1966 Lesotho Becomes Independent


Gambia River
Lesotho Mountain Pass

On October 4th 1966 the British colony of Basutoland became independent and was renamed Lesotho. The country became a monarchy under King Moshoeshoe. Chief Leabua Jonathan became Prime Minister.

Originally, the Kingdom of Lesotho was established by King Moshoeshoe I in the early 19th century, who united the Basotho people against external threats, particularly during the era of the difaqane (scattering) and the encroachment of both British and Boer settlers. By 1868, facing pressures from the Boers, King Moshoeshoe I appealed to the British for protection, leading to the establishment of Basutoland as a British protectorate.

The British administration in Basutoland was relatively indirect, allowing a high degree of autonomy in local affairs and preserving indigenous political and social structures. However, despite this hands-off approach, the Basotho people were not immune to the economic and social impacts of colonial rule. For example, a large number of men had to become migrant laborers in South African mines due to the lack of economic opportunities within Basutoland itself.

As decolonization movements swept across Africa in the mid-20th century, the call for independence also resonated in Basutoland. Political organizations were formed, and the quest for self-rule became more organized. Chief Leabua Jonathan, a key political figure, was instrumental in advocating for independence and subsequently became the first Prime Minister of independent Lesotho. His Basotho National Party won the pre-independence elections in 1965, positioning him as a significant leader during and after the transition.

King Moshoeshoe II, who was educated in the United Kingdom, returned to take the throne and served as the constitutional monarch, symbolizing both the continuity of the Basotho heritage and the beginning of a new political era.

Lesotho faced ongoing political instability, including coups and conflicts between the monarchy and the government. Chief Leabua Jonathan was overthrown in a 1986 coup, and King Moshoeshoe II was exiled multiple times due to political tensions. Despite these challenges, Lesotho has managed to maintain its constitutional monarchy, even as it grapples with economic dependency on South Africa and other social issues.