Status: Independent Kingdom
Population: 1,962,461 (2018 estimate)
Area: 11,720 square miles
Currency: 100 Lisente = 1 Loti (plural = Maloti) The Loti is pegged to the South African Rand (about 7¢ US). The Rand circulates interchangeably with the Loti in Lesotho.
Lesotho is an enclave about the size of Maryland in the Republic of South Africa. When European settlers arrived on southern African coasts in the 16th century, the Sotho were iron-age hunter-gatherers living in small villages west of the Drakensberg Mountains. Life changed little for them until the early 19th century when they were confronted by many Bantu migrants from Natal who had been forced from their homelands by drought and an expanding Zulu nation.
After Cape of Good Hope and South African stamps were used from 1876 to 1933, Basutoland stamps were used in what is now Lesotho, including this King George V definitive.
In 1820, Moshoeshoe I became king of the Basuto, the British name for a group of southern Sotho. His diplomatic and political skill in meeting the new challenges enabled the Basuto to maintain their political autonomy when others in the region could not. First, he moved his people into a more defensible mountain region. A polygamist, his multiple marriages established a network of political alliances, and he strengthened his control by installing sons and brothers as chiefs.
Because it was issued before October 4, 1966, this 2½¢ stamp inscribed “LESOTHO” and “BASUTOLAND” is cataloged as Basutoland Scott 97.
The Europeans raised new challenges. When Christian missionaries arrived, most tribes resisted them. Moshoeshoe had the vision to foresee the benefits they offered his people, including literacy, new agricultural techniques and weapons training, and wisely placed their missions along his vulnerable eastern border as a buffer against the powerful Bantu.
In 1842, when Afrikaners fled the British, Moshoeshoe sought an alliance with the British to preserve his lands. The Cape Colony governor recognized Basuto lands in 1843, but did little to stem Boer encroachment. In 1869, Basutoland was reduced to Lesotho’s current borders. After the king’s death in 1870, Basutoland fell under the direct rule of Cape Town. This led to a revolt, and in 1884 direct British rule was restored and Basutoland became a Crown Colony.
A statue of King Moshoeshoe I appears on this 1967 triangular stamp for the first anniversary of independence for Lesotho, Scott 41.
When the Union of South Africa was formed in 1910, Basutoland refused to join because the right to vote would not be extended to their citizens. The British nevertheless assumed that Basutoland would eventually be absorbed in the Union, and spent little on its development. Basutoland became independent October 4, 1966, taking the name Lesotho, “land of the Sotho.”
Starting about 1876, Cape of Good Hope stamps were used in Basutoland, followed by South African stamps after 1910. They were in use until 1933 when Basutoland issues appeared. When independence arrived October 4, 1966, stamps showed the new country name “Lesotho.”
The author worked at a U.S. Embassy when he received this cover with a QEII 5¢ stamp canceled at “MASERU BASE” in what is now Lesotho’s capital.
Today, Lesotho has 46 post offices. Letter mail has largely been replaced by electronic communications, but mail-order purchases are popular and many residents have post office boxes for their packages. Residents without these boxes make sure arriving packages contain their cell phone numbers so the post office can inform them they have mail.