1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Basutoland

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BASUTOLAND (officially “The Territory of Basutoland”), an inland state and British crown colony of S.E. Africa, situated between 28° 35′ and 30° 30′ S. and 27° and 29° 25′ E. It has an area of 10,293 sq. m., being somewhat smaller than Belgium, and is bounded S., S.E., and N.E. by the Drakensberg, N. and N.W. by the Caledon river, S.W. by a range of low hills extending from the Caledon above Wepener to the Orange river, and south of the Orange by the Telle or Tees river to its source in the Drakensberg. Its greatest length S.W. to N.E. is 145 m.; its greatest breadth N. to S. 120 m. On every side it is surrounded by British colonies, north by the Orange River Colony, south-west and south by Cape Colony, and east by Natal.

Basutoland, or Lesuto (Lesotho) as the natives call it, forms the south-eastern edge of the interior tableland of South Africa, and has a rugged and broken surface with a mean elevation of 6000 ft. The Drakensberg (q.v.) forming the buttress of the plateau seaward, attain their highest elevation on the Basuto-Natal border. The frontier line follows the crest of the mountains, three peaks some 10,000 or more ft. high—Giant’s Castle, Champagne Castle or Cathkin Peak and Mont aux Sources—towering high above the general level. Mount Hamilton, which lies north of the waterparting, is over 9000 ft. high. From Mont aux Sources, table-shaped, and called by the Basutos Potong (Antelope), a second range of mountains, the Maluti, runs S.W. through the entire length of Basutoland. The crest of the Maluti is in few places lower than 7000 ft. whilst Machacha, the culminating point, is about 10,500 ft. From the tableland north of the Maluti several isolated hills rise, the most noted being the almost inaccessible Thaba Bosigo—the rallying place of the Basuto in many of their wars. Shut off from the adjacent Indian Ocean by its mountain barrier, the drainage of the country is westward to the distant Atlantic. As its name implies, the chief rivers rise in Mont aux Sources. From the inner sides of that mountain descend the Caledon and the Senku, whilst from its seaward face the Tugela flows through Natal to the Indian Ocean. The Caledon runs north of the Maluti, the Senku south of that range. From the slopes of the Maluti descend many streams, the largest being the Kornet Spruit, which joins the Senku and other torrents from the Drakensberg to form the upper Orange (q.v.). The Caledon also, sweeping southward, unites with the Orange beyond the frontiers of Basutoland. Ordinarily shallow, the rivers after heavy rain fill with great rapidity, sweeping away everything in their path. In the richer soil they cut deep channels; the denudation thus caused threatens to diminish seriously the area of arable and pasture land. The river beds contain dangerous quicksands.

The aspect of the country is everywhere grand, and often beautiful, fully justifying the title, “The Switzerland of South Africa,” often applied to it. Viewed from a distance the mountains appear as dark perpendicular barriers, quite impenetrable; but narrow paths lead round the precipitous face of the hills, and when the inner side is gained a wonderful panorama opens out. In every direction can be seen luxuriant valleys through which rivers thread their silvery way, wild chasms, magnificent waterfalls—that of Maletsunyane has an unbroken leap of over 600 ft.—and, above all, hill crest after hill crest in seeming endless succession. In winter the effect is heightened by the snow which caps all the higher peaks.

Geology.—Basutoland is entirely occupied by the upper division (Stormberg series) of the Karroo formation. The highest strata (Volcanic group) form the rugged elevated spurs of the Drakensberg mountains which extend along the eastern territorial boundary. It has been suggested that these spurs represent the sites of vents or fissures of eruption. The upper part of the Maluti range consists of flows of melaphyres and diabases belonging to the volcanic beds. Among these lavas is the “pipe” amygdaloid of which many blocks have been transported great distances down the Vaal river. The amygdales are three or four inches long and about three-eighths of an inch in diameter. Heulandite, with thomsonite, stilbite, scolecite, calcite and chalcedony, occur as infilling minerals.

Climate.—The climate is excellent, invigorating alike for Europeans and natives. The mean annual temperature is about 60° F. The four seasons are distinctly marked, a rarity in South Africa, where the transition from summer to winter is generally very rapid. The heat of summer (December-March, which is the rainy season) is tempered by cool breezes; winter (May-September, inclusive) is dry, cold and bracing, and frost prevails for prolonged periods. The average annual rainfall is about 30 in. The general health conditions are good. Malaria is almost unknown and chest complaints are rare. Epidemics of smallpox and typhoid occur; and leprosy, imported from the Orange River and Cape Colonies, has taken firm hold on the Basuto, of whom about 91 per 1000 are sufferers from this disease.

Flora and Fauna.—A few kloofs are wooded, but of forest land there is none. Along the upper courses of the rivers are willows and wild olive trees; round the chief settlements the eucalyptus and the pine have been planted. Heaths, generally somewhat rare in South Africa outside the Cape peninsula, are abundant in Basutoland. The Alpine flora is very beautiful. There are few wild animals; but the eland, hartebeest and smaller antelopes are found, as well as the leopard and the jackal. Mountain hares, partridges and quails afford good sport; baboons and great hawks live in the mountains. The few fish include the barbel. Swarms of locusts occasionally visit the country; the locusts are eaten by the Basuto.

Population and Towns.—Considering the extensive area of uninhabitable mountain land it contains, the Territory supports a large population. The inhabitants increased from 128,206 in 1875 to 348,848 in 1904. The females outnumber the males by about 20,000, which is, however, about the number of adult males away from the country at any given period. The majority live in the district between the Maluti mountains and the Caledon river. The great bulk of the people are Basuto, but there are some thousands of Barolong and other Kaffirs. The Basuto proper are a branch of the Bechuana family of Bantu-Negroids. The white inhabitants in 1904 numbered 895, and there were 222 coloured persons other than natives. The seat of government is Maseru, on the left bank of the Caledon, with a population of about 1000 including some 100 Europeans. Mafeteng, in the N.W. near the Cape frontier, is a thriving agricultural centre, as is Butha Buthe in the N.E. Morija, some 16 m. S.E. of Maseru, is the oldest mission station in the Territory, having been founded by the Paris Society about 1833. Three miles from Morija is Matsieng, the kraal of the paramount chief Lerothodi (who died in August 1905). There are numerous mission stations throughout Basutoland, to several of which Biblical names have been given, such as Shiloh, Hermon, Cana, Bethesda, Berea.

Agriculture and Trade.—Basutoland is one of the greatest grain-growing countries of South Africa. The richest tract of land is that between the Maluti mountains and the Caledon river. In summer the country appears as one waving field of wheat, millet and mealies; whilst on the mountain slopes and on their flat tops are large flocks of sheep, cattle and goats, and troops of ponies. The Basuto ponies, said to be descended from Shetland ponies which, imported to the Cape in 1840, strayed into the mountains, are short-legged, strong-bodied, sure-footed, and noted for their hardiness. Improvements in the breed have been effected by the introduction of Arab stallions. Nearly every Basuto is an agriculturist; there are no manufactories, and the minerals, in accordance with the desire of the people, are not worked. The land is wholly in the possession of the natives, who hold it on the communal system. Whites and Indians are allowed to establish trading stations on obtaining special permits from the government, and the Indians absorb much of the retail trade. The chief exports are wheat, mealies, Kaffir corn, wool, mohair, horses and cattle. The great bulk of the imports are textiles. The value of the trade depends on regular rains, so that in seasons of drought the exports seriously diminish. The average annual value of trade for the five years ending the 30th of June 1905 was:—Exports £215,668, imports £203,026. Trade is almost entirely with Orange River Colony and Cape Colony. The Territory is a member of the South African Customs Union. Some 60,000 Basuto (annual average) find employment outside the Territory, more than half of whom seek farm and domestic service. A small proportion go to the Johannesburg gold mines, and others obtain employment on the railways.

Communication over the greater part of the Territory is by road; none of the rivers is navigable. A state-owned railway, 161/2 m. long, starting from Maseru crosses the Caledon river and joins the line connecting Bloemfontein and Ladysmith. This railway follows, N.E. of Maseru, the right bank of the Caledon, and affords a ready means of transport for the cereals raised on the left or Basuto side of the river. Highroads, maintained by the government, traverse every part of the country, and bridges have been built across the Caledon. The usual mode of conveyance is by ox-waggon or light cart. Several passes through the Drakensberg into Griqualand East and Natal exist, but are little used. There is a complete postal and telegraphic service and a telephone line connects all government stations.

Government and Finance.—Basutoland is a crown colony, of which the high commissioner for South Africa is governor. In him resides the legislative power, exercised by proclamation. The Territory is administered, under the direction of the governor, by a resident commissioner, who is also the chief judicial officer. He is aided by a government secretary and by assistant commissioners. Under the British officials the country is governed by hereditary native chiefs, over whom is a paramount chief. The chiefs have jurisdiction in cases affecting natives, but there is a right of appeal to the courts of the commissioners, who try all cases in which any of the parties are European. A national council (pitso), representative of all the native tribes, meets annually for the free discussion of public affairs. For administrative purposes the Territory is divided into the seven districts of Maseru, Leribe, Mohales Hoek, Berea, Mafeteng, Quthing and Qacha’s Nek, each of which is subdivided into wards presided over by Basuto chiefs.

Revenue is obtained from a hut tax of £1 per hut; the sale of licences to trade; customs and post office receipts. Seven-eighths of the revenue comes from the hut tax and customs. The average annual revenue for the five years 1901–1905 was £96,880; the average annual expenditure £69,559. Basutoland has no public debt.

Education and Social Condition.—Education is given in schools founded by missionary societies, of which the chief is the Société des Missions Évangéliques de Paris. A large proportion of the people can read and write Sesuto (as the Basuto language is called) and English, and speak Dutch, whilst a considerable number also receive higher education. Many Basuto at the public examinations take higher honours than competitors of European descent. There are over 200 schools, with an average attendance exceeding 10,000. Nine-tenths of the scholars are in the schools of the French Protestant Mission, which are conducted by English, or English-speaking, missionaries. A government grant is made towards the cost of upkeep. A government industrial school (opened in 1906) is maintained at Maseru, and the Paris Society has an industrial school at Leloaleng. The social condition of the people is higher than that of the majority of South African natives. Many Basuto profess Christianity and have adopted European clothing. Serious crime is rare among them and “deliberate murder is almost unknown.”[1] They are, like mountaineers generally, of a sturdy, independent spirit, and are given to the free expression of their views, generally stated with good sense and moderation. These views found a new medium of publicity in 1904 when an independent native newspaper was started, called Naledi ea Lesotha (Star of Basutoland). The publication of this paper was followed in 1906 by the adoption of a uniform system of Sesuto orthography. A book on national customs, the first work in the vernacular by a South African native, was published in 1893. The brandy-drinking habit, which, when the imperial government assumed control of the administration in 1884, threatened the existence of the nation, has been very largely checked. A strong beer, brewed from Kaffir corn, is a favourite drink.

History.—Until the beginning of the 19th century Basutoland appears to have been uninhabited save by wandering Bushmen, whose rude rock pictures are to be found in several parts of the Drakensberg. About 1800 the country was occupied by various tribes of Bechuana, such as Batau, Basuto, Baputi, who then possessed the greater part of what is now Orange River Colony. They appear to have recognized the paramount authority of a family descended from a chief named Monaheng. By the wars of the Zulu chiefs Chaka, Matiwana and Mosilikatze, these tribes were largely broken up and their power destroyed. One tribe, living in the Maluti mountains, was reduced to cannibalism. Moshesh forms the Basuto nation. From their chief Machacha mountain takes its name. At this period a young man named Moshesh (born about 1790), who was of the family of Monaheng and already noted as hunter and warrior, gathered round him the remnants of several broken clans, out of which he welded the existing Basuto nation. He established himself in 1824 on the rock-fortress of Thaba Bosigo, where, in 1831, he successfully defended himself against Mosilikatze; and thereafter became second only to that chief among the natives north of the Orange River. In 1833 Moshesh invited the missionaries of the Société des Missions Evangéliques of Paris to settle in his country, and from that day until his death proved their firm friend. A few years later, in 1836–1837, large parties of emigrant Boers settled north of the Orange, and before long disputes arose between them and Moshesh, who claimed a great part of the land on which the white farmers had settled. The Basuto acquired an unenviable notoriety as a race of bold cattle lifters and raiders, and the emigrant Boers found them extremely troublesome neighbours. At the same time, if the Basuto were eager for cattle, the Boers were eager for land; and their encroachments on the territories of the Basuto led to a proclamation in 1842 from Sir George Napier, the then governor of Cape Colony, forbidding further encroachments on Basutoland. In 1843 a treaty was signed with Moshesh on the lines of that already arranged with Waterboer, the Griqua chief (see Griqualand), creating Basutoland a native state under British protection.

To the quarrels between Basuto and Boers were added interminable disputes between the Basuto and other Bechuana tribes, which continued unabated after the proclamation of British sovereignty over the Orange river regions by Sir Harry Smith in 1848. In 1849, however, Moshesh was unwillingly induced by Sir Harry to surrender his claims to part of the territory recognized as his by the Napier treaty. The British continued to intervene in the inter-tribal disputes, and in 1851 Major H.D. Warden led against the Basuto a commando composed of British soldiers, farmers and a native contingent. This commando was defeated at Viervoet, near Thaba Nchu, by the Basuto, who thereafter raided and plundered the natives opposed to them and the farmers who had helped the British. Attempts were made to come to terms with Moshesh and the justice of many of his complaints was admitted. The efforts at accommodation failed, and in 1852 General Sir George Cathcart, who had succeeded Sir Harry Smith as governor of Cape Colony, decided to take strong measures with the tribe, and proceeded with three small divisions of troops against Moshesh. The expedition was by no means a success, but Moshesh, with that peculiar statecraft for which he was famous, saw that he could not hope permanently to hold out against the British troops, and followed up his successful skirmishes with General Cathcart by writing him a letter, in which he said: “As the object for which you have come is to have a compensation for Boers, I beg you will be satisfied with what you have taken. You have shown your power, you have chastised; I will try all I can to keep my people in order in the future.” General Cathcart accepted the offer of Moshesh and peace was proclaimed, the Basuto power being unbroken. Fourteen months later (February 1854) Great Britain renounced sovereignty over the farmers settled beyond the Orange, and Moshesh found himself face to face with the newly constituted Free State. Boundary disputes at once arose but were settled (1858) by the mediation of Sir George Grey, governor of Cape Colony. In 1865 a fresh feud occurred between the Orange Free State Boers and the Basuto. The latter applied to Sir Philip Wodehouse at the Cape for protection, but he declined to interfere. The Boers proved more successful than they had been in the past, and occupied several of the Basuto strongholds. They also annexed a certain fertile portion of Basuto territory, and finally terminated the strife by a treaty at Thaba Bosigo, by which Moshesh gave up the tract of territory taken by the Boers and professed himself a subject of the Free State. Seeing that the struggle against the Boers was hopeless, no fewer than 2000 Basuto warriors having been killed, Moshesh again appealed for protection to the British authorities, saying: “Let me and my people rest and live under the large folds of the flag of England before I am no more.” In response to this request, the British authorities decided to take over Basutoland, and a proclamation of annexation was issued on the 12th of March 1868. At the same time the Boer commandoes were requested to leave the country. The Free State strongly Annexation to Great Britain. resented the British annexation of Basutoland, but much negotiation the treaty of Aliwal North was concluded (1869) between the Free State and the high commissioner. This treaty defined the boundary between the Free State and Basutoland, whereby the fertile strip of country west of the Caledon river, known as the Conquered Territory, was finally transferred to the Free State, and the remainder of Basutoland was recognized as a portion of the British dominions.

Moshesh, who for nearly fifty years had led his people so skilfully and well, died in 1870. He was one of the rare instances among the Kaffirs of a leader endowed with intellectual gifts which placed him on a level with Europeans, and his life-work has left a permanent mark on South African history. In diplomacy he proved fully the equal of all—white or black—with whom he had to deal, while he ruled with a rare combination of vigour and moderation over the nation which he had created.

In 1871 Basutoland was annexed to Cape Colony, the area at that time being given as 10,300 sq. m. The turbulent Basuto warriors did not remain quiet for any length of time, and in 1879 Moirosi, a chief residing in the southern portion of Basutoland, openly repudiated colonial rule. An expedition was despatched from Cape Colony and severe fighting followed. Moirosi’s stronghold was captured and the chief himself was killed. Immediately after the war, strife occurred among the Basuto themselves over the question of the partition of Moirosi’s territory, which had been decided on as one of the results of the war. In 1880 the Cape government felt sufficiently strong to extend to Basutoland the Cape Peace Preservation Act of 1878. This act The “gun” war. provided for the disarmament of natives, and had already been put in force successfully among some of the Kaffir tribes on the Cape eastern frontier. Its execution in Basutoland, however, proved an extremely difficult task, and was never entirely accomplished. Desultory warfare was carried on between the colonial troops and the Basuto until 1881, when the intervention of the high commissioner, Sir Hercules Robinson (afterward Lord Rosmead), was asked for. Peace in Basutoland was not announced until the end of 1882. In the following year a form of self-government was established, but was once more followed by internal strife among the petty chieftains.

The subjection of Basutoland to the control of the Cape government had by this time proved unsatisfactory, both to the Basuto and to Cape Colony. The Cape government therefore offered no opposition to the appeal made by the Basuto themselves to the imperial government to take them over, and, moreover, Cape Colony undertook to pay towards the cost of administration an annual contribution of £18,000. Consequently, in 1884, Basutoland ceased to be a portion of the Cape Colony and became a British crown colony. Native laws and customs were interfered with as little as possible and the authority of the chiefs—all members of the Moshesh family—was maintained. Moshesh had been succeeded as paramount chief by his son, Letsie, and he in turn was succeeded in 1891 by Lerothodi (c. 1837–1905). These chieftains acted in concert with the British representative in the country, to whom was given the title of resident commissioner. The first commissioner was Sir Marshall Clarke, to whose tact and ability the country owed much. The period of warfare over, the Basuto turned their attention more and more to agricultural pursuits and also showed themselves very receptive of missionary influence. Trade increased, and in 1891 Basutoland was admitted to the customs union, which already existed between Orange Free State, Cape Colony and British Bechuanaland. When Lord (then Sir Alfred) Milner visited Basutoland in 1898, on his way to Bloemfontein, he was received by 15,000 mounted Basuto. The chiefs also attended a large meeting at Maseru, and gave expression to their gratitude for the beneficent character of Queen Victoria’s rule and protection. On the outbreak of the Boer War in 1899, these same chiefs, at a great meeting held in the presence of the resident commissioner, gave a further protestation of their loyalty to Her Majesty. They remained passive throughout the War and the neutrality of the country was respected by both armies. One chief alone sought to take advantage of the situation by disloyal action, and his offence was met A crown colony. by a year’s imprisonment. The conversion of Basutoland into a crown colony contributed alike to the prosperity of the Basuto, the security of the property of neighbouring colonists and a peaceful condition among the natives of South Africa generally. In pursuance of the policy of encouraging the self-governing powers of the Basuto, a national council was instituted and held its first sitting in July 1903. In August 1905 the paramount chief Lerothodi died. In early life he had distinguished himself in the wars with the Boers, and in 1880 he took an active part in the revolt against the Cape government. Since 1884 he had been a loyal supporter of the imperial authorities, being unwavering in his adherence in critical times. Fearless and masterful he also possessed high diplomatic gifts, and though on occasion arbitrary and passionate he was neither revengeful nor cruel. On the 19th of September following Lerothodi’s death, the national council, with the concurrence of the imperial government, elected his son Letsie as paramount chief. The completion in October 1905 of a railway putting Maseru in connexion with the South African railway system proved a great boon to the community. During the rebellion of the natives in Natal and Zululand in 1906 the Basuto remained perfectly quiet.

Authorities.—The Basutos (2 vols., London, 1909), a standard history, and “Basutoland and the Basutos” in Jnl. Ryl. Col. Inst. 1901, both by Sir G. Lagden, resident-commissioner, 1893–1901; E. Jacottet, “Moeurs, coutumes et superstitions des Ba-Souts,” in Bull. Soc. neuchâteloise Géog., vol. ix. pp. 107-151, 1897; G. M. Theal, Basutoland Records (Cape Town, 1883); E. Casalis, Les Bassutos (Paris, 1859), a description of exploration, manners and customs, the result of twenty-three years’ residence in the country; Minnie Martin, Basutoland: its Legends and Customs (London, 1903); Mrs F. A. Barkly, Among Boers and Basutos (new ed., London, 1897), a record, chiefly, of the Gun War of 1880–1882; C. W. Mackintosh, Coillard of the Zambesi (London, 1907). For geology consult E. Cohen, “Geognostisch-petrographische Skizzen aus Süd-Afrika,” Neues Jahrb. f. Min., 1874, and N. Jahrb. Beil., Bd. v., 1887; D. Draper, “Notes on the Geology of South-eastern Africa,” Quart. Journ. Geol. Soc., vol. l., 1894; Hatch-Corstorphine. The Geology of South Africa (London, 1905). For current information see the annual report on Basutoland (Colonial Office, London). Many books dealing with South Africa generally have chapters relating to Basutoland, e.g. A.P. Hillier, South African Studies (London, 1900); James Bryce, Impressions of South Africa (3rd ed., London, 1899). Consult also Theal’s History of South Africa (1908–9 ed.).  (F. R. C.; A. P. H.) 

  1. Report by resident-commissioner H.C. Sloley, for 1902–1903.