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A small landlocked country entirely surrounded by the Republic of South Africa.


Lesotho lies in the central and highest part of the Drakensberg Mountains, where summer rains cause severe soil erosion and in winter the temperature can be as low as –16°C (2°F). The Orange River rises here, in a terrain most suitable for grazing sheep and mountain goats, and only in its lower valley and to the west is there much scope for cultivation.


South Africa dominates the economy of Lesotho, being the principal trading partner. Almost half Lesotho's adult male population work as migrant workers in South Africa, and their remittances are an important source of revenue. The major exports are manufactures, wool and mohair, food, and livestock. Erosion caused by over‐grazing makes soil conservation an urgent priority; droughts are also recurrent. Diamonds are the chief mineral resource; the South African firm de Beers owns 75% of the currently non‐operative diamond mines; the Highlands water and power project will supply water to South Africa and hydroelectricity to Lesotho. Tourism is an expanding source of income. Limited industry includes food‐processing, textiles, and metal‐processing. Lesotho is a member of the Southern African Customs Union.


Lesotho was founded as Basutoland in 1832 by Moshoeshoe I, who built a stronghold on Thaba Bosigo and unified the Sotho (Basuto). After fighting both Boers and British, Moshoeshoe put himself under British protection in 1868, and until 1880 Basutoland was administered from Cape Colony. In 1884 it was restored to the direct control of the British government with the Paramount Chief as titular head. When the Union of South Africa was formed in 1910, Basutoland came under the jurisdiction of the British High Commissioner in South Africa. It was re‐named Lesotho and became independent in 1966 as a constitutional monarchy, with a National Assembly (1974) to work with hereditary chiefs. The National Assembly was disbanded in 1986 after a South African‐backed military coup, by which the King was to rule through a Military Council. In November 1990 King Constantine Moshoeshoe II was deposed and replaced by his son, Letsie III. As chairman of the Military Council, Colonel Elias Ramaena held all effective power. He was ousted in a bloodless coup in 1991 by Major‐General Justin Lekhanya, who established a democratic constitution. Multiparty elections were held in 1993 but tensions between the government and opposition parties led to a political crisis. Letsie III suspended the government and the constitution in 1994. After a negotiated settlement the government was restored and Letsie III abdicated in favour of his father, who returned to the throne in 1995. King Moshoeshoe II was killed in a car accident in 1996 and Letsie III returned to the throne. Allegations of electoral fraud in 1998 led to an army uprising that was quelled by South African troops. A transitional body to organize electoral reform was established and elections under the new system were held in 2002. The country has one of the highest rates of AIDS and HIV infection in the world.


Subjects: World History — African Studies.

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