The San people were the indigenous occupants of what is now Lesotho. Examples of their rock art may be seen across the area’s mountains.
In 1822, King Moshoeshoe I established the current Lesotho, then known as Basutoland, as a single state. Moshoeshoe, the son of Mokhachane, a Bakoteli lineage minor chief, established his own clan and rose to prominence about 1804. Between 1821 and 1823, he and his followers resided at the Butha-ButheMountain, joining with old enemies in fight against the Lifaqane, which was connected with Shaka Zulu’s rule from 1818 to 1828.
Following the British takeover of the Cape Colony from the French-allied Dutch in 1795, the state’s subsequent development was based on disputes between British and Dutch colonists fleeing the Cape Colony and later connected with the Orange River Sovereignty and subsequent Orange Free State. Between 1837 and 1855, Moshoeshoe I welcomed missionaries from the Paris Evangelical Missionary Society, Thomas Arbousset, Eugène Casalis, and Constant Gosselin, to Morija, where they established orthography and printed works in the Sesotho language. Casalis, who served as a translator and provided foreign policy counsel, assisted in the establishment of diplomatic channels and the acquisition of weapons for use against the invading Europeans and the Griqua people.
Starting in May–June 1838, trekboers from the Cape Colony arrived on the western boundaries of Basutoland and claimed land rights, beginning with Jan de Winnaar, who established in the Matlakeng region. As additional Boers moved into the region, they attempted to colonize the land between the two rivers, even north of the Caledon, saying that the Sotho people had abandoned it. Following that, Moshoeshoe signed a contract with the British Governor of the Cape Colony, Sir George Thomas Napier, that annexed the Orange River Sovereignty, where many Boers had resided. In 1848, these enraged Boers were defeated in a short conflict. A British force was beaten by the Basotho army at Kolonyama in 1851, sparking a humiliating conflict for the British. After repelling another British assault in 1852, Moshoeshoe made an appeal to the British commander, which resulted in a diplomatic settlement, before defeating the Batlokoa in 1853.
The British withdrew from the area in 1854, and in 1858, Moshoeshoe waged a series of battles against the Boers in the Free State–Basotho War, losing a large part of the western lowlands. The previous conflict concluded in 1867 when Moshoeshoe petitioned Queen Victoria, who consented to establish Basutoland a British protectorate in 1868. In 1869, the British negotiated a contract with the Boers at Aliwal North that established the borders of Basutoland, and subsequently Lesotho, essentially reducing Moshoeshoe’s Kingdom to half its former size by surrendering the western provinces.
Following the cession in 1869, the British first moved duties from Moshoeshoe’s capital in Thaba Bosiu to a police camp on the northwest frontier, Maseru, until Basutoland was administered by the Cape Colony in 1871. Moshoeshoe died on March 11, 1870, bringing the traditional period to a close and ushering in the colonial era. He was laid to rest in Thaba Bosiu. Between 1871 to 1884, during the early years of British administration, Basutoland was handled similarly to other areas that had been forcibly acquired, much to the displeasure of the Basotho. This resulted in the 1881 Gun War. Basutoland’s status as a protectorate was restored in 1884, with Maseru re-established as its capital, although it remained subject to direct control by a governor, despite effective internal authority being held by traditional chiefs.
Basutoland achieved independence from Britain in 1966 and became the Kingdom of Lesotho.
The governing Basotho National Party (BNP) lost the first post-independence general elections in January 1970, with 23 seats against the Basutoland Congress Party’s 36. Prime Minister Leabua Jonathan refused to hand up power to the Basotho Congress Party (BCP), declaring himself Tona Kholo (Sesotho for “prime minister”) and imprisoning the BCP leadership.
The BCP launched a revolt and subsequently received training in Libya for its Lesotho Liberation Army (LLA) while posing as Azanian People’s Liberation Army (APLA) troops of the Pan Africanist Congress (PAC). The 178-strong LLA was saved from their Tanzanian base by the financial aid of a Maoist PAC official in 1978 after being deprived of guns and supplies by the Sibeko faction of the PAC, but they began the guerrilla campaign with just a handful of outdated firearms. After the main army was destroyed in northern Lesotho, insurgents conducted intermittent but generally ineffective assaults. When the BCP’s head, Ntsu Mokhehle, moved to Pretoria, the campaign was badly harmed. In the early 1980s, the administration of Leabua Jonathan intimidated and assaulted many Basotho who sympathized with the exiled BCP. Benjamin Masilo’s family was assaulted in September 1981. Edgar Mahlomola Motuba was kidnapped and killed a few days later.
From 1966 until January 1970, the BNP governed the country. What followed was a de facto administration headed by Dr. Leabua Jonathan until 1986, when it was deposed by a military coup. KingMoshoeshoe II, who had previously been a ceremonial king, was given executive powers by the Transitional Military Council that came to power. However, the King was driven into exile in 1987 after submitting a six-page memorandum outlining his vision for Lesotho’s constitution, which would have granted him greater executive powers if the military government had agreed. His son was crowned King Letsie III.
Major General Justin Metsing Lekhanya, the head of the military junta, was deposed in 1991 and replaced by Major General Elias Phisoana Ramaema, who turned up control to a democratically elected BCP administration in 1993. Moshoeshoe II returned from exile as a regular citizen in 1992. Following the restoration of democratic rule, King Letsie III unsuccessfully attempted to convince the BCP administration to restore his father (Moshoeshoe II) as head of state.
After the BCP administration failed to restore his father, Moshoeshoe II, according to Lesotho’s constitution, Letsie III launched a military-backed coup that overthrew the BCP government in August 1994. The new administration was not fully recognized by the international community. Southern African Development Community (SADC) member nations are negotiating the restoration of the BCP government. One of the requirements Letsie III proposed was that his father be re-installed as head of state. After protracted negotiations, the BCP government was reinstated, and Letsie III abdicated in favor of his father in 1995, but ascended the throne again when Moshoeshoe II died at the age of fifty-seven in an alleged road accident when his car plunged off a mountain road in the early hours of 15 January 1996. According to the authorities, Moshoeshoe departed at 1 a.m. to see his livestock in Matsieng and was returning to Maseru through the Maluti Mountains when his vehicle went off the road.
The governing BCP split in 1997 due to leadership disagreements. Prime Minister Ntsu Mokhehle established a new party, the Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD), and was supported by a majority of parliamentarians, allowing him to form a new administration. Pakalitha Mosisili took over as party leader when Mokhehle died, and the LCD won the general election in 1998. Despite the fact that the elections were deemed free and fair by local and international observers, as well as a special commission established by SADC, the opposition political parties disputed the results.
Protests by the opposition in the nation grew in intensity, culminating in a peaceful rally outside the royal palace in August 1998. Exact specifics of what happened next are hotly debated in both Lesotho and South Africa. While soldiers from the Botswana Defence Force were welcomed, tensions with South African National Defence Force personnel were high, culminating in violence. Sporadic riots became more common when South African soldiers raised a South African flag above the Royal Palace. By the time the SADC troops left in May 1999, most of Maseru’s city was in ruins, while the southern provincial capital cities of Mafeteng and Mohale’s Hoek had lost more than a third of their commercial real estate. Several South Africans and Basotho were also killed in the conflict.
In December 1998, an Interim Political Authority (IPA) was established with the task of evaluating the country’s election system. To guarantee that the opposition was represented in the National Assembly, the IPA developed a proportional election system. The new method kept the current 80 elected Assembly members but added 40 proportionally filled seats. In May 2002, elections were conducted under this new system, and the LCD won again, with 54 percent of the vote. However, for the first time, opposition political parties won a substantial number of seats, and Lesotho had its first peaceful election, despite minor anomalies and threats of violence from Major General Lekhanya. All 40 proportional seats are now held by nine opposition parties, with the BNP having the biggest share (21). The LCD controls 79 of the 80 constituency seats. Despite the fact that its elected MPs serve in the National Assembly, the BNP has filed numerous legal challenges to the elections, including a recount, but none have been successful.
On August 30, 2014, an attempted military coup occurred, causing the incumbent Prime Minister to escape to South Africa for a short period of time.