Lesotho, covering an area of 30,000 square km lies one thousand meter above sea level. It is therefore known as ‘kingdom in the sky’. But it exists on the ground and has the official name ‘Kingdom of Lesotho’. The country is not only landlocked, it is South Africa locked. The second highest peak in Africa, south of Kilimanjaro, at 3482 meters above sea level, is situated in the Thabana-Ntienyana mountains of Lesotho.
The two distinctive symbols of Lesotho are the Basotho hat and the Basotho blanket, which is the common every day wear of every Mosotho (Lesotho national).
Lesotho has the world’s shortest railway line – only one mile long from the bridge over the Mohokare river on the border to the lone railway station in the capital city Maseru. But this is not for show or for for children’s entertainment. The lone railway station is the terminus of the branch line which connects it to the railway network of South Africa.
[quote]Pakistan was canvassing for Sahabzaada Yaqoob Khan’s candidature for Director-General UNESCO[/quote]
Lesotho is not only surrounded by South Africa but is economically integrated with it also. Much of the earnings consist of remittances of Basotho workers, particularly miners, in South Africa. The economy of the country is based on agriculture, livestock and mining .
Basutoland (now Lesotho) emerged as a single polity under paramount chief Moshoeshoe I who consolidated various Basotho groupings and became their King in 1822.Then followed a long period of territorial conflicts with the British and Boer settlers. King Moshoeshoe won a notable victory over the Boers in 1867 .But by then Basothos had lost half of their territory to the Boers. They appealed to British Queen Victoria who agreed to make Basutoland a British protectorate. In 1869, the British signed a treaty with the Boers that defined the boundaries of Basutoland. It gained independence in 1966 when it became the Kingdom of Lesotho.
King Moshoeshoe II was a ceremonial monarch until January 1986 when, as a result of a Military coup led by Major General Justin Lekhanya, power was transferred to the King who had to act in co-ordination with and on the advice of the Military Council. The civilian cabinet was however appointed by the king.
[quote]Dr Siddique was an Indian Muslim and a good friend of Pakistan[/quote]
Our Embassy in Maputo was concurrently accredited to Lesotho (as well as Angola and Swaziland). The Ambassador visited Maseru to present credentials to the king soon after his appointment. In September 1987, I, the Deputy Head of the Mission was sent to Maseru to receive and accompany Pakistan’s special envoy Mr. Ashraf Jahangir Qazi, then Pakistan’s Ambassador to Syria. In the 1987 elections for the post of Director-General of UNESCO Pakistan had put up the candidature of its Foreign Minister Sahabzada Yakub Khan. The Government sent special envoys to different countries for canvassing support for Pakistan’s candidate. Ambassador Qazi was assigned a few countries including Lesotho where he, as a special envoy, had to lobby for Khan. I, representing the Embassy accredited to Lesotho, was there to accompany him to all official meetings. I arrived in Maseru, on 16 September 1987, a day before the arrival of Ambassador Qazi. We had our accommodation booked in the prominent Lesotho Sun hotel on Hilton Road, at the hilltop overlooking Maseru. I, accompanied by the host Government’s Protocol officers received the special envoy on arrival at Maseru airport. Dr Siddique, an Indian Muslim, and a good friend of Pakistan, now settled in Maseru, who had met me earlier, also accompanied me to receive the Special Envoy. Dr Siddique was a great help to us throughout our stay. Next day Ambassador Qazi and I called on the Chief of Protocol and met the Foreign Minister, before making formal calls on Major-General Justin Lekhanya, chairman of the Military government that ruled Lesotho in co-ordination with the king. The following day we called on Justin Lekhanya in his office. He was in full military uniform. Mr. Qazi explained the purpose of the visit and made an excellent presentation about Pakistan, our role in various UN bodies and about the suitability of Pakistan’s candidate for the Director-Generalship of UNESCO. Major General Lekhanya, in his typical army vocabulary, expressed his understanding and gave assurance that he would consider Pakistan’s request for support sympathetically.
We had some time free before the all-important call on His Majesty King Moshoeshoe II. Ambassador Qazi suggested we should get a takeaway lunch. So we walked downhill, and found a KFC. We bought our meal but the only bench in the small sitting area was occupied. My suggestion was to take the food and eat it in our hotel lawn. But Ambassador Qazi did not want the appetizing hot chicken to get cold. So we spread a newspaper sheet on the (clean) pedestal dustbin just outside the shop and had our meal there. Having been in the foreign service all my life I was impressed by this unassuming special envoy.
The protocol limousine came to the hotel and took us to the King’s office. At the exact time of appointment the Special Envoy and I were admitted to the presence of the King. There was no pomp and show. No crown or throne or any other royal trapping. The office too was nothing extraordinary. King Moshoeshoe II, tall and dignified, and educated at Oxford University, received us with courtesy and kindness. Ambassador Qazi presented his pitch to which the King listened intently and promised to give due and sympathetic consideration to Pakistan’s request for support. He had good words to say about our country and suggested that Pakistan should open a resident diplomatic mission in his country. It was a pleasure to be in the presence of a monarch who was so humane and humble.
The special envoy left after this but my flight to Maputo was a day later. Dr Siddique was kind enough to give me company and show me the sights of Lesotho. I accompanied him to the Friday prayers offered in a community hall because there was no purpose-built mosque as yet. Walking around in the city center the common sight was the inevitable blanket of different colours and sizes wrapped around the body by every man woman and child. Because of its altitude, Lesotho remains cooler throughout the year than other regions at the same latitude. Winters can be cold with the lowlands getting down to °–7 °C and the highlands to °–18 °C at times. So the blanket is almost a necessity. Passing one another on the street the common salutation was ‘tata’—meaning father or uncle. We saw the lone railway station and the typical Bosotho hat shaped restaurant and souvenir shop in the city center. Then Dr Siddique said I must see his poultry farm. I was not particularly interested because I did not think there would be any thing special about it. But he insisted and we went. It was a state of the art poultry farm, neat clean and managed by trained staff and doctors but the most interesting part which Dr Siddique disclosed only now was the information that he was not the sole owner of this poultry farm. King Moshoeshoe II was his partner. I asked if the King took a share in the business because of his fondness for chickens and eggs. Dr Siddique told me was not the reason. The King’s official allowances were not good enough so he needed to supplement his income by private means. Dr Siddique was a trusted partner of the King. He mentioned how the queen would visit the palace staff in their modest homes and huts whenever there was any celebration or bereavement in their families. On another occasion we were walking on the roadside and Dr Siddique pointed out to me a young man going somewhere on foot. He was the King’s son (now King Letsie III).
[quote]He pointed out a young man going somewhere on foot. He was the King’s son[/quote]
We in the Pakistan Embassy had to keep ourselves informed and in touch with the affairs of Lesotho. But after visiting the country and meeting the King, I developed a greater interest in happenings there. Even after I left Maputo in January 1990 on completion of my term I kept myself informed about Lesotho. King Moshoeshoe II was stripped of his powers and exiled by Gen Lekhanya in February 1990. Lekhanya himself was ousted in 1991 as a result of a mutiny by junior army officers. Moshoeshoe II refused to return to Lesotho as a figurehead only. His son was therefore installed as King Letsie III in 1991.He returned to Lesotho as an ordinary citizen. In 1995 King Letsie III abdicated in favour of his father. King Moshoeshoe II died in a car accident in 1996 — in suspicious circumstances according to some observers. His son King Letsie III ascended to the throne again.
By all accounts King Moshoeshoe II was very popular among his people. Having seen and met this suave and gentle monarch I felt sorry when I learnt about his death.