Lesotho: One party rule (1966-1986)

Updated March 2007

The administration formed by Basotholand National Party (BNP) under the Prime Minister Chief Jonathan followed policies that alienated both the royalists and nationalists alike, both within and outside its ranks. Relations between the Jonathan and King Moshoeshoe II deteriorated further and in December 1966 the King was placed under house arrest for addressing a political meeting without the permission of the government; he was only released when he undertook to refrain from political activities (Lodge et al 2002, 92). The government formed close ties with Apartheid South Africa, relying on it increasingly for administrative, financial and commercial support, but was unable to translate the gains it made into real improvements in living conditions for the Basotho people (Institute of Security Studies 2003; Lodge et al 2002, 92). The government seemed unaware of the extent to which it had alienated public opinion among the middle classes and rural poor, while the Basutoland Congress Party capitalised on the prevailing sentiment (Lesotho Government Undated).

When it became evident that the BNP would lose the January 1970 elections Jonathan declared a state of emergency, suspended the constitution and nullified the elections without announcing the result, alleging intimidation of the voters in a communist inspired plot to take power (Encyclopaedia of the Nations 2005; Institute of Security Studies 2003). Opposition leaders were placed arrested and the King, once more under house arrest, went into exile in April, though he was permitted to return in December after undertaking to stay clear of politics (Lesotho Government Undated; Encyclopaedia of the Nations 2005). Supported by South Africa and with the tacit condonation of the British (who unilaterally resumed aid), Jonathan was able to resist pressure to create a government of national unity (Lesotho Government Undated). Reconstructions of the results (see 1970 National Assembly election results) indicate that the BCP won the election with 50% of the votes and 60% of the seats. The Institute of Security Studies (2003) notes: "These developments merely served further to narrow the domestic political support base of the BNP, and entrenched the regime's relationship of dependence vis-à-vis the Pretoria government".

In 1973 Jonathan appointed an interim legislature, consisting of the 22 principle chiefs, a majority of BNP members and those BCP and Marema-Tlou Freedom Party (MFP) members that were prepared to serve, tasked with drafting a new constitution; BCP leader Ntsu Mokhehle rejected cooption which resulted in a split in the party, with those who were prepared to work with the BNP being offered representation in the cabinet (Lodge et al 2002, 92; Institute of Security Studies 2003). Conflict between Jonathan and Mokhehle came to a head in January 1974. Attacks were made on police posts and Mokhehle was accused of conspiring to seize power; the BCP was banned and its supporters arrested and killed, while Mokhehle and others fled into exile (Columbia Encyclopaedia 2007; Encyclopaedia of the Nations 2005). The BCP split once more, into an internal wing under Gerard Ramoreboli which was willing to accept the status quo and an external wing led by Mokhehle which in due course formed the Lesotho Liberation Army (LLA) to unseat the government by force (Sauders 2002, 523; Encyclopaedia of the Nations 2005; Lodge et al 2002, 92-93). The LLA engaged in attacks on police stations, ambushes of officials and bombings in the capital from the late 1970s onwards (Encyclopaedia of the Nations 2005).

The Lesotho government's policy of dialogue with South Africa isolated Lesotho diplomatically in Africa and did not yield the economic benefits that had been anticipated. After the 1976 Soweto Uprising the government became increasingly critical of South Africa and supportative of the banned African National Congress, which was engaged in armed struggle against Pretoria, in the hope of gaining diplomatic and material support in sympathy for this stance (Institute of Security Studies 2003; Lodge et al 2002, 92-93). This was successful in that large amounts of foreign aid were made available, enabling the government to develop the educational and healthcare systems and upgrade transport and communications infrastructure (Lesotho Government Undated). This did not quell internal dissent and the popularity of the government continued to decline (Wikipedia 2007).

Relations with South Africa further deteriorated after LLA incursions from South African territory made it clear that South Africa was providing the BCP and it's armed wing with support (Encyclopaedia of the Nations 2005; Lodge et al 2002, 92). After a brief rapprochement between the two countries in the early 1980's recriminations between them resumed, culminating in a South African incursion into Maseru in 1982 that led to the death of 42 people, including 12 Basothos (Institute of Security Studies 2003; Encyclopaedia of the Nations 2005). Pretoria followed this up with economic pressure, restricting traffic flow into Lesotho in 1983, stepping up support for the opponents of Jonathan's government and further military attacks in 1984 (Institute of Security Studies 2003; Lodge et al 2002, 93).

The government attempted to bolster its legitimacy and satisfy the demands of foreign donors in 1985 by holding a national election, but the effort failed when all the opposition parties boycotted the poll and all the BNP candidates were returned unopposed (Lesotho Government Undated; Institute of Security Studies 2003). In late 1985 a further raid was conducted by South Africa and on 1 January it closed the border cutting off food and fuel from the Kingdom (Lodge et al 2002, 93, Encyclopaedia of the Nations 2005). Five opposition leaders were arrested on returning from talks with the South African government and fighting broke our within the Royal Lesotho Defense Force (Saunders 2002, 524). On the 15 January the Royal Lesotho Defense Force surrounded government buildings and, after returning from talks with the South African government, on the 20 January the Royal Lesotho Defense Force executed a coup, disarming the BNP paramilitary youth wing, deposing the government of Jonathan, and dissolving the National Assembly (Lodge et al 2002, 93, Saunders 2002, 524). All executive power was vested in the King acing on the advice of a military Council of six, led by Maj Gen Justin Metsing Lekhanya, which oversaw a civilian cabinet appointed by the King (Encyclopaedia of the Nations 2005; Wikipedia 2007; Institute of Security Studies 2003).


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