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Unbeknown to many, Lesotho is one of three countries in the whole world considered to be a

true enclave. It is completely enclosed within the territory of another state. Given its unique

position, it presents an interesting endeavour to trace the social changes that have transpired in

Lesotho since it gained independence in 1966. This paper discusses social change within

Lesotho's society as analyzed and compared with key anthropology literature on social change in

modern Africa. By drawing from ethnographic materials, media reports, research papers and

journal articles, this paper seeks to foster critical understanding of the social changes taking

place in Lesotho with a major focus on the impact of HIV and AIDS as a driver of social change

in the country and its intricate involvement with the Republic of South Africa.


Country Background

The earliest known inhabitants of Lesotho were Late-Stone-Age San hunters and gatherers, who

date back to at least the 10th Century AD. By the 16th century, other Bantu-speaking peoples

occupied the land as cattle owners, adapting themselves to the harsh conditions of the

mountains.1 Then known as Basutoland, the people of Lesotho (the Basotho) united under one

king in 1822 called Moshoeshoe the Great. To date, the Basotho identify their origin and strength

from the vision of King Moshoeshoe I, who built the nation on principles of leadership, family,

loyalty, diplomacy and, when necessary, war.2 The Basotho enjoyed years of peace and

prosperity during King Moshoeshoe's reign, enduring wars with the Afrikaner settlers and

British while forging alliances to introduce Christianity and education. This was until Basutoland

became a British Protectorate in 1865 to prevent wars and loss of land from the people. King

Moshoeshoe's death in 1871 marked the beginning of the British colonial era until Lesotho

gained independence in 1966.3

The British employed indirect rule using a dual administration approach with government at the

village level controlled through a hierarchy of chiefs under a “Paramount Chief”. This is

illustrative of Mahmood Mamdani's concept of decentralized despotism where colonial

imperialists sort to exercise control over local people by devolving power to the indigenous

1 Gill, 1993, p. 63.

2 Gill, 1994, p. 32.

3 Orpen, 1979, p. 24.


rulers.4 It also led to a bifurcated state whereby urban societies in Maseru were ruled directly by

the British and rural societies indirectly by chiefs. At the village level, the system of

chieftainship remains largely intact, but after the coup of January 1986, an increasingly

democratic element was introduced by the revival of locally-elected chiefs.

Lesotho's fight for independence has cultivated a strong cultural heritage to overcome challenges

with a sense of pride and a will to survive. This heritage of will is enshrined in the historical

founding of the nation to come together in search of peace and prosperity, to preserve

independence and avoid war, to overcome the apartheid era and political turmoil, and to support

the strong role of the extended family, religion, and chieftainship. As a matter of fact, Lesotho is

the only constitutional monarchy in sub-Sahara Africa today.5 The Prime Minister, Tom

Thabane, is head of government and has executive authority. The King of Lesotho, Letsie III,

serves a largely ceremonial function; he no longer possesses any executive authority and is

prohibited from actively participating in political initiatives. The All Basotho Convention (ABC)

leads a coalition government in the National Assembly, the lower house of parliament. The upper

house of parliament, called the Senate, is composed of 22 principal chiefs whose membership is

hereditary, and 11 appointees of the king, acting on the advice of the prime minister.

Lesotho's geographic location makes it extremely vulnerable to political and economic

developments in South Africa. Its economy is intricately integrated with South Africa's. It is

based on agriculture, livestock, manufacturing, and mining amounting to an 1181 USD gross

4 Mamdani, 1996, p. 26.

5 Kimaryo, Okpaku, Githuku-Shongwe, Feeney, 2004, p. 13.


domestic product (GDP) per capita. Almost 50 percent of the population earn income through

crop cultivation and animal husbandry with nearly two-thirds of the country's income coming

from agriculture.6 With a population of merely 2.2 million, Lesotho is heavily dependent on

inflows of worker's remittances and receipts from the Southern African Customs Union (SACU).

The formal sector is mainly made of female workers in the apparel sector, male migrant miners

from South Africa and government employees. The country is among the "Low Human

Development" countries (rank 160 of 187 on the Human Development Index as classified by the

UNDP, with 48.2 years of life expectancy at birth. Adult literacy is as high as 82 percent.7

Income disparity is among the highest in the world with a Gini coefficient of 54.2.8 Evidently,

Lesotho continues to be deeply entrenched in poverty as evidenced by its economy and reducing

GDP per capita since the colonial period.

6 Bureau of Statistics, 2017, pp. 1-5

7 "World Population Prospects: The 2017 Revision". (custom data acquired via website). United Nations

Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division. Retrieved 10 September 2017.

8 "GINI index". World Bank. Archived from the original on 8 April 2016. Retrieved 31 March 2016.


Key Sectors and themes critical to Lesotho's functioning

Historically, Lesotho's economy is intrinsically woven into the pre and post-apartheid era of

South Africa. For instance, part of the investment and industrialization development in Lesotho

was achieved by companies circumventing political complexities and economic sanctions

associated with pre-apartheid South Africa. Post-apartheid South Africa has experienced a direct

investment in the country, which has had a negative impact on Lesotho. Moreover, the

dependence of Lesotho on the South African economy for migrant labor has had negative effects

on the country's functioning. This further shows how its economy is highly dependent on the

economic landscape in South Africa.9 In fact, by adopting Appadurai Arjun's conceptual

dimensions of globalization, Lesotho's ethnoscape, mediascape, technoscape, finanscape, and

ideoscape are intimately tied to South Africa's.10

One of the most valuable assets available to any country is human resources. This especially

applies to Lesotho given its low population. In addition to having a relatively small population, a

substantial number of Basotho work in South Africa as miners. Lesotho's demography has been

notably impacted due to labor migration. Estimates show that between 40% and 50% of the male

labor force works in South Africa.11 Higher wages offered to miners in South Africa compared to

the meager returns from agriculture has been a major incentive for this migration. Furthermore,

locals cannot buy agricultural equipment to farm in the first place since they do not have enough

capital. The lack of a developed economic base coupled with insufficient natural resources (land)

9 Government of Lesotho, 2002, p. 2.

10 Appadurai, 1990, pp. 295-301.

11 Bureau of Statistics and UNFPA, 1996, p. 46.


is currently the main driving force for male emigration.12 Eventually, when most of the Basotho

men come back home unemployed, they are unlikely to find work in Lesotho. This, and the fact

that Basotho women have adapted to managing their lives without their husbands, gaining

confidence and knowledge about issues formerly dealt with by men causes the men anger and

frustration. Lots of men resort to alcoholism, having the impression that they are of no use in

society. Alcoholism and aggression towards women are a very wide-spread problem in Lesotho.

Agriculture is the backbone of Lesotho's economy. The majority of households subsist on

farming. Despite agriculture being an integral sector to the country's economy, erratic rainfall

and poor irrigation systems have resulted in dramatic fluctuation of production. Poor returns

from agriculture is a major reason for rural-urban migration. Moreover, Soil erosion caused by

human activities – namely poor crop production techniques and overgrazing – then intensified by

natural causes is considered to be the main environmental problem Lesotho faces. The

devastating effects can be seen throughout the country. Lesotho is interspersed with gullies and

vast areas of the country are denuded for vegetation. Soil fertility has plummeted with huge

quantities of topsoil washed away into the rivers of the Eastern Cape. Fortunately, after

independence, the new government took up the battle of soil conservation. Parliament enforced

the ‘Land Husbandry Act' in 1996 to control and improve the use of land and other natural

resources in the country. Poor returns from agriculture is a major reason for rural-urban

migration. Despite Africa having large tracts of unused land as John Galaty puts it, urbanization

has increased in Africa with a significant boom in the informal economy and youth

12 Keegan, 1986, pp. 196-215.


unemployment. In Lesotho, many have opted to live in urban slums to escape rural poverty as in

many parts of Sub-Saharan Africa. (Dolan and Rajak)

Education levels are low in Lesotho. In most households, it is usually up to the primary level or

sometimes non-existent for adults. Some children have achieved a secondary school education,

but many drop out due to insufficient funds for school fees and other school-related activities. In

some extreme cases, the more elderly have never attended school and are completely illiterate.13

Of the poor households, a large proportion does not have any marketable skills. The few who do

possess skills such as sewing, knitting, building, shoe repair and the making of handcrafts. These

are considered to be the main marketable skills. Unfortunately, many of those who possess these

skills lack the means to market their products and services. This is due to the inability to

purchase tools, equipment and other materials or due to ill health.14

13 Turner, 2001, p. 27.

14 Turner, 2001, p. 27.


The impact of HIV/AIDS to social change in Lesotho since


Social change is among the principle issues in socio-scientific theories and anthropology. Since

the 1970s, proponents of modernization theory, neo-Marxists and many others have been

debating who owns the best model and explanation of social change. Accordingly, in order to

accurately trace social change in any setting, it is imperative that a contextual definition of the

term is given. In this paper, the generic definition of social change is given as: “the process of

changing society that takes place on diverse levels: the macro-level (social structure and culture),

the meso-level (e.g. institutions) and the micro-level (based on the individual)”.15 A fitting

example of social change is the collapse of the German Democratic Republic, the entry into the

Federal Republic of Germany and the ongoing transformations of the newly formed German

states. If we trace social change as it occurred in Germany, we can see the disappearance of a

whole social order with drastic social consequences for numerous institutions, communities and

a multitude of individuals.

Social change represents the changes in social structure that occurred in Lesotho's society due to

the pandemic of HIV and AIDS since the colonial period. It stands for a change in its cultural

patterns, basic institutions and the associated social actions. For instance, an observable change

that took place due to HIV and AIDS is the continuously growing number of orphaned children

in the country. On the other hand, social change in Lesotho could also represent the progressive

aspect of the term. A change that must take place in the society to control the pandemic. Such

15 From the internet:, 2004.


change affects socio-cultural behaviour together with political institutions closely intertwined

within such efforts.

Lesotho has the second highest prevalence rate of this modern pandemic in the entire world at

25.00%, trailing behind Eswatini.16 At the same time, it is also poorer than Eswatini.

Approximately 320,000 adults and children were living with HIV and AIDS in Lesotho as of

2017. Although the first AIDS case was reported in 1986, 20 years after independence, the

impact it has had as a driver of social change in Lesotho dwarfs other sectors in comparison.

Such a high prevalence rate has evidently driven social change in the nation.

Worsened by the current food crisis and chronic poverty in Lesotho, HIV and AIDS has rapidly

changed the social profile and demographics of Lesotho. In the previous chapter, some of the key

sectors and themes critical to the functioning of Lesotho were mentioned at length. Like many

Sub-Saharan countries, Lesotho has had its fair share of political instability and strife after

independence. However, none of these challenges has had a significant impact on the country's

functioning as has HIV and AIDS. This pandemic has dug its vicious claws into the social and

economic fabric of Lesotho affecting all sectors in the country such as human resources,

agriculture, migration, governance and foreign investment just to name a few. The loss of

productive adults and parents to AIDS has resulted in more dependents (children and elderly)

adversely impacting economic development and social reproduction. Children and the elderly

lack the necessary support networks to thrive in Lesotho. As concisely depicted by Claude

16 "HIV and AIDS in Lesotho". AVERT. 21 July 2015. Archived from the original on 2 October 2018. Retrieved 1

October 2018.


Bartelmus, “HIV and AIDS is now accelerating the reversal of past socio-economic gains in

health, education, agriculture, trade and industry” in Lesotho. The confluence of these factors

makes HIV and AIDS suitable to trace social change in Lesotho on the macro, meso and microlevel

as is categorically highlighted in the following paragraphs.

Foremost, tracing social change on a macro-level, the AIDS catastrophe has dangerously

weakened the social and economic fabric of the nation threatening the traditional equity and

social independence of the Basotho. In demographic terms, the impact of AIDS is responsible for

declining growth rates, a stagnant population, and a reduction in life expectancy in Lesotho since

gaining independence. An increased mortality rate among adults has undermined society's

capacity to provide care and security to the most vulnerable. The government has had to

reallocate more funds to fight HIV and AIDS drawing from integral sectors of the economy. Due

to reduced labour supply and productivity, export earnings from Lesotho have declined affecting

strategic sectors of the economy such as agriculture and mining.17 Consequently, the balance of

payments between export earnings and import expenditure as a result of expensive healthcare

goods has come under pressure while the government's budget is also constrained. This has

caused Lesotho to default on debt repayments henceforth requiring economic assistance from the

broader international community. In truth, because of the HIV and AIDS pandemic, perpetual

reliance on foreign aid and international assistance has led the Basotho to feel as though there are

undergoing a new form of colonialism after the British left.

17 Mcmurchy, 1997 (4):11-2.


What are the consequences of receiving this aid for development? Dambisa Moyo accurately

portrays the trappings of foreign aid in Africa, citing how it has led to corruption, debt, inflation

and poverty just to name a few18. A failure of implementing economically-oriented approaches to

development has nullified the impact of aid in Lesotho. Arturo Escobar also argues that the

problematization of poverty and the professionalization of development in Africa ironically led

to the opposite result; massive underdevelopment.19 This can be observed in Lesotho's economy.

Public sector capacity has been eroded over the years as more civil servants are affected and

infected by HIV and AIDS in Lesotho. This has happened while the demand for many public

services has increased. Reduced productivity and performance have resulted from higher levels

of attrition and absenteeism. Similarly, the quality and quantity of service have been negatively

impacted across all sectors. The prospect of social strife and conflict has increased markedly

jeopardizing good governance and social cohesion with the root being the erosion of

governmental and societal systems. Insidious in nature, such has been the far-reaching effects of

AIDS in Lesotho's civil sector.

On the meso-level, AIDS has impacted several institutions throughout Lesotho's society with the

passage of time. Reduced labour supply because of increased mortality and morbidity in the

country has caused great dependence on migrant labour, especially from South Africa.

Concurrently, Lesotho is faced with a catch-22 situation since potential investors and immigrants

are reluctant to migrate into the country due to its high HIV prevalence. To address this situation

18 Moyo, 2009.

19 Escobar, 1991, pp. 658-682.


the burden of the economy is placed upon young children. This has greatly contributed to child

labour. The number of children working in hazardous and exploitative conditions has increased

since the colonial period. Children are left with no other alternative to support their ailing parents

and siblings. To add insult to injury, most children work in hazardous and exploitative conditions

where their rights are infringed upon. Sexual and economic exploitation include the exchange of

sexual services for money and hazardous work like mining during their formative years. Those

infected with AIDS face stigma and violence in such working conditions while the uninfected are

exposed to an increased risk of getting infected through sexual abuse. A vicious cycle of the

spread of HIV and entrenchment of poverty is thus reinforced as more children are infected and

deprived of means to contribute to the society.

HIV and AIDS have deeply affected Lesotho on a micro-level. In fact, Bartelmus observes, “the

ratio between those who must exploit social networks and those who have the ability to support

them may tilt catastrophically into a deficit” due to this pandemic.20 When infected parents die

due to AIDS, orphaned children are left without safety nets upon which to fall therefore

burdening the older population. Grandparents are left to take care of their grandchildren

whenever possible but where this is not an option, young children are “faced with looking after

siblings in an environment often characterized by fear, stigma and discrimination.”21

This phenomenon strikes at the most basic unit of society, the family, and has far-reaching

effects throughout all social institutions in Lesotho. The number of children orphaned as a result

of AIDS is large and will mushroom as adult death rates escalate.22 Many children undergo

20 Bartelmus, 2004, p.

21 Bartelmus 2004, p. 82.

22 UNICEF, 2002, p. 2.


immense psychological stress taking care of ill and dying parents while having to provide for the

family and taking on adult responsibilities. The pressure to abandon school is incredibly high

under such circumstances. This affects their ability to perform well and results in high levels of

withdrawal from school. In orphaned households, many children become despondent and lose

their sense of direction, security and well-being even before they become orphaned.23 As a result,

Lesotho's social structure is breaking apart from the foundation as more and members of the

extended family are dying and leaving behind poorly educated orphans to head the house. Its

society is thus deeply entrenched in poverty pulling such households further below the poverty

line as they struggle to cope.

Last but not least, stigmatization caused by HIV and AIDS has torn apart the unity existing

within Basotho communities since the colonial period. During the struggle for independence, the

Basotho were united against a common enemy. However, after the spread of HIV, people living

with AIDS are discriminated against within their own communities and sometimes cast out. This

stigma is also extended to those affected especially their friends, relatives and caretakers. The

prejudice and rejection faced by the victims only serve to increase their emotional distress.

Sadly, people are discouraged from testing their HIV status to avoid stigma if they test positive.

This strikes at the core of any efforts by health organizations and the government aimed at

curbing the spread of the pandemic. Ignorant of their status, innocent victims henceforth live

with and spread the virus until it is too late.

23 Bartelmus 2004, p. 85.


Anthropology's influence on the study of social change

Anthropology's empirical and inherent interdisciplinary nature stresses critical thinking while

studying social change in Africa. Participant observation has fostered an understanding of local

knowledge, values, and practices from the native's point of view. This plays a key role in

ethnography to prevent bias while studying an ethnic group and obtain empirical information.

Moreover, anthropology has birthed different models of social change such as structural

functionalism, evolutionism and more importantly modernization theories which have greatly

influenced the understanding of so-called underdeveloped countries in Africa. Patterns of social

change (cyclic and one directional) as described in cultural anthropology play an integral role in

determining long-term change in societies. This helps societies to accurately assess their

situation and chart the most favourable path to progress. However, the use of anthropological

methods is limited in carrying out such an exercise because the drivers of social change cannot

be derived scientifically alone but are instead identified by normative evaluations and judgments.



Regarding Lesotho, anthropological studies have played a critical role in informing the global

community of the challenges faced by the country. Due to the studies conducted on social change

in the nation, effective impact mitigation has been on the rise to help control HIV and AIDS. A

broad range of interventions in the economic, legislative, cultural and policy areas have assisted

in the direct prevention, treatment and care of the Basotho. Capacity building efforts and

transformational change from the top down will help lessen the impact of AIDS in Lesotho. For

instance, Lesotho's informal economies are slowly being remade using a bottom of the pyramid

approach.24 Reusing of tin cans in Thlokomelo villages to build houses is a fitting example of the

Basotho embracing environmentally friendly, non-political strategies by emphasizing youth

inclusion and entrepreneurship.25 Despite the future seeming bleak, young children are the

window of hope from which Lesotho is to rise like a phoenix from the ashes to defeat this


24 Dolan and Rajak, Journal of Development Studies 52, no. 4 (2016): 514-29.

25 Bartelmus, 2004, p. 110.



Appadurai, Arjun. "Disjuncture and Difference in the Global Cultural Economy." Theory

(1990): 295-310.

Bartelmus, Claude. 2004. "Living in Rich Man's Garbage" - Social Change in Lesotho Owing to

HIV and AIDS - The Tin/Can-Village Approach to Orphan Care and Social Change, Munich,

GRIN Verlag.

Bureau of Statistics and UNFPA (1996): 1996 Population Census Analytical Report, Vol. III

B: Socio-Economic Characteristics and Population Projections, Maseru.

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Dolan, and Rajak. "Remaking Africa's Informal Economies: Youth, Entrepreneurship and the

Promise of Inclusion at the Bottom of the Pyramid." Journal of Development Studies 52, no. 4

(2016): 514-29. doi:10.1080/00220388.2015.1126249.

Escobar, Arturo. “Anthropology and the Development Encounter: The Making and Marketing

of Development Anthropology.” 18, no. 4 (1991): 658-82.

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Consultants, UNICEF, Maseru.

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Elections, Morija Museum & Archives, ISBN 99911-793-6- 4, Morija.


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Keegan, T. (1986): Trade, Accumulation and Impoverishment: Mercantile Capital and the

Economic Transformation of Lesotho and Conquered Territory, 1870-1920. Lesotho.

Kimaryo, Sylvan, Okpaku, Joseph O., Githuku-Shongwe, Anne, Feeney, Joseph (2004):

Turning a Crisis into an Opportunity, Strategies for Scaling up the National Response to the

HIV/AIDS Pandemic in Lesotho, A Publication of the Partnership of the Government of Lesotho

and the Expanded Theme Group on HIV/AIDS, Lesotho, Third Press Publishers, New Rochelle,

New York, USA.

Mamdani, Mahmood. 1996. Citizen and Subject: Contemporary Africa and the Legacy of Late

Colonialism. Princeton Studies in Culture/Power/History. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University


McMurchy, D. (1997). "The economic impact of HIV / AIDS in Lesotho." AIDS Anal Afr 7(4):


Orpen, J. M. (1979): History of the Basotho of South Africa, Mazedon Book Center, Lesotho.

Turner, Stephen (2001): Livelihoods in Lesotho. CARE, printed and bounded by CLF Printers,


UNICEF (2002a): Report on Orphans and Vulnerable Children in Lesotho, UNICEF Regional

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