The Kingdom of Lesotho is completely surrounded by the
Republic of South Africa. Its boundaries run with those of
KwaZulu-Natal to the east, Eastern Cape to the south, and
the Free State to the north and west. It lies between
latitudes 28' and 31' South and longitudes 27' and 30' east.
It covers an area of approximately 30 300 square kilometres
of which about one quarter in the west is lowland country,
varying in height above sea level from 1 500 to 1 600 m, the
remaining three quarters being highlands, rising to a height
of 3 482 m at Thabana-Ntlenyana in the Maluti Range, which
forms the eastern boundary with KwaZulu-Natal. The mountain
ranges run from north to south and those in the central
area, the Maluti, are spurs of the main Drakensberg, which
they join in the north, forming a high plateau varying in
height from 2 700 to 3 400 m.
is in this area where two of the largest rivers in Southern
Africa, the Orange (Senqu) and the Tugela, and tributaries
of the Caledon, have their source. This phenomenon has
caused Lesotho to be called the "sponge" of Southern Africa.
The original Lesotho consisted of the high plains of the
Mohokare (Caledon) valley and adjacent areas. Modern Lesotho
has lost much of the western part of this land but has
gained the high mountain ranges in the east, known as the
Maloti. The present boundaries of Lesotho follow in part a
series of rivers, the Tele, the Senqu, the Makhaleng and the
Mohokare. Between the Makhaleng and Mohokare, the
south-western boundary follows a beaconed boundary fence,
while between the sources of the Mohokare and Tele, the long
eastern and southern boundaries follow a high mountain
watershed. This section of the boundary is for much of its
distance the Continental Divide between the Atlantic and
Indian Oceans, and it is seldom far from dramatic escarpment
cliffs which make access to Lesotho on this side extremely
The soils in the mountain area are of basaltic origin, and
those in the lowlands are derived mainly from the underlying
cave sandstone. In the lowlands, the soil has been cropped
continuously for upwards of 100 years. Because of the
absence of fuel, practically all cattle manure is burnt, so
that little or no organic matter is returned to the land.
Thus, with increasing population, both human and livestock,
excessive demands have been made on the soil which has lost
its structure and has become seriously eroded. The soils in
the mountains have been brought into cultivation
comparatively recently and are rich, but shallow. With
uncontrolled grazing, the areas above the arable land, in
many places , became denuded of the grass cover, and the
rush of surface water caused serious gully erosion on the
arable land situated below. Several measures have been, and
are being, taken to control this erosion and restore and
preserve the grass cover.
Rainfall is variable and mean annual rainfall amounts to
between 700 mm and 800 mm in most parts of the lowlands.
Most of it falls between October and April, but there is
normally no month which has less than 12 mm. Unfortunatly
river discharge statistics show that most of this water is
lost to Lesotho in the form of run-off.
The deciding factors from an agricultural point are whether
the rain comes in steady soaking showers at intervals suited
to the growth of the staple crops or whether it comes in the
form of short and heavy storms, running to waste and eroding
Serious droughts have affected the country recently, and
there is a large number of perennial streams, though not as
many as existed some year ago. In the lowlands the
temperatures vary from a maximum of 90' or more in summer to
a minimum that rarely drops below 20' in winter. In the
highlands the range is much wider and temperatures below
zero are common.
The emergence of Basotho as a nation occurred around 1818
when King Moshoeshoe (1786-1870) formed alliances with an
amalgam of clans and chiefdoms of southern Sotho people who
occupied the area which is presently the Northern and
Eastern Free State and Western Lesotho from about 1400 AD.
Moshoeshoe was born at Menkhoaneng in the Northern part of
present-day Lesotho in 1786. He was the first son of
Mokhachane, a minor chief of the Bakoteli, a branch of the
Koena clan. While still under the tutelage of his father
Lepoqo, as he was called at the time, played an important
role in augmenting the power of the Bakoteli subclan by
bringing the senior Sekake group and a number of Bafokeng
clans, including the Makara and Ratsiu groups, under his
In 1820, at the age of 34, Moshoeshoe moved to Butha-Buthe
Mountain with his followers and became chief in his own
right, albeit a very minor chief. This coincided with the
advent of a highly turbulent period that engulfed the whole
of southern Africa and affected the economic and political
lives of virtually all the people of the region.
Several unrelated factors were responsible for this, but it
was the conflict among the Nguni people in Natal and the
arrival of white settlers across the Orange River which had
the most far reaching impact on the history of the Basotho
An important development at this time was the rising
military dictatorship of the Zulu King, Shaka, whose attacks
on neighbouring clans in northern Natal caused ripple
effects which were felt as far afield as Lesotho. This was
part of a process of nation building among the Nguni in
Natal in the early 1820s which was characterised by the
creation of larger political units and centralised structures,of authority.
To compound an already difficult situation, a severe draught
hit the region in the early 1800 and sparked off
unprecedented competition between these kingdoms for control
of prime pasture land and fertile cropping areas. Weaker
chiefdoms were either swept aside or absorbed by the
Independent clans such as the Amangwane, under Chief
Matiwane, were forced to flee Zululand. In the process they
displaced sections of the Zizi and Hlubi people who fled
across the Drakensburg in 1818 from the Upper Tugela river
basin, followed a short while later by the Amangwane
themselves who were being further harassed by Shaka's
The Hlubi people under Chief Mpagazitha, created a new
stream of refugees as they in turn fell upon the Batlokoa
people who were at that time living in the area of the
present-day Harrismith. The Tlokoa, Hlubi and Ngwane became
three separate marauding bands who,seized grain and cattle
from each other and from any smaller groups of people they
These plundering raids, compounded by the drought situation,
brought about famine so severe that groups of people in
several parts of Lesotho turned to cannibalism. This
difficult time, known as Lifaqane, was one of the darkest
periods in the history of Lesotho.
Faced with all this widespread devastation of the Lifaqane
period, the Basotho were forced to adapt or perish. They
soon realised that the most efficient defence strategy
against marauding armies was the mountain fortress. Each of
the principal chiefs selected a suitable sandstone plateau
surrounded by cliffs as their stronghold -the Tlokoa near
Ficksburg, the Hlubi near Clocolan and the Ngwane not far
from the Berea district of Lesotho.
King Moshoeshoe I (1786 - 1870), founder of the Basotho
Meanwhile, Moshoeshoe was attacked by the Tlokoa at his
Butha Buthe fortress in 1824. Although Moshoeshoe and his
people were not defeated, the clash had exposed the weakness
of Butha Buthe as a stronghold. So Moshoeshoe decided to
move to the Qiloane plateau, later to be called Thaba Bosiu,
as the new site of refuge and defence.
Thaba Bosiu proved to be an impregnable fortress. In was
successfully defended against an Amangwane army in 1828;
against the Batlokoa during Moshoeshoe's absence on a cattle
raid in 1829; and against the Ndebele of Mzilikaziin 1831.
Meanwhile, Moshoeshoes's power and influence grew as he
offered a friendly hand to his defeated enemies, giving them
land and assistance to cultivate crops. Even former
cannibals were converted into useful citizens in this way.
The Basotho nation was thus largely created from refugees
who were shattered remnants of clans scattered by the
Lifaqane. It was further strengthened by alliances as
Moshoeshoe chose wives from other clans including daughters
of the long-established Bafokeng chiefs.
In the late 1820s a new threat came to the clans occupying
the Mohokare valley. Groups of Khoikhoi, known as Kora,
appeared led by Dutch-speaking people of mixed descent. Many
were mounted on horseback and armed with guns. The Basotho
again had to take refuge on their mountain-tops and in
remote rock- shelters, which horses could not easily reach.
Horses had never before been seen in Lesotho.
Moshoeshoe decided to obtain horses and guns for his own
people. Also, after hearing of the advantages that other
clans derived from having a resident missionary, Moshoeshoe
sent cattle to induce a missionary to stay with him. In
fact, Moshoeshoe also hoped that the mission- aries would
help him to acquire guns and thus prevent the depredations
of the Kora.
In this way three missionaries of the Paris Evangelical
Missionary Society (PEMS) - Thomas Arbousset, Eugene Casalis
and Constant Gosselin - came to Thaba Bosiu in 1833.
Moshoeshoe placed them with his two senior sons, Letsie and
Molapo, at Makhoarane, the site of the present-day Morija.
The arrival of the missionaries had far- reaching effects on
the life of the people. Potatoes, 'wheat, fruit trees and
domesti cats and pigs were introduced. Before long the
missionaries had opened schools and printed books in the
The French missionaries did not belong to any of the
colonising white groups of southern Africa and were accepted
as citizens of Moshoeshoe's kingdom. In fact, Eugene Casalls
had a role similar to that of a Foreign Minister for the
period 1837 - 55 while living in a mission at the foot of
Thaba Bosiu . His knowledge of the outside world proved
invaluable to Moshoeshoe during the period when white
settlers began to threaten his kingdom.
Two Missionaries of the Paris Evangelical Missionary Society
Eugene Casalis (left) and Thomas Arbousset, who played an
important role in the early history of Basotho.
This new and powerful group, the white people from the Cape
Colony, began crossing the Orange River in large numbers in
the mid-1830s. They trekked in ox-waggons, lived partly by
hunting and eventually some settled as farmers on land
within Moshoeshoe's Kingdom and in adjacent areas. For the
Basotho the next thirty years was a time when only the
statesmanship and diplomacy of Moshoeshoe saved their nation
A Treaty made with the Governor of the Cape in 1843
recognised Moshoeshoe as an ally, with duties to maintain
order in a large area north of the Orange River. In return
he would,receive a sum of $75 per year from the Colonial
Treasury. In 1845 this was replaced by a second Treaty which
recognised white settlement on part of Moshoeshoe's
territory, but without clearly defining boundaries.
In 1848 the Orange River Sovereignty was proclaimed, making
the area between the Orange and Vaal Rivers British
territory. A British Residents Major Warden, was placed in
charge at the newly founded town of Bloemfontein. Major
Warden was instructed to delineate boundaries between the
different chiefs, a procedure quite unacceptable to the
Basotho who regarded the Barolong, the Griqua and the white
farmers as settled on part of their own territory. Warden's
boundary line aroused such resentment that the two sides
resorted to arms. After attacks had been made on the Bataung
of Moletsane, allies of Moshoeshoe, the Basotho came to
their aid. At the Battle of Tihela, near Ladybrand, in 1851,
a crushing defeat was delivered on Major Warden's force
which included Barolong, Batlokoa, Griqua and white farmers.
A blow such as this to British prestige aroused a
predictable reaction, and it was decided that Moshoeshoe
should be punished. No less a personage than the High
Commissioner for the Cape Colony, Lieutenant-General Sir
George Cathcart brought 2 000 troops and in December 1852
camped with them near the Mohokare River, opposite the
present site of Maseru. The Basotho were ordered to pay
within three days a fine of 10 000 head of cattle and I 000
horses. Moshoeshoe, who always preferred peace to war, met
Cathcart at his camp to request peace, but to no avail.
Only a third of the required cattle had been brought in at
the expiry of the deadline, and Cathcart began military
operations against Moshoeshoe. His force split into three
columns, one of which soon mounted the Berea Plateau to
round up cattle. As the 12th Royal Lancers were driving the
cattle down from the Plateau on the north side, a force
under Moshoeshoe's son, Molapo, attacked from the rear, and
the British troops suffered heavy losses. That evening the
Basotho further harassed Cathcart's men and caused the
captured animals to stampede and break away. Meanwhile,
realising that more was to be gained by diplomacy than by
continuing the fight, Moshoeshoe sent Cathcart a letter
which enabled him to withdraw without feeling that he had to
avenge a defeat.
Cathcart and his force withdrew. Shortly afterwards Moshoeshoe defeated his old rival Sekonyela, and the entire
upper Mohokare Valley came under his direct control.
The expense of maintaining the Orange River Sovereignty
proved too much for the British Government in London, and in
1854 the British withdrew from Bloemfontein, handing over
responsibility to the newly proclaimed Orange Free State
Republic of the Boers.
At first relations with Lesotho were cordial and at one
point Moshoeshoe himself was a guest in Bloemfontein, but
this did not last for long. The boundaries left undefined at
the time of the British withdrawal soon led to armed
conflict in Senekal's War of 1858. The result on the Basotho
side was loss of life and destruction of mission stations,
while the Orange Free State troops lost heavily in an ambush
near Thabana-Morena, in what is now the Mafeteng District.
Seqiti War and British Annexation
For the next few years an uneasy peace prevailed. Moshoeshoe,
real'ising his precarious position, sought British
protection from Sir Philip Wodehouse, the new High
Commissioner, who arrived in the Cape in 1861. Hostilities
with the Orange Free State again broke out in the Seqiti War
of 1865. Thaba Bosiu was itself besieged but not taken and a
boer commandant, Louw Wepener, was killed, during an assault
on the mountain.
A short armistice followed during which Moshoeshoe renewed
his entreaties to Wodehouse for protection. In 1867 Free
State forces again overran much of Moshoeshoe's land and
conquered almost every lowland fortress except Thaba Bosiu.
In this hour of crisis, Sir Philip Wodehouse finally secured
the permission of the British Cabinet to annex the country.
On 12 March 1868, Moshoeshoe's prayer was granted, and by
proclamation of Sir Philip Wodehouse, Lesotho became a
Moshoeshoe died in 1870 soon after seeing his country saved.
He was buried as have been nearly all principal chiefs
since, in the graveyard on the summit of Thaba-Bosiu.
The after-effects of the war were serious. Casualties had
been heavy, missionaries expelled and mission stations taken
over, livestock lost, and, worst of all, a large area of
land had been annexed by the Orange Free State. In the
Convention of Aliwal North of February 1869, the boundaries
of Lesotho were laid down in their present form.
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
Matters came to a head with the imposition of the "Peace
Preservation Act", by which all fire-arms were to be
surrendered. Within a few months the whole countryside was
in open rebellion.
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.
Resumption of Direct Rule
In this way, as a direct consequence of the Gun War, the
Basotho won the right to have their country administered
separate- ly from other parts of southern Africa. British
rule was resumed in 1884, a major step in the sequence of
events which led ultimately to the granting of independ-
ence by Britain in 11966.
Under the British Resident Cornmissioner, Sir Marshall
Clarke (1884-1894) and Sir Godfrey Lagden (1894-1902)
together with the Paramount Chiefs Letsie (1870-91), and his
son Lerotholi (1891-1905), 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
Early political player: King Moshoeshoe II, and the leader
of the then Basotholand Congress Party (BCP), Ntsu Mokhehle
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
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 Paramo-
untcy 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'
of the then Basutoland National Party, Chief Leabua Jonathan
(left) and the leader of the Marematlou Party (MTP), Mr Khaketla.
When Griffith died in 1939 he was succeeded by his son,
Seeiso, who ruled for only one year. He died under mys-
terious 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
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 electedf 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
By the tirne 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 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.
Although the BNP government did achieve some measure of
success during its five-year term, the electorate were
disillusioned and thought the party had done very little to
improve the lot of the people. Others thought it was too
friendly with apartheid South Africa and had lost touch with
the rural people who got it into power. The BNP was,
however, oblivious to the people's real feelings as it
relaxed and took its own propaganda too seriously. The BCP
moved quickly into this growing vaccuurn and organised
effectively against the BNP in the 1970 elections.
The BCP won the 1970 general elections, capturing 36 seats
to the BNP's 23, with the MFP picking up only one. Initially
the BNP government may have been prepared to hand over power
to the opposition, but certain cabinet ministers threatened
the prime minister and together they engineered the
nullification of the elections, the declaration of a state
of emergency, and the arrest of opposition leaders and the
King. Talks to bring about a true government of national
unity were scuttled when Britain unilaterally resumed its
massive aid programme to Lesotho. In 1973 the government
gained a measure of credibility by forming an interim
National Assembly appointed by Leabua and including certain
prominent BCP leaders who had broken away from Mokhehle.
Between 1973 and 1985 significant strides were made in
Lesotho in expand- ing the school and health systems, in
upgrading roads and communications, in training government
workers and in securing foreign aid for a multitude of
projects. Foreign aid increased dramatic- ally when the
government began voicing harsh criticism of apartheid
policies of its neighbour and allowed a large number of ANC
exiles to stay in the country.
Faced with growing internal and external pressure, both from
the armed wing of the BCP as well as foreign donors, the BNP
government was forced to make a feeble attempt towards
holding representative elections in 1985. Because the BNP
threatened the other parties, only the BNP contested the
primaries and thus there was 'no need' to hold general
elections. But this 'overwhelming victory' only served to
exacerbate tensions inside the ruling party itself. Finally,
the crisis was precipitated by a South African border
blockade in January 1986, which was overtly a challenge to
the growing ANC presence in Lesotho. Leabua's government was
overthrown in a military coup led by Major-General Lekhanya.
The military ruled for the period 1986-1993. The King was
given executive powers and political parties were banned.
But there was growing tension in the Military Council
between the monarchists, who supported a full-scale return
to government based upon the chieftainship and an executive
monarchy, and those who doubted this programme for what ever
reason. In 1990, the King's major backers in the Military
Council were removed, the King was forced into exile, and
then dethroned. Prince Mohato was sworn in as Letsie III in
November 1990. Major General Lekhanya, in order to restore
his own waning support, made sweeping promises for a return
to democratically elected government under a revised
constitution. But hardly a year later Lekhanya was deposed
by the military over a pay dispute and was replaced by
Major-General Ramaema, who undertook to continue with
Lekhanya's democratic programme.
After three years of preparation, the 1966 Constitution was
revised, a vigorous election campaign was held, and the
long- awaited general elections were held on 27 March, 1993
. The BCP won a landslide victory, capturing all 65
constituencies with over 70 percent of the vote. The
election was declared to have been free and fair by a wide
range of internal and external monitors.
The BCP was faced with the daunting task of re-establishing
a truly democratic structure and spirit to government, both
at the national and local level. During its first year in
office the new government also faced a number of crises,
including turmoil within the security forces.
Most important was the 'Palace Coup' of August 1994 when
King Letsie III suspended the constitution and created an
interim government. But it soon became clear that there was
no support from the nation for the usurpers. South Africa,
Botswana and Zimbabwe intervened. The coup collapsed and the
democratically elected government was returned to power. As
part of the terms of the settlement, Moshoeshoe II was
reinstalled as King of Lesotho.
On 15 January 1996 King Moshoeshoe II died in a car accident
and was buried at Thaba Bosiu, the burial place of all
Lesotho Kings, on 26 January. Among the dignitaries that
attended the funeral were Presidents Quett Masire of
Botswana, Nelson Mandela of South Africa and Robert Mugabe
of Zimbabwe. King Moshoeshoe was succeeded by his son who
was sworn in as King Letsie III on 7 February 1996.-
Throughout the 1990s, politics in Lesotho were deeply
affected by economic difficulties relating to the decline of
the gold mining industry in South Africa. Low prices for
gold on world markets translated into declining employment
opportunities for Basotho miners in South Africa, and in
turn, declining remittances to Lesotho by Basotho migrant
labor. In 1989, there were 129,000 Basotho miners working in
South Africa. By 1998, Basotho miners in South Africa had
declined to 80,400, and by 1999, there were only 68,400
migrant Basotho miners in South Africa. The impact of
declining remittances from miners on Lesotho’s economy is
staggering. In 1986, miners remittances accounted for 67
percent of Lesotho’s Gross Domestic Product. By 1996, miners
were contributing only 33 percent of Lesotho’s GDP, and it
is estimated that from 1998 to 1999 migrant remittances
dropped another 15 percent to a figure of about 190 million
The leadup to general elections in 1998 was marked by
infighting among leaders of he BCP. In 1997, intra party
disputes over leadership roles resulted in the formation of
a new party, the Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD), led
by Ntsu Mokhehle. Mokhehle succeeded in taking the majority
of the BCP rank and file into the LCD, and the LCD won an
overwhelming victory in the 1998 election winning 78 out of
80 possible seats in the National Assembly. Reflecting the
effects of Lesotho’s ‘first past the post’ electoral system,
in which the leading vote getter in parliamentary seat
constituencies wins the election, the Basotho National Party
won only one seat, although overall it gained 24.5 percent
of the vote. Following the election, due to illness,
Pakalitha Mosisili replaced Ntsu Mokhehle as prime minister.
Both the Basotho National Party and the Basotholand Congress
Party protested the results of the elections. On the side of
the BCP, the protests were rooted in continued enmity over
the formation of the LCD. The BNP however, felt that it was
denied adequate representation in the National Assembly due
to Lesotho’s “first past the post” electoral system.
A South African constitutional court judge and other
international election observers ruled that, notwithstanding
irregularities, the 1998 elections were valid. However,
opposition groups were able to demonstrate considerable
support for their challenge to the election’s legitimacy.
Beginning in August 1998, nearly two months of civil unrest
over alleged election irregularities resulted in significant
economic disruption and damage to commercial infrastructure.
A split in the Lesotho army exacerbated confusion during pro
and anti government demonstrations. The army became divided
when several officers refused to obey orders to use force to
disperse protesters. On Sept. 11, 1998, junior army officers
detained 20 senior officers.
On September 16, Prime Minister Mosisili made the first of
several appeals for military intervention by South Africa
and the Southern African Development Community (SADC) to
help the government maintain order. In response to
Mosisili’s appeal, Botswana and South Africa sent troops to
Lesotho. Clashes between the foreign troops, protesters and
Lesotho army supporters led to several casualties.
In mid-October of 1999, the ruling Lesotho Congress for
Democracy met with the opposition parties to negotiate the
implementation of new elections. An agreement was made to
establish an Interim Political Authority (IPA) made up of
two delegates from each political party. The broad
justification for the IPA was to help achieve political
compromise and avoid a descent into political chaos.
Specifically, the IPA was charged to undertake reforms of
the electoral system and to organize new elections within 18
months. The IPA took power in early December 1998. By that
time, 100 had died in the conflict. South African and
Botswana troops finally withdrew in April and May 1999.
1. Lesotho 1996 - OFFICIAL YEARBOOK