14 October, 2016

Lesotho: 50 Years of Independence?

by M. K. Mahlakeng

“Sir George Grey restore to me all the land that was in my possession before the arrival of the Afrikaners..”
King Moshoeshoe I - 31 July 1858

On the 4 October 2016, Lesotho celebrated its 50th year of independence (the Golden Jubilee) from the Great Britain (4 October 1966 – 4 October 2016). But one serious noteworthy question remains. Is Lesotho really independent? Independence refers to sovereignty, self-government and the state or quality of being independent. It is conceivable to argue that Lesotho attained self-rule and sovereignty from the Great Britain, however, “the state or quality of being independent” (i.e. socially, economically and otherwise) is a highly contended issue. It is generally perceived that Lesotho is not truly independent and that its “total independence” is central to regaining the “lost territory”, which is the Free State.

The Free State, as seen from the University of the Free State, QwaQwa Campus

50 years later, the Free State which was lost by the Basotho nation to the Afrikaaner following a series of fights has still not returned to Lesotho. The Afrikaner, leaving the Cape Colony as a result of the conflict with the British, showed up on the western borders of the then Basutoland (today Lesotho), and claimed land rights. This eventually led to a series of fights in 1858 between the Afrikaner and Basotho in the “Free State – Basotho War”, thus leading to Moshoeshoe I to lose a great portion of the western lowlands.

50 years later Lesotho is still heavily dependent on foreign aid (posing a great deal of challenge in addressing socioeconomic issues), and imports 95% of its goods from South Africa. Its geographic location, being an enclave landlocked country entirely surrounded by South Africa, seems to be a negative aspect to its political and economic development which has left Lesotho in a position of being dependent on South Africa for economic survival. Moreover, it has left Lesotho with the inability of negotiating sustainable deals.

Furthermore, 50 years later Lesotho, with a population of about 2.1 million, has not been able to fully address political and socioeconomic upheavals confronting the country simply due to the lack of resources. However, there is a solution to this. And this solution falls back to the issue of the Free State region. The total retrocession and restitution of the Free State to Lesotho. The retrocession and restitution of the Free State to Lesotho would mean a number of things for the enclave landlocked country. Firstly, it would mean a considerable increase in arable land, which currently stands at 10% of the total of this mountainous country.

Secondly, this additional land comes with a number of these resources essential in addressing Lesotho’s political and socioeconomic upheavals such as, among others, HIV prevalence, lack of employment and poverty, which has led to serious health issues such as chronic malnutrition of children under the age of 5. These resources include gold in Allanridge, Welkom and Virginia; coal in Sasolburg; and, diamonds in Jagasfontein and Theunissen. Furthermore, The Free State falls under what is commonly referred to as “The Maize Triangle” possessing the best maize. This maize triangle stretches from Lichtenburg (North West Province), Hobhouse (Free State Province) to Ermelo (Mpumalanga Province) thus forming a triangle.

Furthermore, the same region (i.e. the High Veld in the Free State) is recognized, among four other parts of the World (i.e. the Prairies in Canada, the Pampas in Argentina, the Steppes in Ukraine, and the Downs in Australia), as possessing rich soil able to sustain agricultural life. Despite trade routes, Lesotho remains dependent on South Africa simply because it lacks resources (found in the Free State) essential for the development of a competitive economy and a prosperous social and political life.

The failure by Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili and King Letsie III, during their respective speeches commemorating 50 years of Lesotho’s independence, to not acknowledge the positive outcomes that would come with the return of the Free State to Lesotho and the fact that Lesotho is not independent until retrocession and restitution of the Free State to Lesotho is final, is detrimental to the knowledge and history of Lesotho and its nation respectively.

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