This piece was written by Caroline James. Caroline had a tragic snow skiing accident in the French Alps in April 1998 and passed away. We all miss her cheerful presence and wonderful sense of humour.
We live in a world of constant change, where development holds the key to the future. A frightening depletion of isolated wilderness and other rural areas, bear the testament to this progressive trend. There are still however, places where the passage of time moves in a slow more measured way, and life continues in a similar vein, regardless of events elsewhere.
Since my first visit to the mountain kingdom of Lesotho five years ago, there have been noticeably few changes, even within the towns. In the villages a few new houses have sprung up amongst the traditional rondavels, but these apart, things remain the same. Development is minimal, there is too little money available for these projects. There are still aid programmes active within Lesotho. Many of these involve improving farming methods and teaching farmers about modern techniques, thus increasing production and output.
An independent country, the mountain kingdom of Lesotho has the unusual distinction of being completely surrounded by another - South Africa. It is a place of infinite beauty and rare contrasts, of towering mountains and lofty peaks, meandering rivers and mighty waterfalls, rolling valleys and shadowy ravines. Each season is well defined, and cloaked in its own colours; wavering plains of pink Cosmos, bright red summer aloes, delicate spring peach blossoms, and winter white snow capped peaks. The country is home to the Basotho people a tough resilient tribe who are, for the most part, subsistence farmers. They graze their herds on the steep terrain and high passes, whilst planting their mealies on terraces cut out on the mountainside. It is a country whose lowest point of 1500 metres above sea level, is the highest in the world.
The history of Lesotho goes back millions of years, and yet the nation itself is very young. Before the Basotho arrived, Bushmen inhabited the country. Their many rock paintings have enabled subsequent visitors to understand and visualise their way of life.
In the early 1800’s, peaceable communities of cattle owning people who spoke dialects of Sesotho were scattered across the Transvaal highlands. During the 1820s, however, these chiefdoms were disrupted by widespread Difaqane disturbances.
Between 1815-1829 Moshoeshoe the Great, possessing the intelligence and sensitivity to unite the fugitives of these wars, gathered the remnants of the tribes dispersed by Zulu and Matebele Raids, and created Basutoland withing the natural refuge created by the Maluti Mountain ranges in the west, and the Drakensberg in the east.
It was only in 1966, after a century of hostilities with its neighbours, that Basutoland gained independence from the British authority and became the Kingdom of Lesotho, ruled by King Moshoeshoe II - the third great grandson of Moshoeshoe the Great.
The mountainous topography of this country dictated that the horse become the universal form of transport. This led to the breeding of the traditional Basotho Pony that is descended from Javanese horses imported for their strength, sure footedness and calm temperament. They are called ponies because, as a result of their harsh environment, they grow no larger than a European riding pony.
Outside the major urban areas, electricity and telephones do not exist, and wild open spaces are paramount. Coming from Europe, where vast numbers of vehicles and people are cramped into increasingly small areas, and communication is taken completely for granted, this isolation has enormous appeal.