Maloti region in the latter part of the 19th century saw the eventual disappearance of these hardy hunter-gatherers from the area. They nonetheless left their mark on the land in a rich legacy of rock art, and smatterings of their language still survive in the Sesotho tongue.

Lesotho’s other early settlers were pastoralist Bantu-speaking people from West and Central Africa, who first entered the southern part of the continent sometime between the 3rd and 6th centuries CE. By the 19th century, Sotho clans were spread across the southern plateau, over the western region of present-day Lesotho and a large, fertile expanse of surrounding territory now lying in South Africa’s Free State Province. Comprising small chiefdoms which were united into loose confederations, these southern Sotho tribes came to constitute the Basotho people and speak the unique
Sesotho dialect.

One figure in particular looms large in the history of Lesotho: Moshoeshoe the Great, who was born in 1786 at Menkhoaneng in what is today the district of Botha-Bothe. The son of a minor chief of the Bakoena of Mokoteli, he was named Lepoqo at birth and later given the praise name Moshoeshoe after he had captured the cattle of Chief Ramonaheng. The emergence of the Basotho as a nation began around the time that Moshoeshoe became chief (1820) and started to form alliances with local clans and chiefdoms.

Just prior to Moshoeshoe’s rise to power, the region entered a period of great conflict and upheaval which lasted from around 1815 to 1840. Discord among the Nguni people in Natal and the arrival of white settlers across the Orange River had a far-reaching impact on the history of the Basotho. The expanding military dictatorship of King Shaka of the Zulus, together with a region-wide drought, sparked off the ‘Lifaqane’ (Great Scattering) in a fierce competition among displaced tribes for
scarce resources.

When Moshoeshoe’s capital of Botha-Bothe came under attack in 1824, he gathered his people together and retreated to Qiloane plateau and the steep, flat-topped mountain which was to be known as Thaba-Bosiu – the ‘Mountain at Night’. Besieged many times during Moshoeshoe’s reign, the mountain fortress of Thaba-Bosiu, with its near-vertical cliffs, good grazing and freshwater springs, was never captured.

While many neighbouring populations were dispersed or decimated during this time, the Basotho emerged as a united force under the inspired leadership of Moshoeshoe. His policy of offering safe haven to refugees (many who were of Nguni origin) in return for their help in defending Basotho territory, helped to create a loosely federated Basotho state forged from local Sotho tribes as well as remnants of scattered clans. Moshoeshoe’s position, built on military as well as diplomatic skill, was by 1840 firmly entrenched, and his subjects numbered about 40 000.

In the ensuing decades the Basotho came under ever greater threat from the adjoining Orange Free State. Boer soldiers overran Morija in 1858 and, although Thaba-Bosiu stood firm, repeated onslaughts resulted in Moshoeshoe losing much of his territory. Forced into a peace treaty in 1866, he signed over most of his good land to the Orange Free State. However, further attacks from the Boers came in 1867 and, with pressure mounting, Moshoeshoe appealed to the British for help. In March 1868 the country’s present-day boundaries were established when it became the British protectorate of Basutoland.

By the time of Moshoeshoe’s death in 1870, the Basotho nation comprised some 150 000 people. A wise leader who believed in maintaining peace and harmony with all those around him, Moshoeshoe’s near mythical reputation survives to this day.

Control of Basutoland was transferred to the Cape Colony after Moshoeshoe’s death. Tax collection by the new administration caused increasing friction, and a rebellion in 1879 led to the Gun (Basotho) War from 1880 to 1881. This conflict seriously weakened the Cape government, and in 1884 Basutoland came once more under direct British control. Thanks to its status as a British protectorate, it managed to avoid incorporation into the Union of South Africa in 1910.

In 1912 the Basotho King Letsie II helped to found the South African Native National Congress, which was later to become the African National Congress (ANC). In the years that followed, Lesotho gained ever more autonomy under British administration, and was granted internal self-government in the form of elections held in 1960 – the same year in which King Moshoeshoe II was crowned. The elections were won by the Basutoland Congress Party (closely allied to South Africa’s ANC), which made full independence from Britain a priority.

The 1965 elections saw a change in government, with the conservative Basutoland National Party (BNP) headed by Chief Leabua Jonathan coming into power. When Independence eventually arrived the following year, Chief Jonathan became the first prime minister of the Kingdom of Lesotho.

Politics and democracy

Lesotho remains a constitutional monarchy, and while King Letsie III is the nominal head of state, executive powers are held by the Prime Minister. For many years Lesotho’s political landscape was controlled by two main parties – the Basotho National Party (BNP), which governed between 1965 and 1986, and the Basutoland Congress Party (BCP), which held power from 1993 until 1998, when a splinter group, the Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) under the leadership of Pakalitha Mosisili, won the elections. The LCD remained in power for the next 14 years.

Lesotho is a constitutional monarchy ruled
by a king as head of state and governed by
a 33-member senate and a 120-member
national assembly.

A further shift in Basotho politics took place in February 2012, when Prime Minister Mosisili and 44 supporters left the LCD to form a new party, the Democratic Congress (DC). While Mosisili’s DC won the most seats in the general elections of May 2012, the second-placed All Basotho Congress (ABC), under the leadership of Thomas Thabane, achieved a majority in the 120-seat parliament after forging a coalition with the LCD and BNP.

Despite a promising start, the coalition Government ran into trouble during 2014, when political tensions led to clashes between the army and the police, forcing Prime Minister Thabane to flee to neighbouring South Africa. A deal brokered by South African Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa, acting on behalf of SADC, led to a further general election in February 2015. As there was no clear winner, a second consecutive coalition government was formed, with Mr Mosisili’s DC ousting
former premier Thabane’s ABC by uniting with smaller parties.

Following a vote of no-confidence in Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili, Lesotho held yet another general election on 3 June 2017, resulting in the return to power of the ABC and former Prime Minister Thomas Thabane. Although the ABC secured the highest number of seats (48), lacking an absolute majority it was compelled to form a new coalition government – the third in five years. In keeping with recommendations made both by the Commonwealth and SADC for key governance and security reforms, Lesotho’s leadership has committed itself to engaging in multi-stakeholder consultations to achieve political stability and peace going forward.

While Lesotho’s elections have a track record of being peaceful and producing results that have been accepted by the general population, it is felt that the current one-vote MMP (mixed member proportional) system has not managed to strike the vital balance between political representation and effective governance. Reforms to the electoral process, such as switching to a mixed-member majoritarian (MMM) system, would increase the probability of a single-party majority while still allowing for an effective opposition in parliament.

© Anne Wade

The path of inclusive reform

As stated by Prime Minister Thomas Thabane during his address delivered at the 72nd Session of the General Assembly of the United Nations (UN) in New York, the newly-inaugurated administration has set for itself the goal of restructuring a variety of government institutions. In this regard, Lesotho is committed to fully implementing the SADC directive of embarking on a series of inclusive reforms. This comprises constitutional, electoral, parliamentary, public sector and security sector reforms, and will include all relevant stakeholders in order to establish a stable political order which is conducive to economic development.

Government is resolved to work together with SADC in pursuit of lasting peace and security in Lesotho and, indeed, the wider region. Good progress has been made thus far in strengthening democratic institutions and facilitating economic growth, with the assistance of the country’s development partners as well as the African Union and the UN.

On the development front, Government is focused on maintaining strict fiscal discipline in order to stabilise the national economy, stimulate growth and business activity, while preserving the environment. At the same time there is renewed emphasis on combating crime and corruption at all levels, in accordance with Goal 16 of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which recognises that corruption undermines efforts to fight poverty and gender inequality.

Prime Minister Thabane stated further that for the concept of development to be meaningful it must bestow tangible benefits on communities in a sustainable manner. This recognises the role of the youth in decision making at all levels. Further, job creation for the youth remains a priority, and Goal 8 of the SDGs – the global strategy for youth employment – is to be operationalised by the year 2020. In light of this, the Government of Lesotho intends harnessing the energy of young Basotho men and women for the advancement of the economy.

Empowerment of women is also central to Government’s development policy, as it is believed that the elevation of women to positions of leadership, both in the private and public spheres, will lead to a more equitable and prosperous society. Moreover, Lesotho continues to deal with the scourge of the HIV/AIDS pandemic, which is more prevalent among women. In recognition of the fact that poverty and the AIDS pandemic go hand in hand, poverty eradication policies are targeted to reach the most vulnerable groups: the elderly, AIDS orphans, women and the youth. Lesotho remains steadfast in ensuring that these social issues are tackled, as they are key components of the SDGs.

Lesotho is categorised as a Least Developed Country (LDC). Furthermore, like other Landlocked Developing Countries (LLDCs), it faces challenges inherently linked to its unique geographical position. The burden of high transport costs and cumbersome and slow export processing procedures remain serious impediments to external trade. This underlines the need for increased international assistance in infrastructure development and institutional capacity building, as well as industrialisation and enhancement of productive capacity, not only for the LLDCs but for all developing countries.

In recent years Lesotho has faced prolonged droughts due to climate effects such as El Niño, which has brought long periods of below-average rainfall to the entire Southern African sub-continent, leading to food shortages and other hardships. The hurricanes that devastated the Caribbean and parts of the United States, together with torrential rains and floods across the globe, are a stark reminder of the damaging effects of climate change and that urgent action is required in accordance with the Paris Climate Change Treaty adopted in 2016.

In conclusion, Prime Minister Thabane called on the international community to continue mobilising and providing additional financial resources for Africa to develop climate-friendly technologies to address the continent’s urgent adaptation and mitigation needs. Small countries like Lesotho, including Small Island States, need to be empowered with technologies to deal with and adapt to climate change challenges. Attainment of sustainable development will prove elusive if there is no genuine commitment by development partners. The principles of common but differentiated responsibility and economic might and capability between the developed and the developing nations are critical for Lesotho’s success in building and achieving sustainability.

THE BASOTHO

Inhabitants of Lesotho are referred to in the plural as ‘Basotho’ and in the singular as ‘Mosotho’. The people are predominantly Sotho in ethnicity (99.7 percent), with Europeans, Asians and ‘other’ accounting for 0.3 percent. The predominant religion is Christianity (about four-fifths of the population), with the balance of the population embracing indigenous beliefs.

‘Lesotho’ means ‘the land of the people who speak Sesotho’. This was the language spoken by the various groups which united to form the nation in the early 1800s, and today the country’s official languages are Sesotho and English. While most people speak Sesotho, English is widely used in government and commerce. The next most commonly spoken language is Zulu, which is heard in the Botha-Bothe district and the vicinity of the Caledonspoort border post, followed by Xhosa.

The Basotho have developed a unique culture and traditional dress to suit their mountainous homeland. The cone-shaped Qiloane Mountain, which is one of the kingdom’s best-known landmarks, is the prototype for the iconic ‘mokorotlo’ – the conical Basotho hat made of woven straw. A common sight in the countryside is a Basotho horseman clad in ‘kobo’ (traditional cloak or blanket), who will raise his hand in the customary greeting, ‘khotso’, meaning ‘peace’.

In the rural areas, beautifully patterned woollen blankets ideally suited to the high-altitude climate are the regular form of daily dress for men (especially horsemen and herdboys) as well as many women. New blankets with a unique pattern are created every year in honour of the King’s birthday, and these are bought by the general populace and worn at his public birthday celebrations, which are held in a different town every year.

Basotho women have traditionally been responsible for the creation of ‘litema’, which are decorative etchings made on and inside their homes. Some ‘litema’ are coloured with paint or natural pigments, and their patterns are said to have inspired the designs of the Basotho blanket.

A little under three-quarters of all Basotho still live in the rural areas, and settlements tend to be located high in the mountains, usually well above the deep river valleys where flooding is an ever-present reality. The typical Basotho village comprises a number of ‘kraals’ (a collection of buildings belonging to one family), each of which has an enclosure for livestock in addition to areas for sleeping, cooking and storage.

Villages are encircled by fields where subsistence farming takes place and crops such as maize, wheat, sorghum, beans and peas, onions and cabbage are cultivated. Many local herbs are also gathered as green vegetables known as ‘moroho’. Animals are an important part of daily life. Most families will have some cattle, and oxen are used to plough the sloping mountain fields. Wool and mohair are major sources of income, with herds of sheep and Angora goats tended by shepherds, who are often young boys living in simple huts or ‘motebo’. The hardy Basotho pony remains one of the best forms of transport in the mountains, with donkeys often used as pack animals.

Each village has a chief, or headman, who falls under the chief for that region. Although many Basotho live and work outside Lesotho, their attachment to their local village and culture remains strong. Most traditions and festivals relate to local village life and seasons of the year, based on the communities’ strong agricultural roots.

2016 Population and Housing Census

Lesotho’s population has passed the two million mark for the first time, according to the preliminary results of the 2016 Population and Housing Census which took place from 10 to 24 April 2016 countrywide. The report revealed that population numbers have risen to 2 008 801, up from the 1 876 633 recorded at the time of the 2006 census, constituting a growth rate of 6.8 percent. During this ten-year period the population increased in all districts except for Mafeteng, Mohale’s Hoek and Quthing, to reach an average population density of 66 persons per square kilometre and 349.8 people per square kilometre of arable land.

The results of the 2016 Population and Housing Census provide a snapshot of Lesotho’s socioeconomic and demographic indicators, allowing the development of well-informed plans, programmes and policies to improve the living standards of the nation as a whole.

According to Lesotho’s Bureau of Statistics, the population is relatively young (39.6 percent of the total population), of which there are 403 000 males and 391 940 females. Regarding fertility, the census results show an estimate of 3.2 children per woman. This does not differ much from the estimated
3.5 children per woman as shown in the 2006 census, but is significantly less than the 1976 estimate of 5.4 children per woman.

The Minister of Development Planning, Mr Tlohelang Aumane, has expressed hope that the census results will provide benchmarks against which the performance of the government and the nation may be measured; especially in respect of tracking Lesotho’s implementation of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, Agenda 2063, SADC Regional Indicative Strategic Development Plan (RISDP) and other developmental initiatives.

Lesotho has been conducting censuses since 1845, when they consisted of a simple body count. The decennial and scientific census commenced in 1966.

MAIN POPULATIONS

Lesotho’s principal population centres had their beginnings in the administrative ‘camps’ set up during the colonial area. Urban areas gradually formed around these camps as the Basotho came to live there. Most have a nucleus of old colonial sandstone buildings housing government departments, post offices and banks. Modern houses and flats provide residential accommodation in the larger towns, while on the outskirts of rural villages typical Basotho dwellings comprise huts made of earth and stone with thatched or corrugated iron roofs.

Lesotho has ten administrative districts, each with its own capital. The district towns have the same name as the district itself, with three exceptions: Leribe, where the capital is Hlotse; Berea, which has Teyateyaneng as its main town; and Quthing, where the capital is also known as Moyeni. Besides the district towns, there are two more gazetted towns in Lesotho; comprising Maputsoe in Leribe district and Semonkong in Maseru district.

MASERU: With an average population density of 1 931 people per square kilometre and an estimated 267 000 inhabitants, Maseru is home to around half Lesotho’s urban population. The city, which has been the capital of the Basotho nation since 1869, has grown rapidly since independence.

Maseru, whose name means ‘the place of red sandstone’ in Sesotho, lies in a shallow valley in the foothills of the Maloti Mountains. To the west, the Mohokare (Caledon) River marks the border with South Africa, across which the Free State town of Ladybrand may be easily accessed via the Maseru Bridge border post. From here there are good road links to the rest of southern Africa, including the harbour of Durban and the economic hub of Johannesburg, with the latter just an hour away by air from Moshoeshoe I International Airport.

The centre of Maseru, which is presently being upgraded, comprises many older colonial buildings built from local sandstone, as well as some newer structures. Kingsway, the main street, boasts multi-storeyed office blocks, banks and ministerial complexes. It runs from the border crossing, southeast through the centre of town to the central traffic circle, where it splits into two important traffic arteries – the main roads to the north and south. Central landmarks along Kingsway include the former Anglican Church, Resident Commissioner’s House, modern Post Office building and large Roman Catholic Church. Colourful markets and a plethora of informal traders give Maseru an authentically African feel.

Maseru’s amenities include international hotels and restaurants, casinos and entertainment venues, as well as modern state-of-the-art shopping malls, chain stores, supermarkets and stylish boutiques. Opened at the end of 2012, Maseru Mall lies 3 kilometres to the south of the capital’s central business district and offers a cross-section of department stores, financial services, grocery, clothing and homeware outlets, restaurants and takeaways. Dubbed ‘Lesotho’s largest lifestyle shopping mall’, the centre also boasts a popular family entertainment area.

The refurbished Fairways Plaza on Kingsway forms part of the drive by the Lesotho National Development Corporation (LNDC) to rebuild and upgrade those properties affected by the 1998 political unrest. This is seeing a number of prime sites in the capital being made available to the private sector to develop on behalf of Government.

The initiative aims to revitalise Maseru by renovating derelict properties and improving the general appearance of the capital. In addition to the Fairways complex, which will ultimately comprise six storeys, other properties include those at Maseru’s Sanlam Centre site, Clifford Trading along Kingsway, Ha-Nyeye Western and Eastern Extensions in Maputsoe, Setsoto Design in Teyateyaneng, and the former Metro Cash and Carry in Mafeteng.

Important manufacturing activities in Maseru include electronics assembly, textiles and clothing. The state-of-the-art Queen Mamohato Memorial Hospital was opened in Botšabelo in 2011, replacing the Queen Elizabeth II Hospital built in the 1950s. Maseru is also home to Lesotho’s other university, Limkokwing University of Creative Technology (LUCT).

MAZENOD: The site of Moshoeshoe I International Airport, which opened in 1985, Mazenod takes its name from Eugene de Mazenod, founder of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate. Mazenod is major centre of Catholicism in Lesotho, with educational institutions, a printing works and a conference centre. Because of its proximity to Maseru and network of tarred roads, it also has one of the most rapid population growth rates in the country.

BOTHA-BOTHE: Situated about 125 kilometres from Maseru in northern Lesotho, this is the country’s second-largest town. It was first settled in the 1800s by King Moshoeshoe the Great, who made the flat-topped sandstone plateau of Botha-Bothe Mountain his stronghold up until 1824. Botha-Bothe means ‘The Place of Lying Down’, as it was here that Moshoeshoe and his people sought refuge from the widespread chaos and warfare of the ‘Lifaqane’.

The colonial history of Botha-Bothe dates to 1884 when it was set up as a government sub-district to enable the local Basotho to pay their taxes. These days this bustling town with its magnificent mountain backdrop is a tourism hub, boasting community and administrative buildings, a hotel and market place, as well as a mosque for its sizeable Indian population. The Lesotho Tourism Development Corporation in conjunction with Action Lesotho has assisted in the development of a monthly fleamarket showcasing the district’s arts and crafts. There are well-preserved dinosaur footprints to be found close to the town in the caves at Sekubu.

Pony Trekking at Maletsunyane Falls © Semonkong Lodge

ROMA: Set in a lovely valley surrounded by mountains, this attractive town is a short 30-kilometre drive from Maseru. Best known as the site of the National University of Lesotho, Roma is also home to the Lesotho Observatory Foundation, three seminaries, various novitiates and a number of secondary schools. Roma was founded in 1862 as a Catholic mission town, and contains some surviving mission buildings as well as the more recent addition of a side-chapel to the pro-cathedral that contains the grave of Father Gerard, a French missionary who was beatified by Pope John Paul II in 1988.  St Joseph’s Hospital, a teaching hospital for the Roma College of Nursing, is also situated here. Visitors will enjoy the Ha Baroana rock art situated to the north of the town, as well as the nearby dinosaur footprints.

MORIJA: Named after the biblical Mount Moriah, this quaint town lies about 45 kilometres to the south of Maseru at the foot of the Makhoarane Plateau. It is the site of the earliest mission in Lesotho, having been founded in 1833 by French Protestant missionaries at the invitation of King Moshoeshoe the Great. An important historical and cultural centre, Morija houses Lesotho’s national museum as well as the oldest building in the country, Maeder House (1843). The impressive Lesotho Evangelical Church built in the mid-19th century was constructed from over 130 000 handmade bricks.

Although the original settlement was almost destroyed during the 1858 Basotho-Boer War by commandos from the Free State, who left only the church and Maeder House standing, Morija became known as the ‘Well-Spring of Learning’ because of its pivotal role in training Lesotho’s first educated elite. The town has remained an educational and cultural centre, and is home to a number of primary and high schools as well as a theological school.

A small printing press began operating in Morija in 1861 and started the first Sesotho language newspaper: ‘Leselinyana la Lesotho’ (The Little Light of Lesotho). A printing works was subsequently established to produce books and later expanded to distribute Christian and educational literature across southern and central Africa. Situated next to Maeder House, Morija Printing Works maintains a long tradition of high quality production and is the leading press in Lesotho.

The town’s central focus is the Morija Museum & Archives (MMA), a non-profit cultural and educational institution which belongs to the Lesotho Evangelical Church. MMA is dedicated to developing programmes and activities related to history, heritage and community-based tourism, the arts and culture, as well as science and the environment.

The Morija Cultural Precinct encompasses the MMA, the Morija Arts Centre (opened in 2011), Maeder House Gallery, Linotšing Studios, Heritage Park, the Morija Amphitheatre and Cafe Mojo, and most recently the Morija Hub, which operates as a creative technology lab and offers basic computer training as well as creative workshops. The cultural precinct is a collaborative community of arts, learning and business enterprises, and builds on Morija’s history as a cultural and tourism destination, with precinct partners sharing resources and customers. (For further information on the MMA and its activities, consult the ‘Tourism’ chapter.)

The Morija Museum and Archives is a non-profit cultural and educational institution developed by the Lesotho Evangelical Church of Southern Africa in 1956.

The Morija Arts & Cultural Festival was first held in 1999 and soon became the major cultural event in Lesotho, attracting approximately 35 000 people every year thanks to the outstanding mobilisation of institutions, sponsors and communities. In 2014 the festival was postponed as a result of the uncertain political situation in Lesotho at the time.

TEYATEYANENG: Teyateyaneng, which is popularly abbreviated to ‘TY’, lies on an elevated plateau approximately 40 kilometres out of Maseru on the A1 North. This pleasant town, whose name means ‘Place of Shifting Sands’ in reference to the changing course of the nearby river, was founded in 1886 as the capital of Berea district by Chief Masopha in the aftermath of the Gun War.

While Teyateyaneng’s older settlements comprise the St Agnes Mission, the surrounding area was once home to even older inhabitants – the San – whose art remains on some of the rock shelters in the vicinity. TY is also an important centre for local handicrafts such as beautiful tapestries, woollen jerseys, blankets and mohair rugs, pottery and woven goods, with craft outlets to be found both in the town and along the road to Leribe via Pitseng.

PEKA: As a sub-district of Leribe district with its own government reserve, Peka became one of the most densely populated rural areas during the colonial period. From the 1920s until shortly before independence, a colonial officer dealing with administrative matters was stationed at Peka Reserve. Since 1966 a post office and courthouse have been built and electricity and water are now available in the urban area while health services are supplied at two clinics. Tarred roads link Peka with Maputsoe and Leribe to the north, Teyateyaneng to the south, and South Africa via Peka Bridge border post to the west.

MAPOTENG: The Mapoteng area gained prominence in the late 19th century with the expansion of settlements into the Maloti mountain range and goods being transported from the road head here into the interior. By 1910 it was known as the site of Dawson’s Store and the seat of the ward chief Peete Lesaoana. Mapoteng was also the birthplace of the political activist Josiel Lefela.

The Maluti Adventist Hospital opened in 1951 and has an attached nursing school which is the largest single enterprise in Mapoteng. Originally specialising in eye diseases, the hospital has since set up an HIV/AIDS unit.

MAPUTSOE: Located about 86 kilometres north of Maseru, this bustling border town is connected to Ficksburg in the Free State via the bridge across the Mohokare (Caledon) River – the principal crossing point between Lesotho and South Africa. Maputsoe is also an important industrial centre, although early industries such as maize milling and the manufacturing of furniture, electric light fittings, tractors and shoes, have been overtaken in importance by the garments industry.

LERIBE (HLOTSE): This little town is the headquarters of the Leribe district, and lies north of Maseru and close to the Maputsoe (Ficksburg Bridge) border post. It was originally named ‘Hlotse’ after the nearby river, but is more commonly called ‘Leribe’ after the district, which was in turn named after the French Catholic Mission in the vicinity. There are a number of shops as well as a busy market, with the Leribe Craft Centre selling beautiful handmade mohair items.

Hlotse was important during Lesotho’s colonial era and remains one of the kingdom’s larger centres. It was founded in 1876 when the resident magistrate and an Anglican missionary were granted permission to build by the local chief. The Anglican Church dates from 1877 and is the oldest building in the town. During the Gun War of 1880-1881 the small fort at the mission was often under siege by the Basotho. Major Bell’s Tower is part of the original fort and remains a landmark on the main street. There is also a cemetery which dates back to that era of military conflict. One of the best examples of dinosaur footprints preserved in sandstone can be seen at Subeng Stream, about 7 kilometres north of Hlotse and an easy walk from the main Hlotse-Botha-Bothe road.

OXBOW: This small village is situated to the east of Botha-Bothe, past the Liphofung Cave Cultural Historical Site and through spectacular mountain vistas where the tarred road traverses the Moteng Pass. Oxbow is one of the few places on the continent to offer snow-skiing, and the area contains Africa’s highest ski resort at AfriSki. The 67-kilometre road between Oxbow and Mapholaneng, which passes the Letšeng diamond mine, has been upgraded.

Narrow and steep, the tarred Moteng Pass reaches a height of 2 820 metres above sea level.

MOKHOTLONG: The tarred road from Oxbow to Mokhotlong follows the original ‘Roof of Africa’ rally route through spectacular mountain ranges and over Tlaeeng Pass – Lesotho’s highest at
3 275 metres. Mokhotlong, which was founded as a police post, is the district headquarters of one of the most remote and isolated areas in Lesotho. While the village is now linked to the rest of the country via the A1, A3 and A31, and South Africa via the Sani Pass, winter conditions can be extreme, and snowfalls are still able to cut Mokhotlong off from the outside world for several days at a time.

Mokhotlong is an ideal spot for walking and climbing, and the mountaineers’ chalet at Sani Top is a good base from which to ascend the majestic Thabana-Ntlenyana – Africa’s highest peak south of Mount Kilimanjaro. Sani Top has one of the highest pubs in Africa and is a wonderful spot to take in the beautiful scenery of the Mountain Kingdom.

The 47-kilometre road between Mokhotlong and Sani Top has been upgraded to bitumen standard and should see both trade and tourism improving in this formerly inaccessible area. In addition, the construction of Polihali Dam as part of the second phase of the Lesotho Highlands Water Project, will spur development in the area.

SEMONKONG: The small trading post of Semonkong lies about 130 kilometres southeast of Maseru in the beautiful Thaba Putsoa mountain range. Founded in the 1880s by Basotho fleeing the Gun War, Semonkong is today a handy base from which to see the surrounding attractions.

The town, whose name means the ‘Place of Smoke’, is thought to derive its name from the spray which rises from the Maletsunyane Falls some 5 kilometres downriver. In addition to the impressive 204-metre-high Maletsunyane Falls, which constitute the highest single-drop waterfall in Southern Africa, the lovely Ketane Falls (situated one day’s pony trek away) are another highlight. The steep mountain slopes surrounding Semonkong are one of the best locales to find Lesotho’s national flower: the spiral aloe, or ‘Aloe Polyphylla’.

MALEALEA: Situated an 80-minute drive south of Maseru, the rural village of Malealea is a perfect base for visitors entering Lesotho. Set amidst awe-inspiring mountain scenery near the aptly-named Gates of Paradise Pass, it is also regarded as one of the country’s top adventure destinations, boasting beautiful valleys and hills that are ideal for hiking or pony trekking to attractions such as Botso’ela Waterfall, Pitseng gorge and plateau, and Ribaneng Waterfall. There are good San rock paintings here, while visits to the surrounding villages offer visitors an authentic view of local culture and the traditional Basotho way of life.

THABA-TSEKA: The administrative centre of the mountainous Thaba-Tseka district, the town of Thaba-Tseka – the ‘Mountain with a Blaze’ – was built during the first phase of the Lesotho Highlands Water Project. This grand-scale water transfer scheme, which saw the construction of the enormous Katse Dam, had a profound effect on the area: from infrastructural developments such as improved road networks to a skills training centre to help residents empower themselves. The Thaba-Tseka Technical Institute has subsequently provided training courses, business advice and technical services to the surrounding community for over two decades.

The full panorama of Lesotho’s scenic splendour is on view along the route from Mohale to Katse via Thaba-Tseka. The Likalaneng-Thaba-Tseka road is currently being upgraded, and further construction and renovation of roads in the district is making this centre considerably more accessible and tourist-friendly, with the completed network to link Maseru-Katse-Leribe. Places of interest in the vicinity include Katse Dam (with a renovated information centre), Katse Botanical Gardens and Bokong Nature Reserve.

MAFETENG: Sitting about 76 kilometres south of Maseru, this is the closest town to the Van Rooyens Gate border post. An administrative and commercial hub, Mafeteng was a garrison town during the Gun War of 1880-1881. The cemetery contains an obelisk commemorating members of the Cape forces who fell in action, while the Residency once served as a hospital. The town and its environs also played an important role in Lesotho’s early literary history. The first locally-owned printing works was established in 1904 at Ha Khojane, 10 kilometres west of the town. The newspaper ‘Naledi ea Lesotho’ was printed there from 1904 onwards and distributed across southern Africa.

MOHALE’S HOEK: Situated close to the Makhaleng Bridge border post and surrounded by the lovely Mokhele Mountains, Mohale’s Hoek is some two hours’ drive along the A2 from Maseru – a distance of 123 kilometres. When Lesotho became a British protectorate in 1868, Mohale’s Hoek became the district headquarters. The years since independence have seen an airstrip constructed here as well as a small industrial estate.

QUTHING (Moyeni): The capital of Quthing District in the southernmost part of Lesotho, Quthing is also known as Moyeni, the ‘Place of the Wind’, and lies some 180 kilometres from Maseru. The colonial district headquarters was originally set up at Silver Spruit in 1877, but re-established here in 1884 after the Gun War.

The town consists of the old colonial administrative centre of Upper Moyeni, which has a post office, hospital, police station and hotel, and Lower Moyeni, which is the main commercial centre. The fascinating rock art to be found in the area was left by the San, who lived in this region for many centuries. Today the district is characterised by a mix of languages and cultures.

Other nearby attractions worth seeing comprise Lesotho’s most accessible dinosaur footprints, Masitise (Ellenberger’s) Cave House Museum (a national monument), and the twin-spired sandstone church of Villa Maria Mission. There are guided tours to the ruins of the historical Mt Moorosi fortress, where Chief Moorosi was besieged by British troops.

QACHA’S NEK: Qacha’s Nek was founded in 1888 as a mission station, and later became the district’s administrative centre. Archaeological excavations at rock shelters in the area nonetheless suggest that people have lived here for more than 50 000 years. More recent cultural attractions include the lovely St Joseph’s Church and a number of sandstone buildings dating from the colonial era.

This important border town is the nearest entry point from South Africa’s Eastern Cape into Lesotho. However, up until 1966 it was without direct road links to the rest of the country, meaning supplies had to be procured from the South African town of Matatiele. While these days there is a tarred road all the way to Maseru, air transport remains important, and there is an airstrip that connects the town to the capital as well as other villages in the highlands of the upper Senqu Valley.

Owing to the region’s high rainfall, the area around Qacha’s Nek is filled with more trees than any other place in Lesotho. There is a fairly good (though unsealed) road most of the way from Qacha’s Nek to Sehlabathebe National Park some 50 kilometres away. The last few kilometres need to be tackled by a four wheel drive vehicle.

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