The small yet vibrant Kingdom of Lesotho is a constitutional monarchy located in southern Africa, where it neighbours the largest economy on the continent.
Lesotho is the only independent nation in the world whose entire territory lies at over 1 000 metres above sea level. Set in a landscape of soaring mountains and crystal clear rivers, the aptly-named ‘Kingdom in the Sky’ displays a rich traditional heritage and a proud record of sound macroeconomic management.
Formerly a British colony, Lesotho gained independence on 4 October 1966 and has since transformed from an economy based on subsistence farming to one with an active manufacturing, construction and mining industry and ever-improving physical and social infrastructure. It is also home to one of the largest and most ambitious civil engineering projects in Africa, the Lesotho Highlands Water Project, which harnesses the country’s abundant water resources for the cross-border industrial complex of Gauteng Province in South Africa.
Lesotho’s major economic sectors comprise manufacturing, mining, agriculture and services, with chief exports numbering textiles and garments, diamonds, water, wool and mohair.
While Lesotho faced a series of political challenges during the latter part of 2014, the situation has subsequently normalised and the country is on track to hold early elections at the end of February 2015. At the same time, the economic outlook remains positive, with GDP growth of 6 percent in 2012 and 5.7 percent during 2013, and the International Monetary Fund forecasting further robust economic activity in the medium to long term.
The first inhabitants of Lesotho were the San. By 1873 the last of these hardy hunter-gatherers had been exterminated by the British, but they left their mark on the land in a rich legacy of rock art as well as smatterings of their language in the Sesotho tongue.
Lesotho’s other early inhabitants were pastoralist Bantu-speaking people from West and Central Africa, who first entered the southern part of the continent sometime between the third and sixth centuries. By the 19th century, Sotho clans were spread across the southern plateau, including the western region of present-day Lesotho and a large, fertile expanse of surrounding territory in what is today 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, speaking 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 now 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 capturing the cattle of Chief Ramonaheng. The emergence of the Basotho as a nation began around the time that Moshoeshoe became chief (1820) and started forming 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 the Zulu King Shaka, together with a region-wide drought, sparked off the ‘Lifaqane’ (the ‘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 together his people 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 of Nguni origin, in return for their help in defending Basotho territory, saw a loosely federated Basotho state forged from local Sotho tribes as well as remnants of clans scattered by the Lifaqane. By 1840, Moshoeshoe’s position, built on military as well as diplomatic skill, was 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 became a British protectorate known as Basutoland, and its present-day boundaries were established.
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, which seriously weakened the Cape government. In 1884, Basutoland came under direct British control once more. 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 the 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 cooperation
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.
In February 2102, Prime Minister Mosisili and 44 supporters left the LCD to form a new party, the Democratic Congress (DC). The DC retained power until the general elections of May 2012. Although Mosisili’s DC won the most seats (48), with the All Basotho Congress (ABC) coming second with 30 seats, Thomas Thabane’s ABC managed to forge a coalition with the LCD and BNP to achieve a majority in the 120-seat parliament.
This smooth transition of power, following credible, transparent and peaceful elections, garnered praise locally and internationally. However, despite a promising start, the coalition Government ran into trouble during 2014, with Prime Minister Thomas Thabane suspending parliament to avoid a motion of no confidence. Political tensions led to clashes between the army and the police, and the Lesotho Defence Force was implicated in an attempted coup on 30 August 2014, forcing the Prime Minister to seek protection in neighbouring South Africa.
The beautifully patterned Basotho blanket, a common item of clothing in Lesotho, is ideally suited to the cold, high altitude climate. Voter registration began in Lesotho during November 2014, with 1 300 voter registration centres opening nationwide and more than 3 000 temporary staff employed to prepare for early elections being held on 28 February 2015.
The Maseru Facilitation Declaration (MFD) was signed at the beginning of October following a deal brokered by South African Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa, acting on behalf of the Southern African Development Community (SADC). This saw all parties agree on a road map leading to a general election in February 2015, two years ahead of schedule. King Letsie reopened Parliament on Friday 17 October 2014, with Thomas Thabane once more at the helm of the coalition Government, having been guaranteed that opposition parties would refrain from holding a vote of no-confidence in his leadership.
In addition to the facilitation declaration, the Maseru Security Accord was signed to defuse the potential for further partisan action by the police force and the military. The accord provides for the a period of leave for the Commissioner of Police and two army commanders, who are undertaking working visits to SADC or Commonwealth countries. During this period their respective deputies have been left in charge of the relevant security agencies.
Parliament is to dissolve in December, allowing Lesotho to prepare for the 2015 elections, with all political parties vowing to ensure that the elections are free and fair. United Nations secretary general Ban Ki-moon has praised the progress made in upholding democratic principles and securing the restoration of stability and security in the Kingdom.
Lesotho’s population was estimated at 1 942 008 in July 2014 (CIA World Factbook), taking into account the effects of mortality due to AIDS. According to the same source, the population is relatively young, with a median age of 23.6 years, and some 36.8 percent falling into the 25-54 age group, followed by 32.9 percent aged 0-14 and 19.9 percent aged 15-24.
The estimated population growth rate in 2014 was 0.34 percent, with urban dwellers making up 27.6 percent of the total population and the annual rate of urbanisation (2010-2015) estimated at 3.57 percent. Life expectancy at birth, across the total population, is 52.65 years. The sex distribution is around 97 males for each 100 females.
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 (80 percent), with the rest 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 in the vicinity of the Caledonspoort border post, followed by Xhosa.
The Basotho have developed a unique culture and traditional dress to suit their mountainous habitat. The cone-shaped Qiloane Mountain, which is one of Lesotho’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 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.
Around 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. Each village also 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.
The beautifully patterned Basotho blanket, a common item of clothing in Lesotho, is ideally suited to the cold, high altitude climate.
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, which are called ‘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.
GEOGRAPHY & CLIMATE
Lesotho is a land-locked state in Southern Africa, 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. One of the world’s smaller countries, Lesotho’s total area is 30 355 square kilometres, its total land borders 909 kilometres, and its maximum length from north to south 434 kilometres.
With an average altitude of more than 1 600 metres above sea level, it is a mountainous country, and highlands cover around 65 percent of the total land area at elevations ranging between 2 300 and 3 482 metres above sea level. The highest point is Thabana-Ntlenyana – Southern Africa’s tallest peak – in the Maloti range. Two of the region’s principal rivers, the Senqu (Orange) and Tugela, have their source in these mountains, as do tributaries of the Mohokare (Caledon) River, which forms Lesotho’s western border. The western quarter of the country comprises lowlands, with the lowest point the junction of the Senqu and Makhaleng rivers.
This mountain kingdom’s many habitats contain a high degree of biodiversity and endemic plant and animal varieties as well as a remarkable prehistoric and cultural heritage. The country is well known for spectacular montane birdlife as well as rare wildlife species which have developed specialised adaptations to their mountain environment. The inimitable highland scenery of mountain, valleys and crystal clear rivers is yet another draw-card for tourists.
The climate is classified as temperate, and Lesotho’s elevation means it is cooler than most other regions located along similar latitudes. Temperature variations may be extreme – from -7°C in winter to 30°C in summer in the lowlands. In the highlands, winters are more severe. Temperatures may drop to -18°C, and there are heavy snowfalls that periodically cut off access to remote mountain settlements. The mean summer temperature is about 25°C and the mean winter temperature around 15°C.
Vegetation is predominantly grassland, with less than 1 percent indigenous forest, which consists of patches of evergreen trees and shrubs.
Lesotho’s annual precipitation varies from approximately 600 millimetres in the lowland valleys to 1 200 millimetres in the northern and eastern escarpment bordering South Africa. 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 most of the year’s rainfall 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.
MAIN POPULATION CENTRES
Most of Lesotho’s towns were originally established in the colonial era as administrative ‘camps’ with district commissioners. Urban areas gradually formed around these camps when the Basotho came to settle in their vicinity. For this reason most towns still have a nucleus of old colonial sandstone buildings housing government departments, post offices and banks. Houses and flats provide residential accommodation in the larger towns. Typical Basotho dwellings, such as huts made of earth and stone with thatched or corrugated iron roofs, are more usual in rural settlements.
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, where the capital is Teyateyaneng; and Quthing, where the capital is also known as Moyeni. Besides the district towns, there are two more gazetted towns in Lesotho; namely Maputsoe in Leribe district and Semonkong in Maseru district.
MASERU: The capital of the Basotho nation since 1869, Maseru was once a small market town which served as an administrative post under the British. The city has grown rapidly since independence, and today accounts for around half of Lesotho’s total urban population – some 239 000 people.
Maseru, which means the ‘place of red sandstone’, lies in a shallow valley at the foothills of the Maloti Mountains. The Mohokare (Caledon) River to the west marks the border with South Africa, across which the Free State town of Ladybrand is 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.
Today Maseru enjoys most amenities, including international hotels and restaurants, casinos and entertainment venues, as well as two modern state-of-the-art shopping malls, chain stores, supermarkets and stylish boutiques. The centre of Maseru is quite modern and attractive, with many of the older colonial buildings, as well as some newer ones, built from local sandstone.
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 fleamarkets and a plethora of informal traders give Maseru an authentic African feel.
Important manufacturing activities in Maseru include electronics assembly, textiles and clothing. A new state-of-the-art hospital, Queen Mamohato Memorial, has been opened in Botšabelo. It replaces the Queen Elizabeth II Hospital built in the 1950s. Maseru is also home to Lesotho’s other university, Limkokwing University of Creative Technology (LUCT), which now has an expanded campus.
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. A major centre of Catholicism in Lesotho, Mazenod has educational institutions, a printing works and a conference centre. Because of its proximity to Maseru and network of tarred roads, Mazenod has one of the most rapid population growth rates in Lesotho.
BOTHA-BOTHE: Situated about 125 kilometres from Maseru in northern Lesotho, this is the country’s second-largest population centre. 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 until 1824, after which he relocated to a new capital. He named it Botha-Bothe, the ‘Place of Lying Down’, as it was here that 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. Today, this bustling town with its magnificent mountain backdrop boasts community and administrative buildings, a hotel and market place, as well as a mosque for its sizeable Indian population. There are well-preserved dinosaur footprints to be found close to the town in the caves at Sekubu.
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. Founded in 1862 as a Catholic mission town, Roma 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 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), which now provides exhibition space for a small but growing community of artists, crafters and creative people. 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, with a number of primary and high schools as well as a theological school.
A small printing press began operating in Morija in 1861 and began the first Sesotho language newspaper: ‘Leselinyana la Lesotho’ (The Little Light of Lesotho). Subsequently a printing works was established to produce books and 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 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.
Opened in 2011, the Morija Art Centre represents an outgrowth of efforts to establish a centre for skills development and entrepreneurship at Morija. The centre helps nurture talent, training apprentices and students in art, ceramics and wood carving. The Germond Art Library was launched in October 2013, and future plans foresee the opening of a Media Centre for photography, graphics, film and new media, a factory for Seshoeshoe branded items, a music programme and more.
An annual event not to be missed, the Morija Arts and Cultural Festival takes place in Morija towards the end of September and beginning of October every year. It 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. The 2014 Morija Arts & Cultural Festival, scheduled for 23-28 September 2014, was postponed as a result of the uncertain political situation in Lesotho at the time, and will be held at a later date, which is being decided on in consultation with sponsors, partners and stakeholders.
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 the San whose paintings can be seen on a number of rock shelters in the vicinity. It 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 TY and along the road to Leribe via Pitseng.
Following the postponement of the 2014 Morija Arts and Cultural Festival, most of the festival events, including art and craft exhibitions, book launches, poetry sessions, film, theatre, fashion and more, are being rescheduled for 2015. Updates regarding events, dates and times will be made available on the website www.morija.co.ls.
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, as goods were 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. Dinosaur prints can also be seen in the area.
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.
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 2 840-metre 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 upgrading of the 67-kilometre road between Oxbow and Mapholaneng, which passes the Letšeng diamond mine, was nearing completion during 2014.
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 the highest pub in Africa and a wonderful location to enjoy the beautiful scenery of the Mountain Kingdom.
The upgrading of 47 kilometres of road between Mokhotlong and Sani Top to bitumen standard should help improve trade and tourism 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 further development in the area.
SEMONKONG: About 130 kilometres southeast of Maseru, situated in the beautiful Thaba Putsoa mountain range, the village of Semonkong is a small trading post and a handy base from which to see the surrounding attractions. Founded in the 1880s by Basotho fleeing the Gun War, Semonkong (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, a 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’.
Making Lesotho’s rural districts more accessible, a number of major roads construction works were nearing completion during 2014, including the Roma-Ramabanta-Semonkong-Sekake, Mokhotlong-Sani Pass and Oxbow-Mapholaneng roads.
MALEALEA: The tiny village of Malealea with its breathtaking mountain scenery is to be found near the aptly-named Gates of Paradise Pass. Described as ‘Lesotho in a nutshell’, the region boasts beautiful valleys and hills that are excellent 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 drive from Mohale to Katse via Thaba-Tseka, and further construction and upgrading of roads in the district is making Thaba-Tseka considerably more accessible and tourist-friendly. Once completed, the network will 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: This is the closest town to the Van Rooyens Gate border post, and lies about 76 kilometres south of Maseru. Today 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. Mafeteng and its environs also played an important role in Lesotho’s early literary history. The first locally-owned printing works were 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 environs 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.