In 1998, the Kingdom of Lesotho experienced its greatest crisis since the independence of the British Commonwealth in 1966. Great riots occurred after the opposition claimed that there had been extensive and systematic electoral fraud during the May 1998 parliamentary elections.
Over 100 people were killed as a result of South Africa’s and Botswana’s invasion to stop the riots, on behalf of the Southern African Development Community (SADC).
The tense situation has now calmed down. The Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) and Prime Minister Bathuel Pakalitha Mosisili were seated after the invasion. A commission called the Interim Political Authority (IPA) was also appointed with representatives from the 12 largest parties to prepare new elections and electoral schemes. The election is scheduled to be held in the spring of 2001.
The 1998 elections
In the May 1998 elections, opposition parties received 40 percent of the vote, but the electoral scheme in which the winner takes it all gave LCD 78 of the 80 seats in parliament.
The two main opposition parties, the Conservative Basotho National Party (GDP) and the Social Democratic Basotho Congress Party, claimed that there had been extensive and systematic electoral fraud and went to trial because they were denied access to electoral documentation. The Supreme Court granted the opposition access to the documentation, and after irregularities were detected, large crowds besieged the royal palace in Maseru. King Letsie III was urged to cancel the election, but he refused.
An independent electoral commission was established by the SADC under South African leadership. The Commission’s report stated that there had been irregularities but not sufficient to cancel the election
Parts of the army had then gone out in support of the opposition parties, and the army leadership fled to South Africa. In late September, South African and Botswana forces entered the country at the invitation of Lesotho Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili, and on behalf of the SADC, to avert a possible military coup.
The SADC forces faced greater resistance than they expected as they sought to gain control of Maseru and the Katse Dam, which is important for South Africa’s water and electricity supply. The capital was plundered and large parts were destroyed.
But SADC forces gained control within two days, and after negotiations, LCD and Prime Minister Mosilisi regained power, and IPA was established. 9 South African soldiers, 58 Lesotho soldiers and 47 civilians were killed in the fighting. 450 new soldiers arrived from South Africa on September 27 to maintain law and order.
Delayed new elections
South Africa’s security minister Sydney Mufamadi facilitated the negotiations between the government and the opposition. On October 2, it was decided that new elections should be held on April 8, 2000, and that the government should remain seated until this. At the end of April / May 1999, SADC forces withdrew from Lesotho, but the expected turmoil in the wake of the withdrawal failed.
Social conditions have deteriorated during the 1990s. Life expectancy was 58 years in 1995, and estimates for 2000 show that it has dropped to 50 years. Reported by COUNTRYAAH, more than half of the population lives below the poverty line. More than 70 percent of the population over the age of 15 could read and write in 1995.
In addition to the drought that has been devastating for agriculture in recent years, social conditions have deteriorated significantly following the riots in 1998. 80 percent of commercial infrastructure in Maseru and two other major cities were destroyed. There are no exact figures, with it estimated that it was destroyed for many hundreds of millions of USD. Most businesses were not insured, and rebuilding small and medium-sized businesses will be a significant challenge to achieve economic growth and combat unemployment affecting over half of the working population.
Lesotho’s only important natural resource is water, but discoveries of uranium outside Teyateyaneng can be an important source of income.
The economy is otherwise based on self-storage farming and animal husbandry, and income from miners in South Africa. In 1996, revenues from these accounted for 33 percent of GDP. The country is severely overpopulated, but a quarter of the male workforce worked in South Africa in the mid-1990s, helping to cushion this pressure.
The Customs Union with South Africa has accounted for more than half of the state’s revenue in the 1990s. Revenue increases from the sale of water to South Africa from the Katse Dam, which was completed in 1998.
In 1988, the government took out a larger loan from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and began a structural adjustment program that has resulted in major cuts in public spending and extensive privatization.