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Landlocked country in southern Africa, an enclave within South Africa.
Lesotho is an independent hereditary monarchy within the Commonwealth. Its 1966 constitution was suspended 1970 and a new constitution adopted 1993, under which a parliamentary system operates. The king is a non-executive head of state. There is a 45-member national assembly, elected by universal suffrage for a five-year term. The king appoints the prime minister on the basis of assembly support. The assembly may be dissolved if the party or parties in power loses its support.
The area now known as Lesotho was originally inhabited by the San, or Bushmen. During the 18th–19th centuries they were superseded by the Sotho, who were being driven southward by the Mfecane (“the shaking-up of peoples”) caused by the rise of the Zulu nation. Under the name of Basutoland, the Sotho nation was founded by Moshoeshoe I (1790–1870) in 1827, and at his request it became a British protectorate 1868. It achieved internal self-government 1965, with the paramount chief Moshoeshoe II as king, and was given full independence as Lesotho 1966.
The Basotho National Party (BNP), a conservative group favoring limited cooperation with South Africa, held power from independence until 1986. Its leader, Chief Leabua Jonathan, became prime minister 1966 and after 1970, when the king's powers were severely curtailed, the country was effectively under the prime minister's control. From 1975 an organization called the Lesotho Liberation Army carried out a number of attacks on BNP members, with alleged South African support. South Africa, while denying complicity, pointed out that Lesotho was allowing the then banned African National Congress (ANC) to use it as a base.
relations with South Africa
Although economically dependent on South Africa, Lesotho openly rejected the policy of apartheid. In retaliation, South Africa tightened its border controls and put pressure on Lesotho to sign a nonaggression pact, similar to the Nkomati Accord between South Africa and Mozambique, but the Lesotho government refused to do so.
In Jan 1986 South Africa imposed a border blockade and later in the month Chief Jonathan was ousted and replaced by the head of the army, General Justin Lekhanya. He announced that all executive and legislative powers would be vested in the king, ruling through a military council chaired by General Lekhanya. A week after the coup about 60 ANC members were deported to Zambia, and on the same day the South African blockade was lifted. South Africa denied playing any part in the coup.
A power struggle developed between King Moshoeshoe and Lekhanya and in Feb 1990 the king was stripped of his powers and went into exile in the UK. In Nov his son was sworn in as a puppet King Letsie III. Meanwhile pressure mounted within the country for a return to democratic government and in April 1991 General Lekhanya was ousted in a military coup led by Col Elias Tutsoane Ramaema. He announced that political parties would be permitted to operate. Moshoeshoe, the former king, returned from exile July 1992 as tribal chief rather than monarch.
In March 1993 a new constitution was adopted and, in the first free elections since 1970, the Basutoland Congress Party won a landslide victory and its leader, Ntsu Mokhehle, became prime minister. Fierce fighting erupted between rival army factions early 1994 but subsided after a settlement was negotiated by the Organization of African Unity. Six months later King Letsie dissolved the assembly and dismissed Mokhehle. Neighboring states, including the newly democratized South Africa, immediately put pressure on King Letsie to reinstate Mokhehle and in Sept 1994 he did. In Jan 1995 Letsie abdicated and King Moshoeshoe II was restored to the throne.
A constitutional monarchy in southern Africa; Also called: Basutoland.