Lesotho has a long and rich tradition of producing newspapers in both Sesotho and English. The two prominent churches in Lesotho, the Paris Evangelical Mission Society (PEMS) and the Roman Catholic Church, are responsible for Lesotho's two longest-running papers. The first newspaper to be published on a monthly basis was Leselinyana le Lesotho, which first appeared in 1863. Written in Sesotho, Leselinyana le Lesotho was the earliest African-language paper in southern Africa.
Not only has Lesotho been dependent on labor exports to South Africa for income and imports of consumer goods; the country is also landlocked withing South Africa and, therefore, to a large extent dependent on the transport within communications infrastructure of its neighbor. The integration with South Africa its manifested in Lesotho's membership of the Southern African Customs Union (SACU) and the Common Monetary Agreement (CMA). Through the revenue-sharing arrangements of the customs union, Lesotho depends more than any other SACU member on trade-generated revenue to finance government expenditure. To this must be added that Lesotho is a very small economy, both in the absolute sense and relative to South Africa whose GDP in 2000 was 140 times larger than that of Lesotho.
Since the passage of the African Growth and Opportunity Act by the U.S. Congress in 1998, Lesotho has emerged as the seventh largest African exporter of goods to the United States. Lesotho's progress in opening its economy, privatizing state industries, restoring democratic governance, and respecting human rights has qualified its exports under this legislation for preferential access to U.S. markets. Virtually all of these exports are denim textiles and knits produced in new factories that have sprouted in Lesotho's Thetsane, Maputose, Nyenye, and Mafeteng industrial sites.
Relations with South Africa deteriorated after that nation granted independence in 1976 to the Bantu homeland of Transkei, on Lesotho's southeastern border. When Lesotho (like all other nations except South Africa) declined to recognize Transkei, the Transkeian authorities closed the border with Lesotho, which also angered South Africa by harboring members of the banned African National Congress (ANC), an exiled South African insurgent group. On 9 December 1982, South African troops raided private residences of alleged ANC members in Maseru; 42 persons were killed, including at least 12 Lesotho citizens. In the early 1980s, South Africa used economic pressures against Lesotho.
Lesotho gained independence from Britain on October 4, 1966. In January 1970 the ruling Basotho National Party (BNP) appeared set to lose the first post-independence general elections when Prime Minister Leabua Jonathan annulled the election. He refused to cede power to the Basotho Congress Party (BCP) and imprisoned its leadership. The BNP ruled by decree until January 1986 when a military coup forced the BNP government out of office. The Military Council that came into power granted executive powers to King Moshoeshoe II, who was until then a ceremonial monarch. In 1990, however, the King was forced into exile after a falling out with the army. His son was installed as King Letsie III.
More than 99% of Lesotho's population is ethnically Basotho; other ethnic groups include Europeans, Asians, and Xhosa. The country's population is 90% Christian, the majority of whom are Roman Catholic. Other religions are Islam, Hindu, and indigenous beliefs. Sesotho and English are official languages, and other languages spoken include Xhosa.
King Moshoeshoe (pronounced ‘mo-shwe-shwe’ or ‘moshesh’) is the father figure of Lesotho’s history. He began life as a local chief of a small village. Around 1820 he led his villagers to Butha-Buthe, a mountain stronghold, where they survived the first battles of the difaqane (forced migration), caused by the violent expansion of the nearby Zulu state. The loosely organised southern Sotho society managed to survive due largely to the adept political and diplomatic abilities of the king. In 1824 Moshoeshoe moved his people to Thaba-Bosiu, a mountaintop that was even easier to defend.
After the king refused to approve the replacement in Feb. 1990 of individuals dismissed by Justin Metsino Lekhanya, the chairman of the military council, the latter stripped the king of his executive power. Then in early March, Lekhanya sent the king into exile. In November, the king was dethroned, and his son was sworn in as King Letsie III. Lekhanya was himself forced to resign in April 1991, and Col. Ramaema became the new chairman in May. In Jan. 1995, he abdicated in favor of his father , Moshoeshoe II. Letsie again became crown prince. In 1996, however, King Moshoeshoe died in an automobile accident, and Letsie again assumed the throne.
Lesotho (formerly Basutoland) was constituted as a native state under British protection by a treaty signed with the native chief Moshoeshoe in 1843. It was annexed to Cape Colony in 1871, but in 1884 it was restored to direct control by the Crown. The colony of Basutoland became the independent nation of Lesotho on Oct. 4, 1966, with King Moshoeshoe II as sovereign. In the 1970 elections, Ntsu Mokhehle, head of the Basutoland Congress Party, claimed a victory, but Prime Minister Leabua Jonathan declared a state of emergency, suspended the constitution, and arrested Mokhehle. King Moshoeshoe II was briefly exiled.
The first inhabitants of the mountainous region that makes up present-day Lesotho were the hunter–gatherer people known as the Khoisan. They have left many examples of their rock art in the river valleys. Lesotho was settled by the Sotho peoples in the 16th century.