What Is The Ethnic Composition Of Lesotho?

Children in a school in Lesotho. Editorial credit: Reinhold Leitner / Shutterstock.com.
Children in a school in Lesotho. Editorial credit: Reinhold Leitner / Shutterstock.com.

Lesotho is a country located in the southern part of Africa, and it is enclosed within the borders of South Africa, making it one of the three independent countries which are entirely surrounded by another country. The country covers an area of 11,583 square miles and has a population of approximately 2 million inhabitants. The country's capital city, which is also the largest city in the country, is Maseru. Previously, Lesotho was a British colony, and it was known as Basutoland. The country gained its independence from the British on October 4th, 1966. The original inhabitants of the region where it is present-day Lesotho were the San people.

History of Lesotho

At the turn of the 16th century, Lesotho was inhabited by the Sotho people who lived peacefully with the earlier inhabitants of the Khoisan people. Basotho began taking the shape of a nation when Moshoeshoe I in 1820, gathered a following from the several tribes in the region who had retreated to the northwestern part of modern-day Lesotho to avoid constant raids from the Matabele and Zulu tribes. Although he had limited military power, he used diplomatic means to establish his kingdom, which lasted for several years. In 1924, Mashoeshoe became the chief of the local Basotho among other tribal groups which at the time number about 40,000 people. He successfully established a good relationship with missionaries, particularly the French Catholics who established schools and missions. Mashoeshoe also sought advice from the missionaries on how to negotiate with Europeans. During the Great Trek of Boers in 1834, Moshoeshoe requested the protection of the British crown, which was better than annexation by the Boers. In 1868, to Busotoland was given British protection and the land borders have remained unchanged to this day as it was established in 1869.

The San People

The San people are also known as the Bushmen and they are part of the Khoisan tribes, who lived as hunters and gatherers in the greater region of Southern Africa. The San people occupied regions where it is currently part of Lesotho, Namibia, Botswana, Zambia, Angola, Zimbabwe, and South Africa. The remnants of the ancient San people are found mainly in Botswana. Rock art and stone tools believed to have been the works of the San people are found in different parts in the greater southern part of Africa and date back to about 70,000 years ago making them by far the oldest known art in Africa. The San people were nomads, and they moved seasonally to different areas based on the availability of resources such as water, edible plants, and game animals. As of 2010, the population of the San people in Botswana was estimated to be between 50,000 and 60,000. Between the 1950s and 1980s, the San people have changed their lifestyle and adopted farming as a way of life because of the government programs of modernization.

Sotho People

The Sotho ethnic group is by far the largest in Lesotho accounting for more than 99.7% of the country's population. They are part of the Bantu ethnic group who occupy the larger part of South Africa and are currently found in Lesotho and South Africa. The Sotho people speak the Sesotho language. It is believed that the Basotho people have lived in the region starting from the 5th century and they are thought to be closely related to other Bantus in the Southern part of Africa. The identity of modern Lesotho was established following the accomplished diplomacy of King Moshoeshoe I, who manage to gather different clans that belonged to the Sotho-Tswana from different parts in South Africa in the 19th century. The majority of the Basotho people today inhabit South Africa particularly in the Orange Free State which was previously part of the kingdom of Moshoeshoe and is now Lesotho.

Kwena people

Kwena people are a subgroup of the Sotho ethnic group and they are found in Lesotho and parts of South Africa. Originally the Kwena people inhabited the Orange Free State, Bantustan, South Africa, and Basutoland, which later became Lesotho. In the past, the Kwena people practiced agriculture, and even today they still practice subsistence agriculture as a way of livelihood, and some of the crops they cultivate include sorghum, corn, potatoes, vegetables, and fruits among others.

Nguni ethnic group

The Nguni ethnic group is another sub-ethnic group of the larger Basotho ethnicity. Nguni people are predominantly in the southern part of Africa and they speak Nguni languages. Nguni people include the Phuthi, Hlubi, Swati, Ndebele, Zulu, and Xhosa. The Phuthi and Hlubi people are in Lesotho and other parts in South Africa. The Swati people are found in Eswatini and South Africa, while the Xhosa and Ndebele are predominantly in South Africa and Zimbabwe.

i. Phuthi people

Phuthi is part of the Nguni speaking people, and they speak Phuthi language. They inhabit the southern part of Lesotho and areas of South Africa. The Phuthi language is closely related to Swati or the Siswati language which is spoken mainly in Swaziland and South Africa's province of Mpumalanga. The language has been heavily influenced by the neighboring languages of Xhosa and Sesotho.

ii. Hlubi people

The Hlubi or the AmaHlubi is part of the Nguni ethnic group who live in the Southern part of Lesotho, and they are also found in South Africa. The Hlubi people are believed to have originated from Kenya and believed to be closely related to the Samburu ethnic group in Kenya as well as the Shubi ethnic group of Tanzania, who live mainly in Kagera. The dialect of the Hlubi people is closely related to the Swazi language, which is one of the tekela languages in the Nguni branch and belong to the Niger-Congo family language. The Hlubi language is one of the endangered languages because only the elderly can speak the language.

Other People in Lesotho

Other people in Lesotho include the Zulu who are the minority in the country. There is also a small population of Asian or mixed ancestry. The European community is also found in Lesotho.

What Is The Ethnic Composition Of Lesotho?

RankEthnic Group% of total population
2Europeans, Asians, and other 0.3%

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