Sunday, December 13, 2015


My entire life I’ve been pronouncing this country wrong. And I’m so sorry. Before the age of the Internet, we just pronounced it like how most Midwesterners would pronounce it: “le-SO-tho.” But apparently, it’s actually pronounced “le-SOO-too.” So, now you know. Hopefully, you won’t spend 36 years of your life living in the dark like I was.

The name Lesotho means “the land of the people who speak Sesotho.” Basotho refers to the people of Lesotho. I saw this kind of name construction when I covered Botswana (Botswana refers to the land; Batswana is the people there; Setswana is their language). It makes sense because the two languages are in the same language group. 

Lesotho is a landlocked enclave in the middle of the country of South Africa. It roughly lies between the South African cities of Blomfontein and Durban and south of Johannesburg and Pretoria. Lesotho is only one of four countries that are completely within another country (the others are Monaco inside France; and San Marino and Vatican City inside Italy). The country lies in the Drakensburg and Maloti Mountain ranges, making it the only independent country lying completely above 1400 m (4593 ft). Because of this, it tends to have cooler temperatures than other areas around it. 

The earliest people, the Basotho, came to Lesotho during the Bantu migration. They ran into troubles, especially with the Zulu tribes who were also displaced, but there were also many years of peace as well. Lesotho as we know it came to be in 1822 and was under the guidance of King Moshoeshoe I (pronounced “muh-shway-shway”). They were still fighting with the Zulu at this point. At the same time, their country (which was known as Basutoland during this time) was on edge because of the fighting between the English and Dutch settlers in South Africa. French missionaries were the first to transcribe the Sesotho language. As the Boers who settled in South Africa moved farther inland, there were many disputes as to who owned the land they were claiming. The British, the Dutch, and the Basotho were pretty much all against each other (and the British lost a couple of skirmishes and battles to the Basotho). After several years of fighting with the Boers, King Moshoeshoe I finally pleaded with Queen Victoria for help, in turn becoming a British protectorate. After signing a deal with the Boers, Lesotho lost nearly half of its land, leaving its borders as we know it today. The British also moved the capital from Thaba Bosiu to Maseru. They continued to have their skirmishes with the British, but in 1966, the Basutoland gained its independence, and the Kingdom of Lesotho was born. As the first elections took place, it would be the beginning of several long decades of shifts of political power and people not relinquishing the powers they had, and fighting among political parties about it. There were several times since their independence when they had to deal with military coups or rioting destroyed part of the city and people died.

The capital city is Maseru, a city on northwestern border of Lesotho. Although it is Lesotho’s largest city, it only has roughly 228,000 people (about the size of Baton Rouge, Louisiana). The name Maseru stems from a Sesotho word meaning “red sandstones.” Although many buildings have been rebuilt and upgraded since the late 1990s, tourism remains to be a struggling area, mostly likely due to its moderately unstable political scene. There are only a handful of hotels, and casinos are included in a couple of them. Setsoto Stadium is a popular place that hosts soccer games (sorry, I mean football) and other athletic events. 

The majority of Lesothans work in agriculture in some capacity. A significant portion of their economy comes in the form of remittances from abroad. And although Lesotho has coveted natural resources in water and diamonds, most of the people who live here live under the global standard of poverty and the country suffers from a low Human Development Index. However, some of the world’s largest diamonds have been discovered in Lesothan mines, and a number of international textile and garment companies have factories in Lesotho, but it’s not reaching the people. Lesotho has one of the highest HIV/AIDS rates in the world, and I’m sure this is significantly affecting their work force. 

The vast majority of people in Lesotho practice some denomination of Christianity, pretty much evenly divided between Protestant and Catholic. Indigenous religions as well as religions from other areas (Buddhist, Hindu, Bahá’í, Muslim) are also commonly found throughout Lesotho. 

Sesotho (or sometimes written as Sotho) is the national and official language of Lesotho, used in business and government. Because of the country’s history with Britain, English also remains as an official administrative language. 

Lesotho is one of the world’s highest countries. Its altitude has much to do with its culture: one of their cultural clothing items is a brightly colored blanket. Their conical grass hats (called mokorotlo) are so iconic, it’s on their flag. The highest pub in Africa is located in Lesotho. Many travelers who stop there come to see the mountain views and especially the Sani Pass. Lesotho not only has influences on its culture from various southern African cultures, but also from British, Dutch (Boers), and Indian/Asian influences. I’m excited about this meal for one reason: I get to buy rooibos tea.

Up next: art and literature

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