Last Updated: Monday, 05 October 2015, 08:59 GMT

World Directory of Minorities and Indigenous Peoples - Lesotho : Overview

Publisher Minority Rights Group International
Publication Date 2007
Cite as Minority Rights Group International, World Directory of Minorities and Indigenous Peoples - Lesotho : Overview, 2007, available at: [accessed 5 October 2015]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.


Lesotho is entirely surrounded by South Africa. It is the only country in the world that lies entirely over 1,000 meters above sea level, and its elevation results in high precipitation. Lesotho exports water and hydro-electric power to South Africa.


Main languages: Sesotho (official), English (official), Zulu, Xhosa

Main religions: Christianity (primarily Roman Catholicism), indigenous beliefs

The population is almost entirely Basotho, with around one per cent consisting of European, Asian and Xhosa.

[Source: Ethnologue, various years for small minority languages. ]


Bantu peoples entirely displaced Khoisan hunter-gatherers, who were the first inhabitants of today's Lesotho.

The territory was part of a powerful Sotho kingdom under attack from both Boers and Zulus when Britain offered protection to the new 'Basutoland', in return for loss of land, in 1868.

Basutoland remained under British rule until independence in 1966, when it was re-named Lesotho.


Today, Lesotho is a constitutional monarchy. It has had a rocky transition to democracy, and its first peaceful election took place in 2002. Recent years have seen reports of police abuse and corruption among the security services. However, judicial decisions are generally respected, and the media are generally free to criticize the government. Government and societal tolerance for freedom of religion is well established. Traditional and customary laws severely restrict the rights of women.

Lesotho has one of the highest rates of HIV-AIDS infection in the world, and this has compounded its general poverty. The ongoing Lesotho Highlands Water Project, launched in 1986 with the aid of multilateral and bilateral loans, has greatly boosted the country's export of water and electricity to South Africa. It has also resulted in bribery scandals implicating local officials as well as German and British companies.

Current state of minorities and indigenous peoples

There are no ethnic minorities represented in either chamber of parliament or in the government cabinet, perhaps not surprising given the near-homogeneity of the country.

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