A very Mountainous Kingdom

Mountains of Lesotho

Lesotho is a hidden treasure, the country is like a huge nature reserve. Its got a litany of mountains which in real terms means they got a “shitty deal” during the carving of Africa in the 1800s at the Berlin conference. It didn’t help that the Afrikaner government had no big plans for the country except to keep it as a reserve for all exiles and unwanted political activists from South Africa during the Apartheid era. But the country is very resilient and has stood the test of time since then.

I first went to Lesotho in 2014 and have had subsequent visits afterwards each time reaching a new “low”. The most popular geographic fact about Lesotho, apart from its status as an enclave, is that it is the only independent state in the world that lies entirely above 1,000 metres (3,281 ft) in elevation. Lesotho has mountains and valleys which are peppered with horsemen wearing conical straw hats and traditional blankets fastened with giant safety pins. I have 2 of those Lesotho hats. Hats are called Mokorotlo. An image of the Mokorotlo appears on the Lesotho flag, and on Lesotho license plates. The design is believed to have been inspired by the conical mountain Mount Qiloane. The original designer of the hat must have grown up in a rondavel, thats the only thing that comes to my mind about the design of the hat. I imagine if the designer had stayed in a four cornered home, he or she would have come up with a different design.

I have been told that in Lesotho rivers cross roads, rather than the other way round. The people are very humble and laid back but can turn violent if need be especially when it comes to politics. Pfff! Whats new? The challenges of the office of the Prime Minister and violence/coupe detats are well documented. However that did not sway my opinion of the country. Guess coming from one kingdom to visit another has its perks. You come with clear notions of what to expect. Laid back people minding their business and thats what i got in my numerous visits. Political landscape in Lesotho is very murky and complicated. Its like reading a book upside down, whatever that means. I read somewhere on Quora.com that reading a book upside down could signal a learning or attention issue. Methinks Basotho people are yet to listen attentively to each other hence the political violence.

Any who, the African idyll masks harsh realities. In the past years, valleys have been flooded to produce dams to feed Johannesburg, 250 miles away, with water. Yet a third of the country’s wells are dry. Its highly mechanised new diamond plant has failed to absorb tens of thousands of labourers laid off by South African mines. Even its textile industry – which at its height employed 50,000 people – has collapsed.

Salaries are low. A factory worker in Bloemfontein earns around 2,400 rands (£213) a month against 700 maloti (£63) in the constantly retrenching Chinese–owned textile plants of Lesotho.
The impact of Aids – brought in by the migrant workforce – has ruined the economy. Uniquely in the developing world, Lesotho’s deaths are close to outnumbering its births. A third of the population is HIV positive. In 1980, Lesotho produced 80% of the cereals it consumed. Now it imports 70%. The only real cash crop is marijuana, grown between rows of maize and smuggled to South Africa on donkeys. Drug cultivation is such a lifeline that the children clothed and fed with its proceeds have a name: bana bamatekoane (children of marijuana). I never ventured to explore the “green world”. Mountains, weed, altitude does not sound like a very encouraging combination. Worse, the weed is produced at “high” altitudes. Something just doesnt sound right there….

On all occasions i have been there, i have seen the ladies of the night that want to keep one warm, seeing that Lesotho is a very cold country. They can be found in the dingy corners of Maseru plying their trade. Of course the depth of your pockets speaks volumes on choice. The sun hotel i have used on the few occasions i have been there, could use some sprucing up. But maybe all Sun hotels need sprucing up especially the ones in Eswatini. The waters of immortality are available and plenty. There is a local one called Maluti Beer. The beer is not harsh and is very gentle with you. Its got a nice zing to it. As far as i am aware, Lesotho does not produce any whiskey, brandy or wine, end of! Im not saying that they dont, but it is my opinion that they dont.

Maseru has a cultural village for cultural enthusiasts like myself. You learn a lot about Basotho culture, context of Lesotho and history including a visit to the landmark site near the cultural village. I suggest sneakers if you plan to enjoy your tour and bottled water for hydration purposes. It is an “elevated” nation after all. We went shopping at a famous mall in Maseru and had to address food security issues. The KFC located inside the mall in in Maseru did not impress with the turn around time on all occasions. But most importantly, after more than 4 visits to Lesotho, i am yet to discover traditional Lesotho cuisine or maybe i am visiting the wrong places.

I am not yet convinced that i have seen all Lesotho has to offer. I know the Ski resorts that are busy when there is snow. I have been told that there is an annual festival in Lesotho that i need to experience. That is the thing, anytime i visit Lesotho, i feel like i am not getting the real experience, like Lesotho is not giving me all it has to offer. I need to dig more. I have now decided that maybe a guided tour will enhance my experience. The village, the mountains, the unspoiled views with no concrete tall glass concrete buildings, that i LOVE. But i need more from Lesotho and i am afraid that Lesotho is hiding secrets from me. Her bossom is full of mysteries and tales.
Cultural Village in Maseru

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