AS South African President Jacob Zuma and Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe - chairman of the 15-member Southern African Development Community (SADC) continue to cajole Lesotho’s leaders to reach a political settlement after their rival party leaders failed to patch up their differences following its recent failed “coup”, another whisper is catching the attention of the Basotho.
The National Union of Mineworkers are raising questions as to whether this small Kingdom should become a part of South Africa, as a matter of stability. Yet, this is one of the most intriguing features of the southern African nation - Lesotho is a landlocked island, completely surrounded by South Africa. This makes it the only sovereign country in the world surrounded by another country, and one of only four countries in the world that are enclaves within another country - the other three are San Marino, Vatican City and the Principality of Monaco.
This is just one of the many remarkable features that Lesotho has. After Mail & Guardian Africa published a story on eight unusual things about the “Kingdom in Sky”, readers asked for more and contributed their gems. Here they are, plus one of our own:
1. Shortest non-coup: At the end of August, following a quarrel in the Lesotho’s ruling coalition, Prime Minister Thomas Thabane fled to South Africa on a cold Saturday morning, claiming there had been a “coup” against his regime. The short of it is that barely a week later, he was back in State House in Maseru, after intervention by the regional bloc Southern Africa Development Community (SADC). He was escorted across the border by South African security. And with that, Lesotho set a record for the first African president to have been returned to power by a neighbouring country in the shortest period.
2. White Gold: Lesotho’s Highlands Water Project - consists of dams, reservoirs, transfer tunnels, and a hydroelectric power station - has managed to generate $20 million in annual royalties from South Africa into the country’s coffers, totalling about a quarter of the country’s exports.
3. Constitutional monarchy: Lesotho is a constitutional monarchy - the king, currently Letsie III, is head of state but does not actively participate in political activities. The prime minister is head of government and has executive authority. Surprisingly in Africa - this king is monogamous.
3. High Country: Lesotho has the distinction of having the highest mountain peak in southern Africa - Thabana Ntlenyana, the highest road in Africa - Tlaeeng Pass and the highest pub in Africa - Sani Top Chalets
5. Diamond Boom: Lesotho produces some of best gem quality diamonds in the world and event though the industry has been in existence since the late 1950s, diamond production is expected to increase due to an increase in current prospecting operations and upscaling of production in the operating mines. Weighted diamond production has risen from 13,089 carats in the first quarter of 2006 to 27,724 carats in the second quarter of 2012.
6. Horsing around: The kingdom of Lesotho has a deeply rooted riding culture, the country even has a unique breed pony - the Basotho pony. The animal is the best form of transport throughout the country’s mountainous terrain in the mountains
7. Malaria Free: a high altitude means that this country is a malaria-free destination
8. Special Hospital: The Queen Mamohato Memorial Hospital in Lesotho is the first of its kind in any low-income country in the world – built, financed and run entirely as a “public-private partnership.”