The Kingdom of Lesotho

Published by Wade Publications CC

Transport Infrastructure

The development of an integrated transport system that contributes to the enhancement of trade and transit corridors, the provision of social services and the welfare of the general population is a necessity for further economic growth.

North Access Road to Metolong Dam © Metolong Authority

As a mountainous country with very rugged topography, Lesotho deals with a number of obstacles to the development of transport networks. Furthermore, while there are many rivers, the terrain renders them unnavigable. These issues have significant implications for transport modes and accessibility. Furthermore, as a landlocked nation, Lesotho’s cross border transactions attract higher transport costs as well as customs and handling charges.

The dominant mode of domestic transport is road, which accounts for more than 70 percent of Lesotho’s transport needs, followed by rail and air. These forms of transport are complemented by ferry services at river crossings, animal transport and pedestrian travel, especially in the sparsely populated highland areas.

Cargo and passenger transport services are mainly provided by private sector operators in the freight, taxi and bus industries. Government is responsible for the Lesotho Freight and Bus Services Corporation, which operates a far smaller percentage of public road passenger transport services, mainly in areas and on routes where volumes are low and the private sector cannot provide a profitable service. The Ministry of Public Works and Transport owns and operates around 44 ferryboats at river crossings. Private operators, working longer hours, complement these services.

Lesotho is connected to South Africa’s well-developed regional road network via a total of 15 border posts; those at Ficksburg and Maseru staying open 24 hours a day (see ‘Useful Information’ for additional border post hours). Maseru is only 450 kilometres from the economic hub of Johannesburg and 575 kilometres from the port of Durban on the east coast, the destination of the vast majority of Lesotho’s manufactured goods, which are transported here by road or rail before being shipped overseas. Air transport services to the region and further afield take place between the international airports of Moshoeshoe I near Maseru and OR Tambo in Johannesburg, and there are also several rural airstrips which are used by light aircraft.


Infrastructure provision and maintenance is the responsibility of the Ministry of Public Works and Transport, which is also responsible for creating an enabling environment for the private sector to develop efficient, cost-effective and safe transport services. This involves setting standards and guidelines to ensure operational efficiency in transport systems and infrastructure, and meeting Lesotho’s obligations regarding regional and international transport conventions. Institutional reform is currently geared towards improving efficiency in the financing and maintenance of roads in the country.

Creating integrated transport systems is one of the priorities of the National Strategic Development Plan (NSDP) covering the 2012/13-2016/17 period. The focus is on improving national roads and access roads to production sites for agriculture, manufacturing, tourism and mining, as well as between main towns.

The creation of seamless borders is critical for trade facilitation. Key investments thus include the establishment of a dry port, entailing the development of cargo handling facilities and the railway station, as well as the construction of access roads to border posts and modern one-stop border facilities. The possibility of establishing a Lesotho hub/commercial presence at one of the South African ports is also being explored.

Rural and urban roads as well as other modes of transport need to be developed to improve access and reduce time to markets and services. This involves:

  • Developing and maintaining access roads in rural and urban areas
  • Promoting efficient labour-intensive construction projects
  • Developing policy and relevant legislation for water transport
  • Promoting private participation in water transport
  • Exploring different financing strategies to accelerate road infrastructure development and options for increasing revenue
  • Undertaking future analysis to prevent congestion, especially in major towns, reduce pollution and inform town planning
  • Developing plans for integrated/intermodal transport systems, including well-developed bus stations and/or interchanges
  • Exploring options for improving public transport systems

The Plan also underlines the importance of transport safety, particularly the need to reduce road accidents. In this regard, the quality and safety level of existing infrastructure is to be assessed, and both infrastructure and standards upgraded.

In the air transport subsector, competition must be enhanced and efficiency and coverage improved. Strategies here comprise attracting other airline operators, exploring the possibility of creating a regional hub, and upgrading Moshoeshoe I International Airport as well as selected airstrips.

Approved in October 2006, the Integrated Transport Project (ITP), funded by the World Bank’s International Development Association (IDA) and co-financed by the European Union (EU) and the Lesotho Government, aims to enhance prospects for economic growth through the provision of an efficient and integrated transport system that is safe and affordable to improve access to services and market opportunities for all Basotho. The project is composed of three components: policy and institutional reforms in the transport sector; infrastructure investment; and project management, monitoring and evaluation.
The ITP, which originally had a closing date of 30 June 2011, was restructured in September 2012 and extended to 30 June 2015. The total cost of the project amounts to US $ 38.20 million. According to the implementation status report of April 2014, the ITP is performing well and is rated satisfactory both in terms of achievement of project development objectives and implementation. The objective of improving access to services and market opportunities through a better managed and more affordable transport system is likely to be fully achieved.

One of the objectives of the project has been to improve the percentage of the roads in good and fair condition as a share of total classified roads, estimated at 2 444.39 kilometres according to the Lesotho Road Management System (LRMS). At the baseline of 01 December 2006 this stood at 65 percent. By 20 August 2013 it had improved to 75 percent, with an end target of 85 percent.

Other objectives included the construction of 10 kilometres of rural roads, the rehabilitation of 40 kilometres of non-rural roads and 20 kilometres of rural roads, and the resealing of 40 kilometres of the Oxbow-Mokhotlong road, all of which had been achieved by August 2013. Furthermore, two high-level bridges, their approaches and road links along the South Eastern Corridor were completed during 2013.

Regional programmes
As a landlocked country, Lesotho faces specific transport challenges. These are addressed on a regional level in the Almaty Declaration on Landlocked Countries. Lesotho is also implementing the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Regional Indicative Strategic Development Plan (RISDP). The Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA), East African Community (EAC) and SADC are working toward the development of transit corridors, with the emphasis on reducing transportation costs and enhancing regional competitiveness.

Lesotho and South Africa have formed the Joint Bilateral Commission on Cooperation to oversee the development of cross-border transport within the parameters of the SADC Protocol on Transport as well as the Southern African Customs Union (SACU) Memorandum of Understanding. A task team has been established to handle conflicts in the movement of passengers under the Normalisation of Cross-border Passenger Transportation programme, and Electronic National Traffic Information Systems are being developed.

Published in August 2012, the Transport Sector Plan (TSP) of the SADC Regional Infrastructure Development Master Plan (RIDMP) presents an analysis of transport infrastructure, including current and future (2027) infrastructure requirements. It is focused on providing transport infrastructure services, policy and legislation, an enabling environment and supportive institutions with the necessary human resources and capacity to transform the sector.

The key objective is to identify hubs and gateways for rehabilitation and development in order to ensure that the passenger and goods markets are adequately catered for. The TSP also addresses the need to develop appropriate, integrated, safe, secure and efficient infrastructure capacity along strategic transport and development corridors with regard to road and rail networks.


The Ministry of Public Works and Transport is tasked with developing a national road network that links the entire country, in addition to developing and maintaining inter-urban roads, bridges and footbridges. The Councils and the Ministry of Local Government, which is also responsible for the decentralisation policy, are entrusted with upgrading and bituminising urban roads and bus terminals, as well as constructing hard gravel roads that link communities within the districts.

The African Development Bank (AfDB), the World Bank’s International Development Association (IDA), Arab Bank for Economic Development in Africa (BADEA), Kuwait, the Irish Government and KfW Development Bank, together with the Lesotho Government, have played an important role in the financing of roads. The World Bank and the EU were instrumental in developing the Roads Directorate, a semi-autonomous entity established under the Roads Directorate Act of 2010 and conforming to the parameters outlined in the SADC Protocol on Transport, Communications and Meteorology as well as the Sub-Saharan Africa Transport Policy Programme (SSATP). The Directorate was formed by the amalgamation and restructuring of the former Roads Branch and Department of Rural Roads.

The main functions of the Roads Directorate include:

  • Implementation of government policy on roads-related issues
  • Planning, design and implementation of roads programmes for all roads
  • Preparation of strategic road network development plans
  • Promotion and support of the development of the road construction industry in Lesotho

Although the lowlands of Lesotho are relatively well served with the existing road network, about a quarter of the population live in the mountains, where there is poor access to basic services and commodities, as well as limited market opportunities. The rugged highland areas, which cover three-quarters of Lesotho’s land area, continue to challenge the expansion of road infrastructure as well as the maintenance of the existing network. Government encourages private sector participation in terms of commercial contracting and service provision.

Road network expansion and maintenance
In 2003, there were approximately 7 438 kilometres of roads. Of these, 1217 kilometres were paved, 3 758 were gravel and 2 463 were earth roads. In the subsequent decade, despite challenges such as floods which destroyed large tracts of the network, including bridges and culverts, the Government of Lesotho has invested heavily in expanding the networks of urban and rural roads, upgrading gravel roads to bitumen standard, building new bridges and repairing and rehabilitating existing roads. By 2013, the road network had grown to approximately 8 638 kilometres, including some 1 817 kilometres of paved roads, 4 358 of gravel roads and 2 463 of earth roads.

The main trunk route north, the Main North One (A1), provides access to most of the north. The A1 from Maseru to Botha-Bothe and on to Mokhotlong is tarred, as is the Katse Road, which has opened up much of the northern highlands. The Main North One also connects to improved roads at Caledonspoort and Ficksburg on the South African side of the border.

Tarred roads link Maseru to other district headquarters in Lesotho’s lowlands, as well as connecting the capital to Mohale Dam via the A3 along the Maseru to Thaba-Tseka route. The main trunk route to the south, the Main South One (A2), comprises a good tarred road from Maseru to Moyeni (Quthing), Mount Moorosi and on to Mphaki.

Major achievements in the recent past include the upgrading of the Likalaneng–Thaba-Tseka road to bitumen standard; the construction of the Roma–Ramabanta–Semonkong–Sekake road to bitumen standard, including two bridges at the confluence of the Senqu and Senqunyane rivers; resealing of the Matsieng, Maseru–Mafeteng and Maseru–Maputsoe roads; paving of town centres in all districts, including some surrounding urban areas; and building of new roads in rural areas – an initiative which connected communities which were formerly isolated from the rest of the country.

Reconstruction of the road from Oxbow to Mapholaneng began in March 2012, with an expected completion date of March 2015. The road will connect Botha-Bothe with the Mokhotlong district, and improve access to Letšeng Diamond Mine and Polihali Dam.

Other projects involve securing cross-border road links with neighbouring South Africa, which has paved the road from QwaQwa to Mononts’a border with Lesotho in the north. At the same time, Lesotho has completed the design of the route that will connect Marakabei to Mononts’a. The designs for paving the route from Alwyn’s Kop to Tele Bridge in order to connect the district of Quthing to the South Africa’s Eastern Cape Province are complete. The bridges at Tele and Makhaleng in southern Lesotho need to be redesigned to double carriageway.

In addition, South Africa has paved the road from Himeville in KwaZulu-Natal to the Sani Pass border with Lesotho in Mokhotlong District, while Lesotho has commenced construction of the redesigned paved road from Mokhotlong to Sani Pass Border, covering a distance of 42 kilometres. South Africa has put M40 million towards the total estimated cost of the road, which is some M800 million. This is part of the effort to provide essential services such as roads, especially in the highlands, which is important in promoting tourism in the area and opening up business opportunities for the community.

Another South African initiative is a proposed feasibility study on traffic decongestion at the Maseru Border Post, which forms a link in SADC’s vital North-South Corridor. This would look at separating traffic by rerouting freight, passenger and vehicle traffic to different border posts, expanding Maseru Bridge Border Post, and relocating some processes away from the border post.

In 2014/15, the Ministry of Public Works and Transport will continue with the ongoing construction of main trunk roads and bridges, as well as proposed new projects to complement existing investments. At the same time, the Ministry of Local Government will focus on urban and rural roads and well as footbridges under local authorities. A sum of M811.0 million for road construction and M97.0 million for the construction of footbridges was set aside in the 2014/15 budget.

Transport and traffic
The Department of Transport and Traffic is responsible for the efficient operation of road transport, ensuring the availability of public transport and monitoring the participation of the private sector. The Lesotho Road Fund operates on a fee-for-service basis to enable road users to contribute towards road maintenance and construction. The fund’s largest source of revenue has historically been the road maintenance levy, which is included in the price of fuel, followed by tollgate fees and licence fees on motor vehicles.

The Ministry of Public Works and Transport has committed itself to working with the Lesotho Revenue Authority, Interpol and the Criminal Investigation Division, to streamline the currently lengthy procedures for registering new vehicles and renewing licences. This involves adopting the e-NATIS system presently operating in neighbouring South Africa.

Private taxi and bus transport operators dominate the public transport subsector, and the parastatal Lesotho Freight and Bus Services Corporation is charged with operating on remote roads that are inadequately serviced and where commercial carriers do not exist. Sixteen-seat private minibus taxis provide most public transport in rural areas and cater for commuters in peri-urban areas. Some larger buses cover inter-urban routes and saloon taxis operate in and around towns. Operating outside the regulatory framework, 4x4 pickups provide essential public transport on difficult routes inaccessible to minibuses.

Improving road safety
Lesotho’s mountainous terrain and winding roads present particularly challenging driving conditions, and the country has a high incidence of road accidents. The Roads Safety Department and National Road Safety Council (NRSC) oversee the improvement of road transport safety as well as the security of people along the corridors.

Chaired by the Principal Secretary in the Ministry of Public Works and Transport, the NRSC consists of an eight-member advisory board as well as a technical committee tasked with the practical aspects of road safety. The council is mandated to coordinate all organisations involved in road safety, in addition to monitoring and evaluating the effectiveness of road safety strategies, approving road safety budgets and formulating road safety policies, actions plans, education and related legislation.

Road safety issues which will take top priority under the NRSC include driver training, appropriate use of seat belts and enhanced emergency and rescue services. Another concern is the currently inadequate enforcement of traffic laws, as road safety is not prioritised by the police and is also not yet taught in schools. Quality road safety infrastructure, such as road signs, must be installed, and regulations to control speeding and driving under the influence of alcohol must be improved and enforced.

Lesotho has embraced the Decade of Action for Road Safety (2011-2020), a United Nations initiative aiming to intensify measures to promote the protection of people’s lives on the roads over a ten-year period. The programme highlights expanding the capacity of road safety management to improve the behaviour of road users as well as to enhance post-crash care. The aim is to reduce the number of road deaths by half by 2020.


Lesotho’s Moshoeshoe I International Airport (MIA) is situated about 20 kilometres outside of Maseru in Mazenod. With a tarred runway measuring 3 200 metres in length, it is suitable for medium-range jet aircraft such as the Boeing 727. Facilities include two passenger terminals, one cargo terminal and four runways. The terminal building has amenities such as a bureau de change, bar and restaurant, left luggage facilities, gift shop and tourism information kiosk. There are also facilities for the disabled.

Domestic air transport services utilise a network of 24 airstrips – 12 of which are currently operational – providing secondary and, in some cases, primary access to a number of the country’s isolated rural areas lying outside the coverage of the national road system. The airstrips at Qacha’s Nek and Mokhotlong have tarred runways, while the others have gravel or grass airstrips that are utilised mainly by the Lesotho Flying Doctors Service.

There are at least three direct flights per day between Moshoeshoe I International Airport and OR Tambo (ORT) International Airport in Johannesburg. At present, the only commercial carrier is South African Airways (SAA), and flying time to Johannesburg is approximately 55 minutes. From ORT there are connecting flights to a range of international destinations.

The establishment in 2009 of MGC Aviation, the only privately-owned airline in Lesotho, paved the way for the launch of commercial domestic flights in the country. The airline offers comprehensive business aviation services, as well as humanitarian and relief charters, and is able to land at any location, even in remote destinations. MGC Aviation’s impressive growth has seen its fleet being certified to fly over Africa.

The Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) Airwing operates three fixed-wing aircraft and six helicopters out of Mejametalana Airbase, situated north-east of Maseru at an elevation of 5 100 feet above sea level. While the LDF Airwing was initially established in 1978 to support the country’s land forces, it has also been extremely active in attending to social, economic and developmental ventures, and provides an important service to government, NGOs and the public – particularly in the remote mountain areas, which are not easily reached by road.

Missions undertaken by the Airwing include the distribution of books and stationery to schools in the Lesotho highlands, with more than 62 tons of books delivered to 310 schools in 2009. The delivery of election material and personnel, as well as the transportation of medical staff, construction materials, equipment and supplies to health centres in the mountains also takes place. During the 2010 Measles Campaign, the Airwing deployed medical teams in over 180 villages. Humanitarian missions are also carried out, such as food relief operations and emergency rescue services.
Airwing aircraft are involved in displays for events such as the Army Day and the King’s Birthday celebrations. In addition, LDF aircraft take part in military exercises with other SADC member states, as well as regional search and rescue training and operations.

Infrastructure development
Various infrastructure development initiatives have taken place at Moshoeshoe I International Airport in the past decade. These include the construction of cold rooms and a cargo bay and extension of the runway as part of a project that intended to take advantage of agricultural production, particularly in the nearby Free State, and turn MIA into a trade hub. While this objective was never realised, the current Private Sector Competitiveness and Economic Diversification Project, along with the Enhanced Integrated Framework (EIF) Horticulture Productivity and Trade Development Project, may see the air cargo facility project being resuscitated through cooperation with South Africa and other SACU members.

Other developments have seen Government, with the assistance of BADEA, improve the safety and security of the airport with the installation of navigation aids and the purchase of two new fire trucks. A bank of solar panels, which produce 280 kilowatts of electricity to power the terminal building, was installed at MIA by the Department of Energy through a grant from the Japanese Government, and went into operation in October 2013.

According to SADC’s Transport Sector Plan, there is a need to extend and rehabilitate the runway at MIA, and a study was undertaken during 2013 on upgrading airport infrastructure, along with selected strategic airstrips, in line with the planned developments in domestic air transport. This study forms the basis for improvements and rehabilitation works currently underway, with the 2014/15 budget having allocated an additional M40.0 million for rehabilitation of the MIA runway and works at the Maseru Container Terminal.

The regulation and promotion of civil aviation, development of infrastructure and licensing of air transport operators is under the jurisdiction of the Department of Civil Aviation. It participates in the activities of a number of international civil aviation organisations and upholds international conventions on aviation, all with the objective of achieving safety, efficiency and regularity of service and creating an environment conducive to the development of regional and international trade and tourism. A bilateral air services agreement between South Africa and Lesotho is nearing completion, pending conclusion of internal processes between both parties.

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Lesotho has 2.5 kilometres of narrow-gauge railway along the border with South Africa at Maseru West industrial area. This connects the capital city of Maseru via the border bridge on the Mohokare (Caledon) River to South Africa’s Bloemfontein-Bethlehem line. Two freight trains run every day, carrying mainly cement, maize, fuel and freight containers and making up about one third of Lesotho’s international trade in bulk goods. While there has been backing from SADC for the development of a rail link that would run from Maseru to South Africa’s sea ports of Durban and Port Elizabeth, with the Lesotho Government seeking funds to conduct a feasibility study, support from Transnet has not yet been forthcoming.

Maseru Container Terminal
The Maseru Container Terminal (MASCON), that was operated by Transnet Freight Rail (TFR) until 2009 and then by South African company InfraDev up to May 2013, is presently managed by the Ministry of Public Works and Transport. As assistance from the US’s Millennium Challenge Account (MCA) failed to materialise, the terminal is yet to receive sufficient funds to enable it to be developed into a dry port.

The Government of Lesotho has nonetheless made visible improvements at MASCON with the purchase of two reach stackers that are instrumental in the loading and off-loading of containers. The fencing of the perimeter area has been completed and other improvements, including the levelling of the platform for the safe storage of containers, are underway in order to cater for increased traffic in the movement of containerised goods. Further development funds were set aside in the 2014/15 budget, with studies, consultancies and designs aiming to develop MASCON into a dry port that will be operated by a semi-autonomous government agency.

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