The Basotho are a group from a cluster of tribes that were united under King Moshoeshoe (Moo shway shway) during the early 1800s. They consist of Sotho (one of the ancient ethnic-tribal groups, or nations, which originally populated Africa), San (bushmen) who were native to the area, and others who were fleeing the “Mfecane ”. Many of them migrated from the Transvaal region (now the Limpopo Province of the Republic of South Africa [RSA]) to the Orange Free State (now the Free State Province of RSA), and finally into the mountainous region which is now the Kingdom of Lesotho.
The Kingdom of Lesotho is an area of 30,555 square kilometers (85% mountainous) that is totally surrounded by the RSA. Approximately 2.3 million people live in the Kingdom. Approximately 3 million other Basotho live in the RSA, mostly in the Free State Province, in areas adjacent to the Kingdom. However, many have migrated to the major cities of RSA, with a large concentration in Johannesburg.
Lesotho is an independent country with a constitutional monarch (King), prime minister, and parliament composed of a combination of elected representatives and traditional chiefs. However, the government continues to be highly unstable and the RSA continues to exert major influence to maintain some degree of stability.
The people consider themselves Basotho, and speak the Sesotho language although they are a mixture of Sotho, Zulu, Ndebele, Tswana, Xhosa, San, and others. There are some cultural differences, however, this is not a major, or dividing issue. They are sometimes referred to as “Southern Sothos”.
The Lesotho economy is basically agricultural, however, only about 10% of the land is arable, and the country is an ecological disaster. Therefore, severe poverty is widespread, especially among the mountain people. Consequently the lowlands, which is only 15% of the land mass, is extremely overpopulated. The poverty of Lesotho causes that in neighboring countries, such as Botswana, Swaziland and RSA to pale by comparison.
It is estimated that over 35% of the people are infected with HIV/AIDS, and there is very little health care available to the population in general, and practically none for the AIDS victims.
There has long been a Christian missionary presence in Lesotho, but sadly very few people have a “saving knowledge of Jesus Christ”. Ninety percent claim to be Christian, however, most of those are Roman Catholics and adherents of African Independent (or indigenous) Churches that mixes the Bible (mostly the Old Testament) with African Traditional Religion (animism and ancestor worship). The Basotho tend to ridicule Evangelical Christians, therefore, growth has been very slow among evangelicals.
The Southeastern Africa Cluster (SEAC) is engaged in Lesotho through the Basotho Evangelical Team (BAT). These efforts have shown that God is working among the Basotho people throughout the region, which includes the RSA’s Free State Province. Therefore, we are working, praying and trusting God to greatly expand this work.