Lesotho

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Various Sotho societies arrived in Basutoland and Free State areas in the seventeenth century. King Moshoeshoe I united the Sotho tribes against the Zulu invaders.

During the 19th century the territory of Basutoland played an important role in the colonial history of southern Africa. The first formal contact between European immigrants and its indigenous residents was probably made in 1833 when three French missionaries, Thomas Abousset, Eugene Casalis and Constant Gosselin, visited Moshoeshoe, king of the newly formed baSotho nation, and obtained permission to establish a mission station at Morija. They were followed in October 1834 by a research party led by Dr Andrew Smith.

After the first visits by missionaries, groups of migrant Dutch farmers, some of whom were granted land for settlement under baSotho customary law, infiltrated the country. In 1836 the territory was invaded by groups of Voortrekkers who, despite having signed a “treaty of friendship” with the baSotho in 1837, declared a separate republic on their lands in 1843.

A series of inconclusive territorial wars between the baSotho and Dutch slowly eroded baSotho land holdings in what was to become the Orange Free State despite the intervention of the British at the Cape. Despite having managed to retain his independence against the Voortrekkers, Moshoeshoe realised that the future of baSotho sovereignty lay in a close association with the British. As a result, in 1862, he wrote to the newly-appointed Governor of the Cape, Sir Philip Wodehouse, suggesting that an alliance be formed between the two territories. On 12 March 1868, acting in the face of continued Voortrekker aggression; Wodehouse issued a proclamation declaring Bautoland a British Protectorate. This was formalised by the baSotho on 15 April 1868. In 1871 Basutoland was annexed into the Cape Colony.

In 1959 Basutoland became a British Colony and was called Territory of Basutoland. Basutoland gained full independence from Britain on 4 October 1966 and became known as Lesotho. Jonathan Leabua became the country’s first Prime Minister. Lesotho was also rocked by a military takeover, which forced King Moshoeshoe IIinto exile. Constitutional government was restored in 1993 after 23 years of authoritarian rule, which included seven years of military rule. Lesotho is the main supplier of water to South Africa and in turn receives its electricity from its neighbour. It is completely surrounded by South Africa.

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