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Basutoland or Lesuto


BASUTOLAND or LESUTO, a district of South Africa, bounded by Natal, the Cape Province and the Orange Free State. It extends from 35' N. to 3o° 3o' S. and from 27° E. to 29° 25' E. The area is estimated at about 11,700 square miles.

Structure and Topography.

The country consists of hori zontal beds of the Stormberg, or highest, series of the Karroo system. These are divided again into Molteno beds, the Red beds, the Cave Sandstone and the Drakenberg Volcanics, the first mentioned being the oldest and therefore the lowest. The volcanic beds attain a maximum thickness of about 4,5ooft. Some of them are amygdaloidal and contain chalcedony and agates, which, when weathered out, often strew the surface of the ground, and were largely used by the Bushmen for making arrow-points, etc. The base of the lavas lies at about 6,5ooft., and may be regarded as a boundary line between two sharply contrasted parts of Basuto land. These beds form a higher, much dissected plateau, which attains its highest point in Mont aux Sources, over II,000ft. high, and which covers probably more than half the total area. This high plateau consists of long, grass-covered slopes, but it is limited on the east and west by very abrupt falls to the lower level of the sandstone and mudstone country below, that is, to Natal on the east, and to the lowland tract in the west. These two great escarp ments are known as the Drakenberg and the Malutis. They do not form straight walls, but have been attacked by erosion, with the result that they consist of a series of mountain peaks (see DRAKENBERG), and great spurs and ridges, alternating with nu merous deep and rugged valleys.

Where erosion has removed the volcanic beds the underlying sandstones and mudstones crop out, and give rise to an entirely different type of scenery. They are exposed in the main valleys of the high plateau—in the Sinqu (or Orange) and the Sinqunyane valleys—but their main outcrop coincides with a strip of com paratively low-lying country in the west, which ranges from about 5,000 to 6,5ooft. above sea-level. The most prominent member of these geological formations is the Cave Sandstone, an ancient loess, which immediately underlies the lavas. It often caps table lands, which are bounded by precipitous cliffs, and which vary greatly in size from the extensive Berea plateau, through isolated flat-topped hills, like Thaba Bosigo, the stronghold of Moshesh, to sharp, needle-shaped pinnacles. Whenever it outcrops on a hill side it forms craggy, precipitous slopes, which generally rule out the possibility of wheeled transport. Along the outcrops occur many caves and shelters which were used by the Bushmen and are still decorated with their paintings. Basutoland is also trav ersed by a large number of sills and dikes of dolerite.

From the upper plateau radiate a number of drainage systems. At Mont aux Sources rises the Tugela, which, after a short course of a mile or so, falls 5,000ft. out of Basutoland down into Natal, and subsequently finds its way to the Indian ocean. The Sinqu, or Orange, rises near the same place, as also does the Wilge. The latter flows northward to the Vaal river, while the former, with its tributaries, the Semena, the Sinqunyane and Caledon, drains practically the whole of Basutoland, and eventually empties itself into the Atlantic.

Climate.—Meteorological records have been insufficient to provide a basis for an accurate description of the Basutoland climate. The annual temperature is said to be about 60° F. In summer the heat is often tempered by the rain-bearing winds from the south-west. In winter cold may be severe, and natives sometimes perish in the mountains. The annual average rainfall is approximately 3o inches. About 70% falls during the five months, November to March, often in heavy thunder showers. The an nual average number of rainy days is probably a little over 8o : this increases to about ioo at Qacha's Nek on the Drakenberg escarpment, along which cloud, mists and cool drizzles are more frequent than elsewhere. Hailstorms are of frequent occurrence. In the mountains snow may fall even in summer.

Vegetation.—Formerly patches of bush or wood grew on the hillsides, and in the kloofs, but they ,have been practically all destroyed by the natives. With the exception of willows, which grow along the streams, timber is very scarce, and dried manure is the standard fuel. Basutoland is essentially a grassland area. In the spring and summer the pastures contain many beautiful flowers, and many species of heath grow in the mountains. Much damage has been done by overstocking, particularly with sheep and goats. Over large areas, especially in the Quthing district, the grasses have been replaced by useless weeds, or by bare slopes. Soil erosion is also a widespread evil. Considerable areas have been cut up into a maze of dongas, sometimes 30f t. deep. Such areas are of course entirely useless, and are serious obstacles to traffic of all kinds.

Fauna.—A few eland, hartebeest, smaller antelopes and hares manage to survive in the more secluded parts, but game is so harried by herd boys and others that it has become scarce. Par tridge and quail may be shot in season and numbers of storks, like the swallows, migrate hither to escape the European winter. Population.—The Bantu population increased from 347,731 in 1904 to 401,807 in 1911 and to 495,937 in 1921. The great ma jority consists of Basuto, a branch of the Bechuana family, but there are also several thousands of Barolong, a few Matabele, and, in the south, considerable numbers of Xosa peoples. In 1921 there were in Basutoland 1,603 Europeans, about a thousand coloured half-breeds and 172 Asiatics. The average density of population increased from 29.7 persons to the square mile in 1904 to 42.44 in 1921. The population, however, is not evenly distributed. Until recent years it was restricted almost entirely to the lowland strip in the west. The mountains had a population of herd boys only in summer. This distribution still holds good in the main, though, owing to pressure of population, and a shortage of land in the lowlands, permanent villages are being formed in the mountains.

Maseru is the chief centre of Basutoland. It is the adminis trative capital and had a population in 1921 of 399 Europeans, 1,890 natives and 3o coloured. In addition to the usual Govern ment offices there are large stores, a hospital, a bank, a church and two boarding houses. Other centres are at Leribe, Hlotse, Teyateyaneng, Mafeteng, Mohale's Hoek, Moyeni and Qacha's Nek.

Transport and Communications.—There is only one mile of railway, which links Maseru with the South African system. A good road, carried over the larger streams by bridges, runs from north to south in the western lowlands and connects all the Gov ernment stations, with the exception of Qacha's Nek, which can only be reached by wheeled traffic from East Griqualand. Other roads join the main stations with the nearest town or railway sta tion in the Orange Free State. Wagon roads have been made to most of the trading stations in the lowland, and up the Orange river valley as far as Mount Morosi. In the volcanic uplands all transport is done by pack animals, or, to some extent, by means of human porterage.

Land.—Land is the common property of the nation, held in trust by the chiefs, who apportion to each tribesman a certain amount of arable land, and a locality in the mountains for summer pasturage. There are no European farmers. The white population consists solely of Government officials, missionaries, traders and a few labour agents.

Agriculture.—There are no figures showing the actual produc tion of the various crops. Large quantities of maize and Kafir corn (mabele) are grown in the western region. The early frosts in the mountains practically restrict their serious cultivation to below the 6,000ft. contour. In the mountains the chief crop is wheat, which thrives on the rich, black soil. Here it is sown in spring. In recent years its cultivation has been undertaken to a considerable extent in the lowlands, where it is sown in autumn. Wheat is only used for food in the remoter parts of the moun tains. Wherever possible it is sold to the traders, or exchanged for maize or Kafir corn.

Stock.—According to the 1921 census the following animals were owned by the natives : cattle, 574,415; sheep, 1,854,426; goats, 894,257; horses, 152,325; mules and donkeys, 6,284. Sea sonal migrations of stock form a prominent feature in the pastoral life. Cattle are taken to the mountains in spring and are brought back to the lowlands in autumn. The chief movements of the sheep and goats occur in connection with the shearing. The horses are mostly stunted and undergrown, owing largely to lack of proper feeding when young.

Trade.—There are 188 licensed traders in Basutoland. Their stores meet the native demand for blankets, clothing, saddlery, foodstuffs, cooking utensils, etc. Most of the native productions are sold to the traders, and are then exported. The chief exports in 1922 were wool, 12,829,330lb., mohair, 2,326,3671b., wheat, 128,204 bags, hides and skins, 210,247. The total value of exports was L699,330. Most of this trade passes through the Orange Free State, though a considerable quantity of wool is taken on pack animals down the Drakenberg passes into Natal and East Griqua land.

Government.—Authority is exercised by a resident commis sioner, responsible to the High Commissioner for South Africa, and aided by seven assistant commissioners and other officers. For fiscal and administrative purposes the country is divided into seven districts—Maseru, Leribe, Berea, Mafeteng, Mohale's Hoek, Quthing and Qacha's Nek. Each of these is subdivided into wards, presided over by hereditary chiefs at the head of whom is the Paramount Chief. The chiefs adjudicate in cases affecting natives, according to native law, so far as it is not repugnant to European law. A native has, however, a right of appeal to the court of an assistant commissioner, or of the resident commissioner, where all cases involving a European are tried. A native council, with advisory powers, meets annually at Maseru, and discusses the domestic affairs of the nation. It is presided over by the resident commissioner, and consists of 95 members nominated by the chiefs and five nominated by the Government.

The total revenue for the year 1922-23 was f212,538, of which f121,234 was yielded by a tax of f1 per hut, and f62,011 by cus toms. Among the chief items of expenditure were police, medical, £41,288 (including a sum for the leper settlement) ; edu cation, f34,681; and public works, L28,517.

Police.—The Basutoland mounted police is commanded by the resident commissioner, and consists of four inspectors, ten sub-inspectors, two chief constables, four constables and 280 native non-commissioned officers and men. There are seven gaols in Basutoland.

Medical.—The medical service is directed by the principal medical officer, who resides in Maseru. In each district there is also a Government medical officer. There are five well equipped hospitals, staffed partly with trained European and partly with native nurses, and a few miles from Maseru is a large leper set tlement.

Education.—In 1922 there were 495 native elementary schools in the area, with 34,733 pupils on their rolls. The average attend ance was about 20,000. Most of these schools are conducted by the missionary bodies, but the Government makes a contribution to their cost. About a mile from Maseru is a Government indus trial school, where native boys are trained in carpentry, wagon building, harness making, blacksmith's work and building. There are also a few schools for European children. At Morija is a press, belonging to the French Protestant Mission, which publishes books in Sesuto.

Religion.—Most of the Basuto are still heathen, though several missionary organizations are active. The most important denominations, from the point of view of numbers, are the French Protestant Church and the Paris Evangelical Mission, which, in 1921, claimed 66,883 native adherents. Next came the Church of Rome with 38,894, and the Anglican Church with 18,839. The total number of Christian Basuto is given as General.—Basutoland is one of the most prosperous and best administered native areas south of the Zambezi. The people, under British guidance, are making rapid progress in improving both their mental and material ways of life, and they co-operate will ingly with the Government in its efforts to improve health, educa tion, cattle breeding, agriculture, etc. They are intensely loyal to the Imperial connection.

Until the beginning of the 19th century Basutoland appears to have been uninhabited save by wandering Bushmen, whose rude rock pictures are to be found in several parts of the Draken berg. About 1800 the country was occupied by various tribes of Bechuana, such as Batau, Basuto, Baputi, who then possessed the greater part of what is now the Orange Free State province. They appear to have recognized the paramount authority of a family descended from a chief named Monaheng. By the wars of the Zulu chiefs Chaka, Matiwana, and Mosilikatze, these tribes were largely broken up, and it is recorded that one tribe, living in the Maluti mountains, was reduced to cannibalism. At this period a young man named Moshesh (born about 1790), who was of the family of Monaheng and already noted as hunter and warrior, gathered round him the remnants of several broken clans, out of which he welded the existing Basuto nation. He established himself in 1824 on the rock-fortress of Thaba Bosigo, where, in 1831, he successfully defended himself against Mosilikatze. In 1833 Moshesh invited the missionaries of the Societe des Missions Evangeliques of Paris to settle in his country, and from that day until his death proved their firm friend. In 1836-37 large parties of emigrant Boers settled north of the Orange, and before long disputes arose between them and Moshesh, who claimed a great part of the land on which the white farmers had settled. The Basuto acquired an unenviable notoriety as a race of bold cattle lifters and raiders, and the emigrant Boers found them extremely troublesome neighbours. If the Basuto were eager for cattle, the Boers were eager for land ; and their encroach ments on the territories of the Basuto led to a proclamation in 1842 by Sir George Napier, the then governor of Cape Colony, forbidding further encroachments on Basutoland. In 1843 a treaty was signed with Moshesh creating Basutoland a native state under British protection.

Quarrels between Basuto and Boers continued : there were also interminable disputes between the Basuto and other Bechuana tribes. After the proclamation of British sovereignty over the Orange river regions by Sir Harry Smith in 1848, Moshesh was unwillingly induced by Sir Harry to surrender his claims to part of the territory recognized as his by the Napier treaty. Disputes again arose and there was fighting in 1851 between the Basuto and a commando composed of British soldiers, farmers, and a native contingent, in which the Basuto were victorious. Both sides had just grievances and efforts to reach an accommodation were made. They failed, and in 1852 General Sir George Cathcart, who had succeeded Sir Harry Smith as governor of Cape Colony, led a small force against Moshesh. With that peculiar statecraft for which he was famous, Moshesh saw that he could not hope permanently to hold out against the British troops and followed up some successful skirmishes with General Cathcart by writ ing him a letter, in which he said : "As the object for which you have come is to have a compensation for Boers, I beg you will be satisfied with what you have taken. You have shown your power; you have chastised ; I will try all I can to keep my people in order in the future." General Cathcart accepted the offer of Moshesh and peace was proclaimed, the Basuto power being unbroken. Fourteen months later (Feb. 1854) Great Britain renounced sovereignty over the farmers settled beyond the Orange, and Moshesh found himself face to face with the newly consti tuted Free State. The Boers and the Basuto proved, as hitherto, bad neighbours. During a war which broke out in 1865, Moshesh unavailingly appealed for British protection; the Boers proved victorious in the conflict, conquered a fertile strip of Basuto territory and forced Moshesh to sign a humiliating treaty at Thaba Bosigo. Moshesh again appealed for protection to the British, saying: "Let me and my people rest and live under the large folds of the flag of England before I am no more." On this occasion the British decided to take over Basutoland, and a proclamation of annexation was issued on March 12, 1868. Much against their wishes the Free State Boers were compelled to recognize the British annexation. The Treaty of Aliwal North, concluded (1869) between the Free State and the High Com missioner, defined the boundary between the Free State and Basutoland. By it the fertile strip of country west of the Caledon river, known as the Conquered Territory, was finally transferred to the Free State. The next year (187o) Moshesh died. For nearly 5o years he had led his people skilfully and well. He was one of the rare instances among the Bantu of a leader endowed with intellectual gifts which placed him on a level with highly endowed Europeans, and his life-work left a permanent mark on South African history.

In 1871 Basutoland was annexed to Cape Colony, which soon found that it had a hard task in dealing with the turbulent Basuto warriors. In 1879 Moirosi, a chief residing in the southern por tion of Basutoland, openly repudiated colonial rule. An expe dition was despatched from Cape Colony and severe fighting fol lowed. Moirosi's stronghold was captured and the chief himself was killed. In 188o the Cape Government felt sufficiently strong to extend to Basutoland the Cape Peace Preservation Act of 1878, which provided for the disarmament • of natives. Its exe cution in Basutoland proved an extremely difficult task, and desultory warfare was carried on between the colonial troops and the Basuto until 1881. Peace was only restored through the intervention of the High Commissioner. In April 1883 a form of self-government was established, but was once more followed by internal strife among the chieftains.

The subjection of Basutoland to the control of the Cape Gov ernment had by this time proved unsatisfactory, both to the Basuto and to Cape Colony. The Cape Government therefore offered no opposition to the transfer of the country, and at a great national pitso (representative gathering) held in Nov. 1883 the Basuto agreed to the terms under which the Imperial Govern ment was willing to take over the country. On March 13, 1884, the territory came therefore under the immediate authority of the Crown, that is, the Colonial office. The High Commissioner became governor of Basutoland, being represented in the terri tory by a Resident Commissioner. Native laws and customs were interfered with as little as possible and the authority of the chiefs —all members of the Moshesh family—was maintained. Mosh esh had been succeeded as paramount chief by his son, Letsie, and he in turn was succeeded in 1891 by Lerothodi (c. 1905) . Both these chiefs acted loyally with the Resident Com missioner, Lerothodi possessing many of the high qualities of Moshesh. The first commissioner was Sir Marshall Clarke, to whose tact and ability the country owed much. Sir Godfrey Lagden (commissioner 1893-1901) and Sir H. C. Sloley (corn missioner 1901-17) also did much to help the Basuto and win their full confidence. The period of warfare over, the Basuto turned their attention more and more to agricultural pursuits and also showed themselves very receptive of missionary influence. Throughout the Anglo-Boer war (1899-1 9o2) the Basuto remained passive, and the neutrality of the country was respected by both armies. One chief alone sought to take advantage of the situa tion by disloyal action, and his offence was met by a year's imprisonment. In pursuance of the policy of encouraging the self-governing powers of the Basuto, a national council (pitso) was officially instituted and held its first sitting in July 19o3. In Aug. 19o5 the paramount chief, Lerothodi, died. His son Letsie II. was elected by the pitso as Lerothodi's successor. On the death of Letsie II. in 1913, his brother Griffith became para mount chief. When the World War began Griffith and his people offered to raise regiments for combatant service. To their grief the offer was declined, for service with the labour contingents did not appeal to their martial spirit. However, 1,40o Basuto served with the S.A. Native Labour Contingent in France and many were employed in South-West and East Africa.

The Basuto gave repeated expression of their desire to remain under direct British control, as on the occasion of the visit of the prince of Wales to Maseru in 1925. Since 191 o their country has been an enclave, surrounded by territory forming part of the Union of South Africa. Basutoland offers the most complete example in South Africa of the segregation policy. Neither pros pecting for minerals nor the settlement of white farmers is allowed. The few Europeans are officials, missionaries, or traders who have obtained permits. The country, in short, is a Basuto reserve, and the Basuto have a distinct degree of home rule. While the commissioner is not bound by the decisions of the national council, its advice is usually taken. The system has worked well, and while the people owe much to the missionaries, notably to members of the Paris Evangelical Society, and to the wise rule of sympathetic commissioners, they themselves, a virile race of mountaineers, possess qualities which are enabling them to build up a civilization combining African and European elements. Over a quarter of the Basuto profess Christianity.


The Basutos (1909) , a standard history, and Bibliography.—The Basutos (1909) , a standard history, and "Basutoland and the Basutos," in Jnl. Ryl. Col. Inst. 1901, both by Sir G. Lagden ; E. Jacottet, "Moeurs, coutumes et superstitions des Ba-Souts," in Bull. Soc. neuchateloise Geog., vol. ix. pp. Io7-151 (1897) ; G. M. Theal, Basutoland Records (Cape Town, 1883) ; E. Casalis, Les Bassutos (1859), a description of exploration, manners, and customs, the result of 23 years' residence in the country ; Min nie Martin, Basutoland: its Legends and Customs (1903) ; Mrs. F. A. Barkly, Among Boers and Basutos (1897), a record, chiefly, of the Gun War of 188o-82 ; C. W. Mackintosh, Coillard of the Zambesi (1907) ; R. U.. Sayce, "Ethno-Geographical Essay on Basutoland," Geog. Teacher (1924), pp. For current information see the annual report on Basutoland (Colonial Office, London). (F. R. C.)

basuto, moshesh, native, country and chief