History of Lesotho

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The area now known as Lesotho (pronounced /lɪˈsuːtuː/) goes back as many as 40,000 years. The present Lesotho (then called Basutoland) emerged as a single polity under paramount chief Moshoeshoe I in 1822. Under Mashoeshoe I, Basutoland joined other tribes in their struggle against the Mfecane associated with the reign of Shaka Zulu from 1818 to 1828.

Subsequent evolution of the state was shaped by contact with the British and Dutch colonists from Cape Colony. Missionaries invited by Moshoeshoe I developed orthography and printed works in the Sotho language between 1837 and 1855. The country set up diplomatic channels and acquired guns for use against the encroaching Europeans and the Korana people. Territorial conflicts with both British and Boer settlers arose periodically, including Moshoeshoe's notable victory over the Boers in the Free State-Basotho War, but the final war in 1867 with an appeal to Queen Victoria, who agreed to make Basutoland a British protectorate. In 1869, the British signed a treaty at Aliwal with the Boers that defined the boundaries of Basutoland and later Lesotho, which by ceding the western territories effectively reduced Moshoeshoe's kingdom to half its previous size.

The extent to which the British exerted direct control over Basutoland waxed and waned until Basutoland's independence in 1966, when it became the Kingdom of Lesotho. However, when the ruling Basotho National Party (BNP) lost the first post-independence general elections to the Basotho Congress Party (BCP), Leabua Jonathan refused to cede and declared himself Tona Kholo (Sesotho translation of prime minister). The BCP began an insurrection that culminated in a January 1986 military coup forced the BNP out of office. Power was transferred to King Moshoeshoe II, until then a ceremonial monarch, but forced into exile when he lost favour with the military the following year. His son was installed as King Letsie III. Conditions remained tumultuous, including an August 1994 coup by Letsie III, until 1998 when the Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) came to power in elections which were deemed fair by international observers. Despite protests from opposition parties, the country has remained relatively stable since.

Contents

Ancient history

At some stage during their migration south from a tertiary dispersal area Bantu speaking peoples came to settle the lands that now make up Lesotho as well as a more extensive territory of fertile lands that surround modern day Lesotho. These people spoke a unique "South Sotho" dialect seSotho and called themselves the Basotho. There were several severe disruptions to the Basotho peoples in the early 19th century. Firstly marauding Zulu clans, displaced from Zululand as part of the Lifaqane (or Mfecane), wrought havoc on the Basotho peoples they encountered as they moved first west and then north. Secondly no sooner than the Zulu has passed to the north than the first Voortrekkers arrived, some of whom obtained hospitality during their difficult trek north. Early Voortrekker accounts describe how the lands surrounding the mountain retreat of the Basotho had been burnt and destroyed, in effect leaving a vacuum that subsequent Voortrekkers began to occupy.

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