At the turn of the 19th century southern Africa was in flux.
peoples, who had practiced their nomadic hunter-gatherer life for millennia,
been pushed back from the coast by European settlers, and were being
by herding peoples from the northeast. Neither the herders nor
settlers had any regard for the Khoi-San, who were relegated to the
Kalahari desert. In 1800 the herders and the Europeans had not
yet met each
Though the herders shared a pastoral/agricultural economy, the
their cultural life varied widely. Among them were spoken some
and many more dialects. Vendetta was a normal fact of life.
Low grade warfare,
what we might call gang activity today, was the norm, just like in
Life in southern Africa, including warfare, had something of
happy-go-lucky attitude back then. Someone steals your sister,
you go with a
gang, have a fight, get her back, usually no one gets killed.
Back then, when
two kings went to war the two armies would strut and boast for a while,
they would get together and have a melee, capture each other, etc.
And in civil administration, the king's power was absolute, but
king was reasonable it was no problem, people did what they wanted
normal parameters of their culture.
Two years after Napoleon's "100 Days" a coronation took place
Africa. A man by the name of Shaka became king of the Zulus.
The Zulus were
one tribe among many, not outstanding in any way. They were a
small group, and
had been pushed around by larger tribes. Shaka and his mother
persecuted when he was a child.
By all reports Shaka was a strange character, and he had some
ideas about government and society. Before his accession
he had formed a corps
of soldiers who had pledged loyalty to the death. He immediately
police state and organized his tribe for war.
Shaka was not interested in the play-acting of traditional warfare.
liked to dominate and destroy. His tactics were built around
the concept of
killing the enemy. The analogy is when the guys with the machine
guns break up
the karate party in the Hong Kong movie.
Shaka rolled over his traditional enemies. Once he had
people he dismantled their culture. Men were put in the army.
Women were set
to farming and making babies. Everyone had a place in the Zulu
No enemy stood against Shaka. His campaigns swept across
Africa, leaving millions of dead. Large regions were depopulated.
more fled as far and as fast as they could to escape the ravages of
He went over the edge after his mother died, becoming obsessed
death. Blood sacrifice, both animal and human, had always been
part of his
system, but killing now became part of the general culture. Thousands
were killed at his mother's funeral, with additional thousands more
subsidiary "observances" across the kingdom. He banned sex, then
he killed all
the pregnant women he found. Things got strange in the Zulu kingdom.
Finally, in 1828, some of his soldiers assassinated him.
The Zulu, now
the biggest tribe in the east, became a normal people again, rather
but with none of the dangerous Messianism that had borne Shaka through
and horrific career.
Among the refugees of Shaka's wars were the Sotho people.
shelter in the Maloti mountains, and had shortly organized themselves
kingdom, because if Shaka proved anything it was that the old
every-village-its-own-tribe way of doing things was over and only nations
chance any more. The first Basotho king was Moshoeshoe I, and
he came to
control a large swath of territory in eastern South Africa.
Meanwhile, the British had taken the coast from the Dutch, who
settling there for getting on 300 years. The two peoples did
not get along, and
when things got bad enough many Dutch families pulled up stakes and
inland, where they could keep their slaves and practice their religion.
Because Shaka had blazed through a generation before much of
the land was
sparsely populated, and the trekkers found nothing to stop them from
But where they found people they just pushed them aside if they could.
the peoples they encountered were the Sotho.
Moshoeshoe resisted, but the settlers kept coming. Eventually
contact with the British, who in 1868 agreed to provide protection
from what had
become the Orange Free State.
The king died in 1870, and the territory was attached to the
Colony the following year. In 1884 it was reconstituted as the
crown colony of
Basutoland, With the destruction of the Boer republics at the
turn of the
(20th) century Basutoland found itself an enclave inside of South Africa.
The colonial years were characterized by administrative neglect
overwhelming influence of events in South Africa. A large number
of Sotho men
left Basutoland to work in South African industry, while at home development
languished. In the 1950s Basutoland participated in the general
towards independence, and Britain gradually allowed the formation of
institutions of government. A governing council was formed in
1960, slightly in
advance of the formation of the Republic of South Africa and its withdrawl
the British Commonwealth.
Independence came for Lesotho in 1966, with Leabua Jonathan as
minister, and Moshoeshoe II as king. The king was a figurehead,
minister was inept and corrupt. Even so, the Jonathan government
1986, when it was overthrown in a military coup, which set up a dictatorship.
The military rulers ruled through the king until 1990, when they dethroned
and replaced him with his son. The following year the military
overthrown in their turn by another army faction. The political
remains unstable, the economy poor. Lesotho is characterized
by the UN as one
of the poorest nations in the world.
I think I can state categorically that there was no pre-coin
money in Lesotho. The refugees who created the nation were herders
barter and counted their wealth in cattle and slaves. In the
market, such as it is, one hardly ever comes across artifacts from
Africa, and certainly nothing from Lesotho.
Basutoland used South African money during it's 78 year stint
colony. When independence came no time was lost in establishing
currency, and a set of collector coins was issued bearing the portrait
Moshoeshoe I, the George Washington of the Sotho. These handsome
coins come in
silver and gold, the former fairly easy to come by, the latter seldom
There was a small issue of gold coins for the FAO program in 1969,
silver and gold in 1976 to mark the 10th anniversary of independence.
silver, with its inept portrait, can be found, but not the gold.
Actually, there was no Sotho money in actual circulation until
the country continued to make do with South African money, both coins
Lesotho issued both coins and paper money for circulation in 1979.
are known down to 1989, but most of these have never been available
collectors. In my experience only 1979 dates ever show up, and
those rarely. I
typically ask three times SCWC prices when I have them, which I don't.
for a while.
From 1979 through the 80s Lesotho catered to collectors with
a bunch of
silver and gold coins in odd denominations. Most common of this
run are the
George Washington 250th anniversary coins. Interestingly, these
usually come with a companion trio from Antigua-Barbuda in a nice red
this complication is probably the reason the set is unlisted under
country, though it probably should be listed under both!
If I may be permitted an opinion, I would like to register a
complaint regarding the artistry of some of these coins. It is
that many of the world's collector issues are dreamed up by marketing
departments at the various mints and have little or nothing to do with
country that lends its name to the proposition. The quality of
the art and
choice of subject matter indicates to me that the marketers were perhaps
advantage of the situation. Lesotho, feeling possibly burned
by the later
transactions, has refrained from issuing such meaningless baubles during
90s. I would be pleased to see more commemoratives from this
country, and hope
that such items are issued in base metal versions and celebrate great
Sotho history. If they did this they would even sell some of
those coins in
Lesotho itself, and, as any coin dealer knows, the strength of the
market is primarily dependent on the interest of home country collectors.
applies to any country, no matter its economic health.