Minority Rights Group International (MRG) Deputy Director, Claire Thomas, writes this opinion piece for the Thomson Reuters News Foundation.+ LEARN MORE
Lesotho is entirely surrounded by South Africa. It is the only country in the world that lies entirely over 1,000 meters above sea level, and its elevation results in high precipitation. Lesotho exports water and hydro-electric power to South Africa.
Bantu peoples entirely displaced Khoisan hunter-gatherers, who were the first inhabitants of today’s Lesotho.
The territory was part of a powerful Sotho kingdom under attack from both Boers and Zulus when Britain offered protection to the new ‘Basutoland’, in return for loss of land, in 1868.
Basutoland remained under British rule until independence in 1966, when it was re-named Lesotho.
Main languages: Sesotho (official), English (official), Zulu, Xhosa
Main religions: Christianity (primarily Roman Catholicism), indigenous beliefs
The population is almost entirely Basotho, with around one per cent consisting of European, Asian and Xhosa.
[Source: Ethnologue, various years for small minority languages.]
Today, Lesotho is a constitutional monarchy. It has had a rocky transition to democracy, and its first peaceful election took place in 2002. Recent years have seen reports of police abuse and corruption among the security services. However, judicial decisions are generally respected, and the media are generally free to criticize the government. Government and societal tolerance for freedom of religion is well established. Traditional and customary laws severely restrict the rights of women.
Lesotho has one of the highest rates of HIV-AIDS infection in the world, and this has compounded its general poverty. The ongoing Lesotho Highlands Water Project, launched in 1986 with the aid of multilateral and bilateral loans, has greatly boosted the country’s export of water and electricity to South Africa. It has also resulted in bribery scandals implicating local officials as well as German and British companies.
Minority based and advocacy organisations
Justice and Peace
Tel: +266 2231-2751
Women and Law in Southern Africa (WILSA)
Tel: +266 22313123/22310361
Sources and further reading
Nyoka, Mtutuzeli, I Speak to the Silent, KwaZulu-Natal, 2004.