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High Commission of the Kingdom of Lesotho

1820-130 Albert Street
Ottawa, ON K1P 5G4
Canada
Tel: + 1-613-234-0770
Fax: +1-613-234-5665
 

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BACKGROUND

 

His Majesty King Letsie III

KING OF LESOTHO

HEAD OF STATE
 

The. Rt. Hon. Dr. Pakalitha Mosisili

PRIME MINISTER

HEAD OF GOVERNMENT
 

Hon. Tlohang Sekhamane

Minister of Foreign Affairs
and International Relations

 

ABOUT LESOTHO


One of the last three kingdoms of Africa, Lesotho (pronounced LI’su:tu), is officially the Kingdom of Lesotho and is a land-locked country, entirely surrounded by the Republic of South Africa. Lesotho is the only independent state in the world that lies entirely above 1,000 metres (3,300 ft) in elevation. With its lowest point at 1,400 metres (4, 593 ft) and with over 80% of the country lying above 1,800 metres (5, 900 ft), Lesotho is affectionately referred to as the Kingdom in the Sky or the Roof of Africa.

Lesotho coalesced in the early nineteenth century under the leadership of one of Africa’s most visionary diplomats and warrior, Moshoeshoe I, from remnants of peoples displaced by an expanding Zulu kingdom during the MfecaneLlifaqane wars around 1818.
King Moshoeshoe I (1786-1870) provided refuge and formed alliances with an amalgam of clans and chiefdoms of southern Sotho people who occupied the area which is presently the Northern and Eastern Free State and Western Lesotho.


King Moshoeshoe I (1786-1870),

Founder of the Basotho Nation
 

In 1824, Moshoeshoe and his people were attacked by the Tlokoa at his Butha Buthe fortress in 1824. Although Moshoeshoe and his people were not defeated, the clash had exposed the weakness of Butha Buthe as a stronghold. Moshoeshoe then decided to move to the Qiloane plateau, later to be called Thaba Bosiu , as the new site of refuge and defence.

Thaba Bosiu proved to be an impregnable fortress. In was successfully defended against an Amangwane army in 1828; against the Batlokoa during Moshoeshoe's absence on a cattle raid in 1829; and against the Ndebele of Mzilikazi in 1831.
Through Moshoeshoe’s ingenious diplomatic tact, his power and influence grew as he offered a friendly hand to his defeated enemies, giving them land and assistance to cultivate crops. Even former cannibals were converted into useful citizens in this way. The Basotho nation was thus largely created from refugees who were shattered remnants of clans scattered by the Lifaqane. It was further strengthened by alliances as Moshoeshoe chose wives from other clans including daughters of the long-established Bafokeng chiefs.

In 1843, a treaty was signed with the Boers of Griqualand and an agreement made with the British in 1853 following a minor war. However, the disputes with the Boer over land were revived in 1858 and more seriously in 1865. The Boer had a number of military successes, killing possibly 1500 Basotho soldiers, and annexed an expanse of arable land which they were able to retain following a treaty at Thaba Bosiu. In order to protect his people, Moshoeshoe appealed to the British for assistance, and in March 1868 the land was placed under British protection and the Boer were ordered to leave. A treaty was signed at Aliwal North in 1869 between the British and the Boer defining the boundaries of the protectorate, the arable land west of the Caledon River remained in Boer hands and is referred to as the Lost or Conquered Territory. Moshoeshoe died in 1870.

In 1871 the protectorate was annexed to the Cape Colony. The Basotho resisted the British and in 1879 a southern chief, Moorosi, rose in revolt. The rising was crushed and Moorosi was killed in the fighting.. The British extended the Cape Peace Preservation Act of 1878 to cover Basutoland and attempted to disarm the Basotho. Much of the colony rose in revolt in the Gun War (1880-1881), incurring significant casualties upon colonial British forces sent to subdue it. An 1881 peace treaty failed to quell sporadic fighting.

Cape Town's inability to control the territory led to its return to crown control in 1884 as the Territory of Basutoland. The colony was bound by the Orange River Colony, Natal Colony, and Cape Colony and divided into seven administrative districts - Berea, Leribe, Maseru, Mohales Hoek, Mafeteng, Qacha's Nek and Quthing. The colony was ruled by the British Resident Commissioner, who worked through the pitso (national assembly) of hereditary native chiefs under one paramount chief. Each chief ruled a ward within the territory. The first paramount chief was Lerotholi, the son of Moshoeshoe. During the Second Boer War the colony was neutral. The population was around 125,000 (1275), 310,000 (1901) and 349,000 (1904).

When the Union of South Africa was founded in 1910 the colony was still controlled by the British and moves were made to transfer it to the Union. However the people of Basutoland opposed this and when the South African Nationalist party put its apartheid policies into place, the possibility of annexation was halted. In 1959, a new constitution gave Basutoland its first elected legislature. This was followed in April 1965 with general legislative elections.

The differing fates of the seSotho-speaking peoples in the Protectorate of Basotholand and in the lands that became the Orange Free State are worth noting. The Orange Free State became a Boer-ruled territory. However at the end of the Boer War it was colonised by the British, and this colony was subsequently incorporated by Britain into the Union of South Africa as one of four provinces. It is still part of the modern day Republic of South Africa, now known as the Free State. In contrast Basotholand, along with the two other British Protectorates in the sub-Saharan region (Bechuanaland, present day Botswana and Swaziland), was precluded from incorporation into the Union of South Africa. These protectorates were individually brought to independence by Britain in the 1960s in line with the trend towards self-government and independence that swept the British Empire following the close of the Second World War, a trend that reached its peak in Africa in the late 1950s and early 1960s. By becoming a protectorate Basotholand and its inhabitants were not subjected to Afrikaaner rule, which it could be argued was less benevolent than British rule. Basotho resident in Basotholand had access to better health services and to education, and came to experience greater political emancipation through independence. These lands protected by the British, however, had a much smaller capacity to generate income and wealth than the "lost territory" had, which had been granted to the Boers.

After a 1955 request by the Basutoland Council to legislate its internal affairs, in 1959 a new constitution gave Basutoland its first elected legislature. This was followed in April 1965 with general legislative elections with universal adult suffrage in which the Basotho National Party (BNP) won 31 and the Basutoland Congress Party (BCP) won 25 of the 65 seats contested.

On October 4, 1966, the Kingdom of Lesotho attained full independence, governed by a constitutional monarchy with a bicameral Parliament consisting of a Senate and an elected National Assembly. Early results of the first post-independence elections in January 1970 indicated that the BNP might lose control. Under the leadership of Prime Minister Chief Leabua Jonathan, the ruling Basotho National Party (BNP) refused to cede power to the rival Basotholand Congress Party (BCP), although the BCP was widely believed to have won the elections. Citing election irregularities, Prime Minister Leabua Jonathan nullified the elections, declared a national state of emergency, suspended the constitution, and dissolved the Parliament.


Chief Leabua Jonathan
Prime Minister of Lesotho
(1966 – 1986)


Following a Military coup in 1986, under a Military Council decree, state executive and legislative powers were transferred to the King who was to act on the advice of the Military Council, a self-appointed group of leaders of the Royal Lesotho Defense Force (RLDF). A military government chaired by Major General Justin Metsing Lekhanya ruled Lesotho in coordination with King Moshoeshoe II and a civilian cabinet appointed by the King.

In February 1990, King Moshoeshoe II was stripped of his executive and legislative powers and exiled by Lekhanya, and the Council of Ministers was purged. Lekhanya accused those involved of undermining discipline within the armed forces, subverting existing authority, and causing an impasse on foreign policy that had been damaging to Lesotho's image abroad. Lekhanya announced the establishment of the National Constituent Assembly to formulate a new constitution for Lesotho with the aim of returning the country to democratic, civilian rule by June 1992. Before this transition, however, Lekhanya was ousted in 1991 by a mutiny of junior army officers that left Major General Phisoana Ramaema as Chairman of the Military Council.

Because Moshoeshoe II initially refused to return to Lesotho under the new rules of the government in which the King was endowed only with ceremonial powers, Moshoeshoe's son was installed as King Letsie III. In 1992, Moshoeshoe II returned to Lesotho as a regular citizen until 1995 when King Letsie abdicated the throne in favor of his father. After Moshoeshoe II died in a car accident in 1996, King Letsie III ascended to the throne again.

 

 
His Majesty King Moshoeshoe II
(1938 – 1996)
 


 In 1993, general elections were then held in which the BCP ascended to power with a landslide victory. Prime Minister Ntsu Mokhehle headed the new BCP government that had gained every seat in the 65-member National Assembly. In early 1994, political instability increased as first the army, followed by the police and prisons services, engaged in mutinies. In August 1994, King Letsie III, in collaboration with some members of the military, staged a coup, dissolved Parliament, and appointed a ruling council. As a result of domestic and international pressures, however, the constitutionally elected government was restored within a month.

 

 
The Rt. Hon. Dr. Ntsu Mokhehle
Prime Minister Of Lesotho (1993 – 1998)
 


In 1995, there were isolated incidents of unrest, including a police strike in May to demand higher wages. For the most part, however, there were no serious challenges to Lesotho's constitutional order in the 1995-96 period. In January 1997, armed soldiers put down a violent police mutiny and arrested the mutineers.

In 1997, tension within the BCP leadership caused a split in which Dr. Mokhehle abandoned the BCP and established the Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) followed by two-thirds of the parliament. This move allowed Mokhehle to remain as Prime Minister and leader of a new ruling party, while relegating the BCP to opposition status. The remaining members of the BCP refused to accept their new status as the opposition party and ceased attending sessions. Multiparty elections were again held in May 1998.

The landslide electoral victory by the LCD caused opposition parties to claim that there were substantial irregularities in the handling of the ballots and that the results were fraudulent. The elections, as closely observed by the international community, were however declared free and fair. Opposition parties protested the results of the elections through demonstrations outside the gates of the Royal Palace in Maseru in early August 1998 culminating in widespread violence, looting, casualties, and destruction of property.

After stability returned to Lesotho, an Interim Political Authority (IPA), charged with reviewing the electoral structure in the country, was created in December 1998 and devised a proportional electoral system to ensure that there be opposition in the National Assembly. The new system retained the existing 80 elected Assembly seats, but added 40 seats to be filled on a proportional basis. Elections were held under this new Mixed Member Proportional Electoral system in May 2002, to which the LCD won. For the first time, however, opposition political parties won significant numbers of seats, and despite some claims of irregularities and threats of violence from Major General Lekhanya, Lesotho experienced its first peaceful election. Nine opposition parties were respresented in Parliament holding all 40 of the proportional seats, with the BNP having the largest share (21). In the 2002 election, the LCD won 79 of the 80 constituency-based seats.

 
 
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