The header for this site: The Basotho Live in rock houses like these, called “Rondovals.” Pray that the True Light will shine in the Maluti Mountains!
Find Lesotho on the map of Africa:
The Basotho are a group of people from a cluster of tribes united under King Moshoeshoe I (Moo shway shway) during the early 1800’s. Moving south from the Transvaal region of South Africa, they settled in the Orange Free State and on into the mountainous area now known as The Kingdom of Lesotho. Lesotho, with an area of 11,720 square miles, is completely surrounded by the Republic of South Africa.
Rugged, beautiful Lesotho ranges from five thousand feet in the western lowlands to more than eleven thousand feet in the majestic Maluti Mountains, which cover the majority of the country.
It is often called “The Roof of Africa.” With few good roads, many areas are accessible only by horseback or light plane. Today, approximately 2.3 million Basotho live in the mountain kingdom of Lesotho while another 3 million live in the Republic of South Africa. Lesotho itself is severely overpopulated in the lowlands. Life expectancy is approximately 52 years of age but with the onslaught of AIDS this is reducing.
The majority of the Basotho in South Africa reside in the Orange Free State Province which borders Lesotho; however, there is also a large population in the city of Johannesburg.
Lesotho received it’s independence in 1966; however, the country has never experienced much political stability in the ensuing years. The tiny mountain kingdom, completely surrounded by South Africa, has lurched from crisis to crisis since gaining independence over three decades ago. In the early years of independence the country was ruled by the military until the first free elections were held in 1993. Presently, the country has a king (King Letsie III), a prime minister and a Parliament composed of elected representatives and traditional chiefs. After the May 1998 elections, opposition groups protested the election results resulting in political tensions which intensified in August, when members of the army joined the protestors.
Eventually, South African troops intervened in September to prevent a coup but were met with fierce resistance from rebels and from ordinary citizens, many of whom viewed the intervention as an invasion. The result was widespread rioting and looting which swept Maseru, destroying much of the city, and throughout towns in the lowlands. Years later, the country is still recovering from the crisis with many businesses still not yet rebuilt.
Lesotho suffers some of the worst ecological devastation in the world. There is severe soil erosion and soil exhaustion. There are very few trees. In a country that has traditionally based wealth on cattle and sheep, many of the animals have died during prolonged drought. A large percentage of the animals are now in the hands of a relatively small percentage of the population.
The principal source of wealth is livestock raised on the country’s grazing land. Lesotho‘s rivers and mountainous terrain offer potential for hydroelectric development. A major diamond mine still exists in the mountains with a major diamond (633 carats) found in August 0f 2006. This was the 15th largest diamond ever found.
There is a growing disparity in the standard of living between the mountainous areas and the lowlands, where there are more jobs. Only 10% of the land is arable. Lesotho depends heavily on foreign aid to survive economically.
Most Basotho in South Africa live in African townships, are laborers on farms owned by Afrikaners or work in the mines.
The Basotho have a patriarchal society. A woman belongs to, or is incorporated into, the husband’s family. Lobola, the bride price, is still very important in the culture. All men have to pay the bride price even though some now use money instead of cattle.
In Lesotho, traditional authority is still firmly exercised through a system of chieftancy extending from the paramount chief (king) and his court, down through senior chiefs and sub-chiefs, to headmen and sub-headmen at the local level. Families and clans still cluster together as units in small villages. The hut of the chief is usually in the center of the village.
There are kraals, or enclosures, for the animals. Boys start herding cattle/sheep when they are five or six years old. Many teenagers and young men herd the flocks in remote areas and stay in little huts high in the mountains away from family for months at a time. Winter in the mountains may be severe and sometimes herd boys are cut off by snowstorms.
Two distinctve features are the people’s love of horses and blankets. The small, surefooted Basotho pony is often the only means of transport in the rugged country of Lesotho. Donkeys are also widely used to haul goods. Both men and women wear bright blankets as cloaks and fasten them with an oversized safety pin. They also wear a Sotho hat woven from reeds into a conical shape with a unique topknot.
The traditional religion of the Basotho involves the worship of the balimo, the ancestor spirits. They believe that the departed ones can afflict their living descendants for violating laws and customs of society, and they can choose certain individuals to be their channels for communicating more directly with the community by dreams and visions. They believe that one can bring misfortune and illness upon the community if he disobeys the balimo.
More than 90% of the people claim to be Christians, most of them Roman Catholic. As well, many Basotho claim ties to the Anglican and Lesotho Evangelical Church. Many professing Christians mix traditional religious practices with Christianity.
Evangelical Christians are often ridiculed and scoffingly called the bapalosoa (“the saved ones”). Clergy frequently use fear and intimidation to keep people away from the evangelistic services, consequently, growth among evangelicals has been slow.
In South Africa evangelical work is stronger than in Lesotho, and there is less pressure from the more established churches. However, families often exert pressure on those who are “born again.” They fear that the converted family member will desert the ancestors and bring shame upon the family.
|Points of Interest: > Lesotho was formerly known as Basutoland.> Gained independence from Great Britain in 1966.> Capital city – Maseru.> Language spoken – mainly Sesotho, some English.> Lesotho has the highest low point of any nation in the world. Basotho commonly call it “the kingdom nearest heaven.”
> More than half the Basotho people live outside Lesotho in the country of South Africa.
> First missionaries were French who arrived in 1833.
> The Bible in Sesotho was first printed 70 years ago.
> Internet and other sources claim 88-96% of Basotho are Christian. Evangelicals estimate the figure to be 2%.