The Basotho of Southern Africa

  Video Download

28 Jan 2008


· History  · Heritage · Hope

 October 4th is Independence Day for the mountain kingdom of Lesotho. This day provides an opportunity to celebrate the rich heritage of the proud and peaceful people known as the Basotho.

 Some of the celebrations reflect the history of the early 1800’s in which much of South Africa was in turmoil with fighting among the various clans and tribes.  King Moshoeshoe, … through his wisdom and leadership skills, … brought these warring factions together through alliances and marriages rather than fighting.  In 1824, King Moshoeshoe moved his people to the mountain stronghold of Thaba Bosiu where he was able to consolidate his power base and bring into being the Basotho nation.  From the top of this mountain fortress, King Moshoeshoe could easily see Hat Mountain.  This mountain has become the symbol of the Basotho People and is the model for the hat worn by many.

 Today, … all that remains on the Thaba Bosiu plateau are the ruins of that infant nation and the graves of King Moshoeshoe, his family, and subsequent leaders … but the nation continues to live on in the hearts and minds of the people.

 Maseru is the capital city of Lesotho and it is here in the lowlands that most of the Basotho of this mountain kingdom live and work.  In the distance, rise the Maluti Mountains … the pride and joy of the Basotho.  The rugged mountains constitute about two-thirds of the country with peaks rising to over 11,000 feet.  It is a beautiful sight to see these mountains green with new growth in the summer or blanketed with snow during the winter!  Consequently, Lesotho is often called … “the Switzerland of Africa” … “the Kingdom in the Sky” … and the “Roof of Africa.”

 Travel into the mountains has always been difficult.  Some villages are only accessible by 4-wheel drive truck … others may be reached by small airplane if an airstrip has been carved out of the hillside … while others are only reached by horseback or on foot.  The sure-footed Basotho pony is dearly loved by the Basotho and provides transport to trading posts or towns for collecting supplies.  Most often, donkeys carry the burden of transporting bags of maize to the village for grinding into meal.

 Here, isolated in the mountains, Basotho live as they have for many years … in round, stone huts with the minimum of furnishings … getting water from streams or using spring water piped to the community faucet … collecting cow dung and then drying and storing it to be used as fuel for cooking and heating … milking their cows by hand … fixing the thatched roof of their home.  New technology is rare but it is slowly expanding into the rural villages.  This preschool obtains electric power from solar panels on the roof.  Even a satellite receiver dish may sometimes be found in these isolated mountains.

 In the midst of these new influences the Basotho strongly hold onto their culture, tradition, and religion.

 The Basotho have a patriarchal society.  A woman becomes a part of the husband’s family.  This takes place when lobola, or bride price, is paid by the man to the girl’s family.  This may be 20 cows or the equivalent in money.

 The traditional Basotho religion involves the worship of the “balimo” … the ancestor spirits.  They believe that the deceased can bring misfortune or illness to their life if the laws and customs of society are violated.  So they go to a witch doctor to find out what to do to please their ancestors.  .  The beads around their necks identify the village witch doctors.  Some people wear amulets to protect them from evil spirits.

 The crocodile is the symbol of the royal family of Lesotho.  The government is based on a hierarchy of chiefdoms with the king of Lesotho … a descendent of King Moshoeshoe …. as the paramount chief of Lesotho.  Each village has its own chief.  A visit to any village requires greeting the chief and an explanation for the purpose of the visit.  Disputes within the village are brought to the chief for mediation.  The land is considered community property and its allocation and use is under the control of the chief.

 Livestock, … sheep, goats, cows, donkeys, and horses, … represent the principle wealth of the Basotho here in the mountains.  These animals also represent the major source of income for the village.  Each year the owners pay a small fee when they register their livestock with the village chief. 

 The village chief records the ownership of the livestock but herd boys care for them on a daily basis. These young herd boys may begin this difficult work when they are only 5 or 6 years old.  Starting at sunup, they guide the livestock to forage places on the treeless slopes, hills, and valleys.  In the evening, they return to a place where the animals are confined in stone kraals.  These herd boys may be gone from home for months at a time as they journey through the mountains.  Winter is severe at times and the herd boys are occasionally left stranded by snow storms.

 In the spring, sheep are brought to the shearing barn.  Shearing the sheep is done entirely by hand.  The docile nature of the sheep and the skill of the workers make this process seem routine.

 **On camera comments, Terry, re inspection --- “These folks are trained by the government to grade the wool based on quality, the length, and the thickness and so on.  They’ll put it in the bins to the left behind there by different grades and then the owner of the sheep gets paid a higher price per kilo for the better grade wool as opposed to a lesser grade.”

**On camera comments, Terry, re income --- “ Annual sale of wool from someone’s flocks is a major annual income maker for some of the families … quite a few of the families.”

 When the job is finished, the sheep wait for their return to pasture.

 The white plastic bag flying outside a home indicates another source of income … home brew.  Making the alcoholic beverage starts with grinding the grain, mixing with water and then cooking  over an open fire.  After cooking, it is allowed to cool and ferment.  The drink is filtered and the mash is squeezed by hand to get as much alcohol as possible.  The resulting alcohol content is somewhat low and it may take all day to get drunk.  … At the end of the day, these participants gladly demonstrate the success of their endeavor.

 Repairing mountain roads provides an additional income for many of the village residents.  The work is hard and men and women work side by side to improve the roads connecting remote villages.  The construction of paved roads connecting some of the larger towns is making travel much easier.

 Significant improvement in the mountain roads was made during the construction of the Katse Dam and the Mohale Dam.  These dams now provide electricity for Lesotho and much needed income from the sale of water to South Africa.

 Subsistence farming and working at odd jobs makes life hard for the Basotho who live in the mountains.  Pastures always look greener on the other side of the fence … and, in this case, …on the other side of the mountains, …in the Lesotho lowlands.  So …with a hope of finding a better life, many Basotho have journeyed to Maseru.  Those who have sewing skills may find work in one of the many foreign-owned garment factories … working 10 hours a day … 6 days a week.  Their meager salary of $3.75 a day means that most workers will walk to and from work in order to save the daily transport cost of 60 cents.  Others may find jobs as house-workers or gardeners … or … try to make ends meet by selling fruit and vegetables along the road.  Yet, … at the end of the day … many people find no work at all!  Men who do not work sometimes waste away their day drinking alcohol at local houses flying white plastic bags on long poles. 

 A clear disparity in living standards is evident throughout Maseru.  While some homes are very nice with gated entries, … others just provide a shelter with no electricity or water.  While some people wear suits and ties, … others wear their only set of clothes.  While some people drive nice cars, … others walk.

 Basotho desire a better life and place their hope for this in education.  Schooling is only free for the first few years.  After that, families struggle to pay for school fees, books, and uniforms.  Their sacrifice rests on the hope of providing a better future for their children … as well as for themselves … since children are expected to care for parents as they become elderly.

 At the National University of Lesotho, just 30 km from Maseru, the “cream of the crop” of Basotho students live and study.  Their hopes are poured into their education … hopeful that it will provide the way to a better job and standard of living.  In reality, when these students graduate, they find that there are very few jobs available jobs in Lesotho. … So, many then, … place their hope in finding something across the border in South Africa … where the pastures look even greener.

 But, life is also hard here for the 3 million Basotho living in the Free State Province of South Africa.  Some live and work on white-owned farms … as their forefathers did for generations.  Others live in the “locations” or “townships” … the poorer, less developed parts of towns.  The fortunate men find work in the coal, gold, and diamond mines of South Africa.  Their earnings support their families back in Lesotho.  But, … unable to find work, …   there are many who return to Lesotho without hope … and daily visit the flying white plastic bags.

 Sundays will find many Basotho attending church.   In Lesotho, many people are Roman Catholic and look back to the 1988 visit of the Pope.  Some attend the Catholic Cathedral in Maseru.  Others attend the nearby Anglican Church or perhaps the Lesotho Evangelical Church.  For the most part, church attendance is a cultural practice in which traditional religions are sometimes mixed with Christianity.  Most of the grave markers include a cross of some sort indicating their Christian affiliation. 

 Those who have a true relationship with Jesus are scoffingly referred to as the “bapalosoa” … the “saved ones” … Some lack depth of Biblical teaching and rely on experiences and feelings. …  Some teach a prosperity gospel and give people a false hope.

Christians who are not well grounded in their faith are easy prey for cults and false religions. Groups such as the Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses are present as are non-Christian religions such as the Bahai and Islam. The Islamic influence is growing in both the Free State and Lesotho.

 The ineffectiveness of the people’s religion in influencing moral standards is seen in the HIV prevalence among the Basotho. One out of every three adults in Lesotho is infected with HIV.  The hope of the nation seems to rest on AIDS education based on the use of condoms.  Billboards spread the message … use condoms to prevent AIDS!  Yet, … the numbers keep rising and more people keep dying.  Funeral homes, coffin makers, and gravediggers are kept busy.

 King Moshoeshoe became convinced that the Christian teachings would be of great value.  The tree (pix 9765) planted on Thaba Bosiu by the first missionaries invited by the king continues to grow … as does the Christian missionary community in Lesotho.

 “Youth with a Mission” operates the Beautiful Gate Child Care Centre for abandoned and HIV positive babies.  “Scripture Union of Lesotho” ministers on the school campuses.  “Life Ministry,” also known as Campus Crusade for Christ, builds disciples on the university campus.  “World Vision” works in rural development projects while presenting the Gospel. “African Inland Mission” works in the mountains building disciples in villages while incorporating some agricultural ministry. “Mission Aviation Fellowship” provides transport for the Lesotho Flying Doctor service as well as for missionaries to remote mountain villages.

 The Baptist work among the Basotho echoes the words of Jesus … …”Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.”  The focus is to equip lay people for ministry in evangelism and discipleship and to develop leadership ... resulting in the planting of new Baptist churches.

 The Basotho have a rich history and heritage.  The foresight and wisdom of their first King … Moshoeshoe … opened the door for the Gospel.  The present hope of the Basotho for a better life is still to be found in the Gospel … through a relationship with Jesus Christ, ... the living hope.


“We have put our hope in the living God, who is the Savior of all men.”

… 1 Timothy 4:10 (Read: First Timothy, chapter 4, verse 10)




Phonetic pronunciation:



Lesotho –                 LÇ-sue-too


Basotho –         Ba-sue-too  (same sound for ba as in ma … for grandma)


Moshoeshoe –                 MÜ-shway-shway


Thaba Bosiu –                Ta-ba   (a sound as in ma in grandma)  BÜ-see-oo

(there is no “th” sound in Sesotho .. it is a hard “t” sound)


Maseru-            Ma-sÇ-roo  (ma as in grandma)


Maluti –             Ma-loo-tee  (ma as in grandma)


Kraals -             (sound as in balls)


(Note that the Sesotho u all have the oo sound as in too)




Lobola -            lÜ-bÜ-lu  (u as in umbrella)


Balimo -            ba-dee-mÜ  (a sound as in grandma)


Katse -              Cot-see  (cot or caught … NOT cat)


Mohale              MÜ-ha-lee            (ha as in hall)


Bapalosoa            ba-pa-lÜ-swa  (all of the a sounds as in grandma)


Statement About Video Use

The videos and other media material produced by CRF Media are to be used as a resource material for increasing the awareness of and involvement with the specific people groups featured in the material.  The information is made available to evangelical Christian organizations and individuals who commit to sharing the information with others.

The videos produced by CRF Media are not for sale.  They are free to qualified organizations and individuals with no postage or handling charges. We mail the material only to churches or other qualified organizations.  We do not mail to individuals without independent qualifying verification.

U.S. copyright laws protect all media material produced by CRF Media. The material is not to be copied for distribution without the written consent of CRF Media.

Contact us for more information.