New Internationalist


April 1992

new internationalist
issue 230 - April 1992

Country profile: Lesotho

Where is Lesotho Lesotho is probably best known to outsiders for being the country which is an island surrounded by South Africa, and dominated by it in many ways. Nonetheless, Lesotho has witnessed much in present times.

Last year, five years after Justin Lekhanya ousted Chief Leabua Jonathon, a new leader - Colonel Elias Rameana - took over as head of the military council which now governs the country.

While that transition was relatively peaceful, 1991 also saw riots and looting in Maseru, the capital, and some other towns. The rioters' ire was directed predominantly at non-Basotho businesses, which some believe was a manifestation of increasing economic frustrations facing the country.

Lesotho has never had an easy time of it; lying completely within South Africa's embrace, it is highly dependent on its more powerful neighbour. South Africa only had to close the borders - as it did in 1986 - for that vulnerability to become all too apparent. With just 12 per cent of the country as arable land, Lesotho has traditionally been forced to earn money by exporting what it does have in abundance - men and women - to the farms and especially the gold mines of South Africa. Some 105,000 migrant workers were working over the border in 1989, not counting illegal ones. The numbers have dropped but remain high at 96,000 this year, out of a population of 1.6 million.

This high scale of migration has stamped an indelible mark on the social fabric of the country. Female-headed households have always been very common, the women working the land and bringing up families while they await their husbands' return. Many women become 'gold-widows' since male mortality is relatively high due to the hazards of life in the mines (and the associated lifestyle). Others become de facto 'widows' as husbands form new sexual unions over the border.

Many women drift to Maseru, to scratch a subsistence living selling fruit, sheepskin moccasins or 'fast food' - roasted corn on the cob and pigs' knuckles - along the pavements. They are now being joined by another group - retrenched miners. The loss of these men's remittances is something Lesotho can ill afford. An estimate for 1990 put them at some $320 million for the whole country.

However, the downturn comes at a time when Lesotho is developing a resource that can bring in money - water. The huge water project in the highlands which will sell water to South Africa provides some jobs and will eventually yield a substantial income. Meanwhile, as the political climate warms to South Africa, the benefits the country once had because sanctions encouraged investors to locate production in Lesotho may be lost. No-one would predict easy times ahead for Lesotho.

Gwenda Brophy



LEADER: Colonel Elias Rameana

ECONOMY: GNP per capita $420 (US $20,910)
Main exports: wool, mohair and labour - at any one time some 40-50% of the male labour force may be absent. Some small-scale manufacturing industries such as clothing and furniture have been developed, and there is a small tourist industry based on outdoor activities such as pony-trekking, and handicrafts.
Main imports: food and most other goods, mainly from South Africa.

PEOPLE: 1.8 million

HEALTH: Infant mortality 89 per 1,000 births (US 9 per 1,000)

CULTURE: Lesotho is culturally homogeneous, with most people of the Basotho group.
Languages: Sesotho, English
Religion: Christian and local religions

Sources: The State of World Population 1991; Human Development Report 1991 The State of the Worlds Children 1992; Population Reference Data Sheet, 1990, Population Reference Bureau.

Last profiled in May 1987



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INCOME DISTRIBUTION [image, unknown]
Very skewed; 50% of the population earn 10% of incomes.

1987: [image, unknown]

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LITERACY [image, unknown] [image, unknown] [image, unknown]
Around 65%, much higher than in many other developing countries.

1987: [image, unknown] [image, unknown]

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SELF-RELIANCE [image, unknown] [image, unknown]
Very heavily dependent on aid
in general, and on South Africa.

1987: [image, unknown]

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FREEDOM [image, unknown] [image, unknown]
Although a military government,
not that hardline.

1987: [image, unknown] [image, unknown]

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POSITION OF WOMEN [image, unknown] [image, unknown]
Legal discrimination coexists with high representation in jobs because of
absence of men.

1987: [image, unknown]

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LIFE EXPECTANCY [image, unknown] [image, unknown]
59 years (US 76 years). Male mortality is high partly because of mine deaths.

1987: [image, unknown] [image, unknown]



Politics now

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Military rule continues


NI star rating

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previous page choose a different magazine go to the contents page go to the NI home page [image, unknown]

This feature was published in the April 1992 issue of New Internationalist. To read more, buy this issue or subscribe.

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This article was originally published in issue 230

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