After tribal leader Moshoeshoe I united the people of present day Lesotho into Basutoland, he set his capital city high in the northern Drakensberg mountains at Buthe-Buthe, which was well placed to defend the eventual Kingdom of Lesotho. The capital was later moved to Thaba Bosiu which was used as his headquarters during the various Basuto Wars (1856-68) with the Boers who had taken control of traditional Basotho lands leading to Moshoeshoe appealing to Queen Victoria to make Basotuland a British protectorate ~ a request her government acquiesced to. Maseru, on the border with then British South Africa, was then established as a police camp from where the British could extend their protection to Lesotho and it functioned as the administrative centre of the protectorate as well as a small trading base until a year after Moshoehoe's death in 1870 when the protectorate itself was annexed to Cape Colony despite protests from both Basotho and Boer leaders. This step provoked widespread dismay in Basutoland as magistrates in Cape Colony were seen as interfering with the traditional laws of the Sotho people and even demarcated parts of Basutoland for white use only.
This rumbling discontentment saw Cape magistrates introduce a law in 1879, the Disarmament Act, that was designed to ensure that all firearms were surrendered to prevent any conflict. Instead it triggered the Gun War of 1880-1881 which saw 8000 Basuto dead and 2000 British casualties. Although peace was eventually established, Cape Colony was unable to establish any effective control over Basutoland and it requested that London re-establish direct control over the territory which it did in 1884 restoring it as a Crown Colony. After regaining Crown Colony status, Maseru was restored as Basutoland's capital however the British had little interest in developing it, nor indeed did that interest spread to anywhere in Lesotho. On independence in 1966 Maseru remained the capital of the renamed Kingdom of Lesotho. In the early 1980s it became known as a place of hiding for ANC activists who were struggling against South Africa's apartheid regime. In 1982 South African troops (SADF) carried out what was called the 'Maseru Massacre' when they launched a strike on Maseru in search of ANC 'militants' killing 42, 30 of them ANC members.
16 years later in 1998, Maseru was nearly destroyed after post-apartheid South Africa troops 'invaded' Lesotho claiming the kingdom was on the brink of a coup and they needed to maintain stability in the enclave. This invasion caused 6,000,000UK worth of damage and almost totally decimated Maseru, destroying its economy and infrastructure not only from the attack but from the riots and pillaging that followed it. Today Maseru, with its population (according tto the authoritative World Population Review) of around 118,355 (2021), remains Lesotho's largest city and has seen a rise in its population as many poor abandoned their countryside homes due to increasing poverty and flocked to the capital. It shoud be noted Maseru is also the capital of the Maseru District in Lesotho and the population figures between the city and district are blurred. Whilst its centre is modern and well developed, its outlying regions are home to poor shanty areas filled with these 'incomers'. Ironically the near destruction of the town in 1998 saw traditional markets and enterprise emerge where once large commercial organisations had been situated giving the town a more traditional African feel.
Maseru Profile: Volunteer Work in Lesotho
Maseru Profile: Maseru City Map
Maseru Profile: Sponsor a Child in Lesotho
Maseru Profile: Lesotho Country Profile
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