Lesotho Recent History

The Basuto tribe, of Bantu lineage, was very important in the nineteenth century for England because their leader Moshesh, a man of great talent and ability, was a decisive instrument of the policy that the great European power practiced towards the Boers.

In 1818 Moshesh, chief of the Basutos, brought together many other tribes dispersed in the territories, because they were driven out of their regions by usurpers of the Matabele tribe.

In 1824, after settling on the left bank of the high Caledon, he had to abandon that position and with all the tribes he headed south-west, where he occupied the areas between the Monti dei Draghi and Maluti. Here there were high large massifs, with the flat peak and the perpendicular walls inaccessible, and on one of these floors, called Thaba Bosigo, he settled with all his people by erecting huts. According to Abbreviationfinder, an acronym site which also features history of Lesotho, the Basutos then compensated for the need for food with the raids they occasionally did in the surrounding districts, periodically descending from their heights.

Through these thunderous expeditions the Basutos became famous and more their leader: and in 1833 some missionaries of the “Society of Evangelical Missions of Pariri” asked to be able to settle among those tribes, as indeed they had already done in other regions, and obtained the ‘authorization.

Meanwhile in the years 1836/37 the Boers began to emigrate to the north and then the British Crown, and for it Sir George Napier, governor of the Cape Colony, extended his sovereignty over all the territories that the Boers occupied gradually. Then there he formed many small indigenous states so that they formed allies against possible newcomers at the appropriate time.

Lesotho Recent History

And for this purpose Sir George Napier in 1843 conferred on Moshesh the title of king of the vast area between the upper courses of Orange and Caledon; and this region took the name of Basutoland.

Becoming king Moshesh employed all his political ability juggling between English and Boers, depending on the fortunes in their continuous struggles. But in 1849 Sir Harry Smith became governor of the Colony of Cape, who, not sharing Napier’s policy at all, began to remove many areas from Moshesh, greatly reducing the territory of Basutoland.

Of course this caused the discontent of the king, who manifested all his opposition going to raid continuously in the Orange area where Smith had given birth to one of his creatures, the “Orange River Sovereignity”. Another governor, Sir George Cathcart, Smith’s successor, invaded Basutoland in 1852 to punish the Basutian king and attacked the natives in Berea, and since they were far more numerous than the British, and Moshesh did not want to antagonize the British, happy to have given them a demonstration of skill and power, he asked them to be able to negotiate peace.

This episode was important because it made Sir George Cathcart understand how dispersed the British military intervention would have been over time, certainly too heavy for national finances, and then he decided to abandon both the Boers in Orange and Moshesh and the Basutus to their fate. And for this reason, on February 23, 1854, an agreement was signed in Bloemfontein with which England recognized the sovereignty of the Free State of Orange.

Moshesh, abandoned to himself, immediately began a war against the young state in 1856 but two years later peace was reached with the treaty of Aliwal. The peace lasted until 1865 when Moshesh resumed the hostilities which were definitively overcome the following year with the agreement of Thaba Bosigo with which he recognized the sovereignty of the state of Orange. Two years later he asked for the protection of the British.

In 1871 Basutoland was annexed to the Cape Colony but a few years later, in 1879/80 the natives, unable to comply with the laws in force, rebelled.

When they were subdued again, the arbitration of the British government was asked to establish definitively the structure to be given to Basutoland. And this was decreed through the split from the Cape Colony and Basutoland from 1884 passed directly under the English government. But in the years that passed the South African Union he asked to integrate Basutoland, given its geographical position, right in the center of the Union.

England was clearly against the project, and instead began a preparation policy so that over time the natives could be enabled to full autonomy. So in 1958 the time came for the government of London to converse with the indigenous representatives, in order to test their degree of maturity, and based on this, Basuto had a Constitution on September 21, 1959. It provided for the formation of a legislative assembly made up of 80 members.

In the selection of candidates, all discrimination on skin color, race and religion was banned. The British High Commissioner remained responsible for foreign relations, internal security, defense and the organization of the main administrative services.

In application of the Constitution, elections were held in 1960 for the Legislative Council, the majority of which went to the progressive and pan-African Basutoland Congress Party. In the Executive Council there was the conservative majority supported by the Paramount Chief, that is the highest traditionalist authority of Basuto who did not intend to be constitutional sovereign.

Between 1961 and 1965 various other parties were formed but in the elections of April 1965 the “Basutoland National Party” prevailed created and headed by the traditionalist Leabua Jonathan, who formed the government.

The Paramount Chief proclaimed himself king with the name of Moshoeshoe II, opposed in all ways access to independence which, however, was proclaimed on October 4, 1966 and the state was called Lesotho. Following other unsuccessful attempts, the king was depleted of his powers by the Prime Minister.

In this way, even without the slightest semblance of the symbol of national unity, the king often passed to the opposition which, in the elections of January 1970, had the victory. But Jonathan did not accept the state of affairs, he ordered a coup, suspended the Constitution, arrested the leaders of the opposition and forced the king to abdicate. Then by force he maintained control of the country.

Gradually after strengthening his position in the government, Jonathan gradually restored his freedom to political prisoners and in 1972 he made a reshuffle replacing some ministers.

In March 1973, a provisional Constituent Assembly of 86 members was formed, which did not meet the favor of the opposition and therefore there were numerous riots and violence, enough to force the government to use strong manners and to inflict harsh sentences on opponents.

In the following two years, 1975/76, an internal reconciliation took place but also in the external field ties were maintained with South Africa, important support for Lesotho, but also those with socialist countries such as Yugoslavia, popular China and the Mozambique.

From 1980 onwards, due to clashes with the candidates in the elections, continuous reversals of alliances were created and in 1984 there was a series of war raids on the border with South Africa, which blamed Lesotho for protecting the guerrillas. the economic situation worsened considerably and then, on January 20, 1986, some military units under the orders of General J. Lekhanya, pro-South African, dismissed the government, dissolved the Assembly, interdicted all parties and, after having centralized all power both legislative and executive in the hands of the king, they formed a military council headed by the same general.

In March 1988 relations with South Africa were restored; in February 1990 King Moshoeshoe II was deposed by the military but in November his son Moato Secisa was raised to the throne with the name of Letsie III.

In 1991, with a coup, there was the change at the head of the Military Council, which was headed by Colonel E. Ramaema. A constitutional normalization began and with the legislative elections of March 1993 the “Basuto Congress Party” went to government while the “Basuto National Party” passed to the opposition.

Premier was the leader of the Basuto Congress Party, Mokhehle. The elections had taken place in the presence of international envoys; there were no frauds of any kind, but the nationalists, flanked by the coup army, also started protests.

Between the end of that year and the beginning of 1994, many riots occurred between the armed forces and government supporters. The military asked for suitable economic increases and often, not getting them, mutinied. To settle the matter, mediation by the international community was necessary. The mutineers laid down their arms and accepted the negotiations proposed by the government.

On August 17, 1994, King Letsie III, declaring himself dissatisfied with the government’s actions, led a coup; deposed the premier, dissolved the Parliament, and all this provoked various condemnations by the International Community and also by the neighboring countries, Botswana, South Africa and Zimbabwe.

After 5 months from this event, the king had to forcibly abdicate in favor of his father Moshoeshoe II and Mokhehle also returned to the government. On February 7, 1996 Moshoeshoe perished in an accident and then Letsie III went back to the throne.

Mokhehle’s government, however, encountered increasingly bitter protests and the army was also accused of inhumane treatment of detainees, many of whom were arbitrarily arrested.

In February 1997 in the capital Maseru the police forces attempted an insurrection which was severely repressed.

Mokhehle, considered a bad and inefficient administrator, was exonerated from the Basuto Congress Party and he then formed a new party which he called Lesotho Congress for Democracy, to which many of the followers of the old Basuto Congress Party, in the process of disintegration, joined.


In March 1998 Letsie III, at the request of Mokhehle, dissolved the National Assembly and called new elections for the following May. The Lesotho Congress for Democracy achieved an overwhelming majority with 78 out of 80 seats. This result was hotly contested by the oppositions that brought unrest and upheaval everywhere.

Oppositions had also been joined by some military departments that mutinied. For this reason, the Prime Minister, already in office since the end of May, B. Pakalitha Mosisili, on 22 September 1998 asked for the intervention of the South African army and of Botswana, to restore order. In May 1999, when the calm had been restored, the troops intervened returned to their headquarters.