While on a South African holiday you should also visit Lesotho, which is also known as the Mountain Kingdom and the Kingdom in the Sky. Lesotho is the only country in the world with all its territory above 1 000 m. Except for the Lowlands in the west, it is an extremely rugged land, characterised by high mountains dissected by deep river valleys. Lesotho is home to the Basotho people, who emerged as a nation between 1815 and 1820 when Moshoeshoe united the remnants of various Sesotho-speaking tribes dispersed by the Mfecane. Disputes with the Voortrekkers over land led to three wars between 1858 and 1867, and in March 1868 Basotholand was annexed by the British. When the territory’s borders were demarcated, the area west of the Caledon River, referred to by the Basotho as the Conquered Territory, was excluded. In 1884 Basotholand became a High Commission territory, and at independence, on 4 October 1966, changed its name to Lesotho.
Blankets were first imported into Basotholand in the 1860s, and still form an integral part of Basotho life. During ceremonies such as the circumcision of boys, a blanket indicates whether a man is married or not, and blankets are also worn on special occasions. Another hallmark of the Basotho is the distinctive conical straw hat, known variously as tlhoro, mokorotlo or molianyeo. It has been suggested that the hat owes its shape to Qiloane, a cone-shaped mountain near Moshoeshoe’s stronghold of Thaba Bosiu.
Although Lesotho’s road network has improved considerably during the last 20 years, the Basotho pony is still an important means of transport in the remote mountain villages. Small-stock farming with angora goats and sheep is the main economic activity, while maize and vegetables are cultivated in river valleys. Much of the country’s income is, however, derived from migrant labour, although the massive Lesotho Highlands Water Project, which began in 1991, has provided a much-needed economic boost to this poor and landlocked country.
Visit Maseru, the capital of Lesotho, on your South African holiday. It lies on the eastern bank of the Mohokare, or Caledon River, and its Sesotho name is translated as ‘the place of red sandstone’. The city developed around a police camp that was established in 1869 by Commandant JH Bowker, Agent of the British High Commissioner for South Africa. Situated at a ford across the river, a bustling trading centre soon sprung up. During the Gun War (1880–81), the settlement came under frequent attack, and several outlying buildings were set alight when Maseru was attacked in October 1880. In 1884, when the first Resident Commissioner, Colonel Marshall Clarke, was appointed, Maseru became the administrative centre for Basotholand.
The town’s development accelerated with the opening of a railway line and a road bridge across the Caledon River in December 1905. In the 1960s, many South Africans were attracted to Maseru when casinos – prohibited in South Africa at that time – opened in the capital. However, tourist numbers dropped dramatically following the introduction of legal gambling in the ‘independent’ homelands. Political instability in the latter half of 1998 resulted in the burning of several buildings in Maseru.
A short way out of Maseru the road ascends along a pass through Lancers’ Gap, a natural sandstone gateway giving access to the Berea Plateau. The name is somewhat misleading, though, as the route was apparently never used by the 12th Royal Lancers, commanded by Sir George Cathcart, who were defeated by the Basotho at Seliba-sa-Masole in 1852. From the summit of the pass, there are fine views over Maseru and the Conquered Territory. The Sesotho name of the pass, Khalong-la-Ratsosane, honours a headman who lived in the area in the 1830s.
...is the most important historic site in Lesotho and well worth a visit during your South African holiday. It was here that the Basotho nation was consolidated by its founder, Moshoeshoe. After establishing his first stronghold at Butha-Buthe, Moshoeshoe moved south and occupied a flat-topped mountain on the Berea Plateau in 1824. This impregnable natural fortress became known as Thaba Bosiu (Mountain of Night), and from here Moshoeshoe united various scattered groups of Sotho into a new nation.