The Kingdom of Lesotho, 1868 to 1966 Basutoland, is a landlocked
country in southern Africa. Lesotho is completely surrounded by the
Republic of South Africa. The capital is Maseru. The form of
government is a parliamentary monarchy. The country has not been
part of the United Kingdom since 1966, but is still linked to it by
the Commonwealth. Independence Day is an annual national holiday.
Lesotho means "land of the Sotho-speaking people", where Sesotho is meant here. Because of its high altitude, the country is also called The Kingdom in the Sky.
The Kingdom of Lesotho lies between 29 and 30 degrees south latitude and between 28 and 30 degrees east longitude. The country is one of the smaller countries in Africa (42nd place out of 54) and, at 30,355 km², is about the size of Belgium. It is completely surrounded by another state (South Africa), which is otherwise only the case with San Marino and Vatican City. It shares a border of around 1,106 kilometers with its only neighboring country. It borders South Africa's Free State Province to the west and north, KwaZulu-Natal to the east and the Eastern Cape Province to the south.
The western part of Lesotho lies on a plateau called the Highveld (called the Lowlands because of its relative location within the country). It is the main settlement area of the country and consists mostly of sandstone. The Lowlands are about 1400 to 1700 meters above sea level. The landscape is characterized by table mountains and river valleys. There is also the capital Maseru.
The eastern plateaus and mountains (highlands), on the other hand, are partly over 2000 meters high and consist of basalt, which was formed by volcanic eruptions around 170 to 150 million years ago. The Highlands are characterized by deep river valleys and numerous mountains and mountain ranges. Almost crescent-shaped, beginning in the southwest and ending in the north, the country is traversed by the Drakensberg Mountains (called Maloti in Lesotho). The highest mountain in the country and in all of southern Africa is the Thabana Ntlenyana at 3482 metres.
The lowest point in the country is at the confluence of the Oranje (called the Senqu in Lesotho) and the Makhaleng at about 1390 meters above sea level. The altitude of Lesotho is a unique geographical feature: As the only independent country in the world, the entire national territory is over 1000 meters, with an additional 80% of the area being over 1800 meters.
The two major South African rivers Orange and Caledon have their source in Lesotho. Like other rivers in Lesotho, they have formed deep canyons. Numerous waterfalls are found on the ledges of the basalt rocks that make up the Drakensberg Mountains, of which the Maletsunyane Waterfall at Semonkong is the highest uninterrupted waterfall in southern Africa at around 192 metres. The floor of the plateaus at the transition to the Highveld in the west consists of soft sandstone. For this reason and also because of overpopulation and excessive demands on the soil - only about eleven percent of the country's area can be used for agriculture - these suffer particularly badly from soil erosion here.
The country's natural resources are water and, to a lesser extent, diamonds and other minerals. The rich water reservoirs, with an estimated daily discharge of 7,280 million liters, are the starting point for large-scale energy and water supply projects. As part of the Lesotho Highlands Water Project, construction of several dams has begun, the largest of which is the Katse dam.
climate and vegetation
Due to its location in the southern hemisphere, the seasons in Lesotho are opposite to those in the northern hemisphere. The climate is moderately warm due to the high altitude of the entire country. In winter, between June and August, it often gets very cold and snow can fall in the higher elevations in the east. However, it is also sunny during the day in winter, and the country has an average of around 300 sunny days throughout the year. In the summer months between November and March it is mostly hot in Lesotho. There are thunderstorms on about 100 days a year, mostly in summer. Due to the altitude, temperatures can vary greatly during the day (between −15 °C at night in winter and up to over 30 °C during the day in summer). The average annual temperature in the capital Maseru is 15 °C. Snowfall is possible all year round in the high mountains of the Drakensberg. About 85% of annual precipitation - the national average is about 600 to 800 mm - falls during the summer, which is why the landscape is mostly parched during the dry winter months.
Flora and fauna
There are few trees in the entire country. These are mainly limited to locations in sheltered valleys or plantations. The most common tree species are eucalyptus, acacia and, in the villages, peach trees. In the higher elevations of the country, willows are found in the river valleys. Furthermore, many types of aloe stand out. The spiral aloe (Aloe polyphylla, Sesotho: lekhala) is endemic to Lesotho. The mountain cabbage tree (Cussonia paniculata), which can grow up to three meters high, is also typical. The wild forms of cosmea, zinnia and tagetes are quite common. Some plant species, such as the latter two, have been brought to the country from Central and South America.
The fauna is characterized by smaller animals. The largest wild mammal is the roebuck (Pelea capreolus, Sesotho: letsa), which is almost the size of a deer. Birds such as storks, ibis, herons and vultures, including the rare bearded vulture, are striking. A white stork that had been ringed at Rossitten in East Prussia was found in what is now Lesotho in the 1920s. Smaller birds include weaver birds and the nectar-sucking malachite sunbird. Reptiles, including some species of snakes, amphibians and a few fish are also found, as well as numerous insects and other small animals, similar to those in neighboring countries. The domestic animals are mainly cattle, but also horses, sheep, goats, donkeys, chickens, dogs and cats.
Around 1830 hippos, zebras, wildebeests, ostriches and a few lions were still found in what is now Lesotho. The 65 km² Sehlabathebe National Park in the southeast of the country has existed since 1969. The Tšehlanyane National Park in the Butha-Buthe district is another protected area in Lesotho, but is not officially recognized as a national park.
The surface is dominated by the Drakensberg. They are a mighty elevation of mostly basaltic rocks that were formed about 180 million years ago by volcanism that was widespread in the southern hemisphere. The volcanic forces broke through the existing sedimentary cover of the main Karoo basin and created further uplift in the edge area of this zone. The flatter areas, especially in the western parts of the country, consist mainly of sandstones, which are quarried in several places for regional and South African needs.