Lesotho: Why King Shaka said the F-word, and left

F this

From 1813 to 1830, lots of people were running around in the Lesotho mountain region, stealing cattle and throwing sticks, spears, knopkieries, rocks and whatever was available at one another.

FightingAt the time, King Shaka was raiding the tribes from what is now known as KwaZulu Natal with great military precision and determination. Meanwhile King Mzilikazi also got into the thick of things, and started chasing people into the Lesotho Mountains from the direction of the old Transvaal and Vrystaat provinces.

A wily character by the name of King Moshoeshoe I provided shelter to these fleeing refugees at his stronghold Thaba Bosiu (Mountain of the Night) in Lesotho. He united these groups of refugees into the Basotho nation.

The F word
Illustration by Jean-Louis Zimmermann

Due to the elevated position of Thaba Bosiu, and the insane terrain you had to cross in order to get there – all the while having spears and rocks and stuff thrown at you from above – both King Shaka and King Mzilikazi eventually said the F-word, and left.

As such, Lesotho became an independent kingdom while South Africa has grown and changed, literally surrounding it.

You are surrounded

Map of Lesotho

A true enclave is a territory over which a nation is sovereign, but which cannot be reached without passing through territory of the single foreign nation that surrounds it. Some enclaves are countries in their own right, completely surrounded by another one. Only three such sovereign countries exist:

  • The republic of San Marino, an enclave within Italy;
  • Vatican City, an enclave within the city of Rome, Italy; and
  • The Kingdom of Lesotho, an enclave within South Africa.

What a cool hat/flag

Lesotho flag
Photo: Shutterstock

As far as we could determine, Lesotho is the only country depicting a hat on its National flag. The hat in question is called a mokorotlo (a traditional Basotho hat). Other iconic donners of hats (Indiana Jones, Sherlock Holmes, Heisenberg, Santa Claus, Napoleon Bonaparte, Jack Sparrow and Gandalf springs to mind) would have been jealous.

The three stripes on the flag (blue, white and green) represent rain, peace and prosperity, all of which, unfortunately, are not always plentiful in Lesotho.

Even its lowest point is high

Lesotho is the only independent state in the world that lies entirely above 1,000 metres in elevation. Its lowest point of 1,400 metres  is located at the junction of the Orange and Makhaleng Rivers – the highest lowest point of any country in the world.

Qachas neck
Qachas Nek

How to get there

Since The Kingdom of Lesotho is surrounded on all sides by South Africa, you are quite spoiled for choice when it comes to entering the country. There are various border posts located along the 909 kilometre perimeter of the country, in three different provinces: the Free State, the Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal.

Maseru Bridge, located just outside Ladybrand in the Free State, is the main border post and remains open 24 hours a day. It does tend to get very busy however, and locals recommend using one of the others instead. Sani Pass, in the Western end of Kwazulu-Natal, is the chosen entry for 4×4 fanatics.

Sani Pass border post
The Sani Pass border post

The Sani Pass, and the Sani Top Chalet

Sani Top Chalet is perched on the border between South Africa and Lesotho at 2,874m above sea level. It has been described as one of the best-situated hotels on earth. It is the only  accommodation you will find along the Drakensberg escarpment, and it is also home to the highest pub in Africa.

Lesotho view of Sani Pass
Photo: Amada44, Wikimedia Commons

The only way to the chalet from South Africa is via the Sani Pass. Aptly labelled “the mother of all South African mountain passes”, the pass has a reputation for being a treacherous yet exquisitely beautiful ascent into Lesotho and can only be done in a 4×4.

Thabana-Ntlenyana (3,482 meters) – southern Africa’s highest peak – is a few kilometres from the Sani Top Chalet and a firm favourite amongst hiking enthusiasts. Pony trekking, fishing, bird watching and a rich array of flora and fauna species keep visitors entertained as too does skiing and snowboarding in the winter months (provided it snows). This remote and romantic part of Africa is also a world heritage site.

Places worth a visit

Maletsunyane Falls Lesotho

Maletsunyane Falls – located about 120km from Maseru, these falls drop 192 meters in a single plunge.

Who wouldn’t want to say that they’ve skied in Africa? The Afriski Ski Resort is more of a winter outing, but it’s located right next to Lesotho’s A1 highway, only 4 hours drive from Johannesburg, and it’s the quickest, cheapest ski holiday you will ever take.

Dinosaur footprints – view amazingly well-preserved Lesothosaurus footprints at Ellenberger’s Cave House and just outside the town of Quthing, about 170km from Maseru.

Pony trekking in Lesotho

Pony trekking – this is an absolutely classic Lesotho activity and an experience that you will remember forever. Maleala Lodge (about 50km from Maseru) is one of the main pony trekking operators in Lesotho and they offer a wide variety of both overnight and day treks.

Your next holiday, maybe?

Basotho woman and child
Photo: Goronwy Jones

Once the climate has settled down politically (a good idea would be to keep informed on News24), Lesotho might be well worth a shot. Visiting the Mountain Kingdom of Lesotho promises to be a holiday to remember, and won’t break your budget either. In fact – Lonely Planet rated Lesotho as one of the top 10 best value destinations in the world for 2012.

Lesotho Highlands water scheme

To discover Lesotho without leaving the comfort of your own home, visit this YouTube channel.

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