Lesotho – The Three Kings

Three Kings are featured on the front of out banknote. On our right, wearing the hat, is the first king, King Moshoeshoe. On our left, wearing glasses, is King Moshoeshoe II (Constantine Bereng Seeiso) (1938-1996). In the center is the present King of Lesotho,King Letsie III (born David Mohato
Bereng Seeiso; 17 July 1963). 

The First King…

King Moshoeshoe I, was born in 1780 the eldest son of a chief of a regional clan known as the Basotho people.1 Renowned for bravery, as a young man he organized a raid on a rival, the Ramonaheng, and took posession of their herds of cattle. As customary among his people, he composed a poem depicting his exploits in which he declared that he had “shaved the beards” of the rival Ramonaheng; the action of shaving a beard making a sound resembling the sound of the spoken words “shoe” …. “shoe”, he became affectionately know as Moshoeshoe, “the shaver”.

Moshoeshoe and his followers established their village and began to grow in the early 19th century coincident with the nearby rise of Shakra and the Zulu kingdom. Military pressure from the nearby and growing Zulu, forced Moshoeshoe to relocate his people to the Qiloane plateau (elevation 2 km) which proved to be an impregnable stronghold for the people. It was later named Thaba Bosiu or “mountain at night” because it was believed “to grow during the night and shrink during day”,2 enhancing its defensive qualities. The era was to become known as “the time of troubles”3due to incessant conflicts. But Moshoeshoe took care of his people and prospered.

In addition to bravery, Moshoeshoe became renowned for diplomacy. During the time of troubles, his influence grew as he extended friendship to defeated enemies, providing them with land and protection. In later years, in the era that would come to be the Boer Wars, Moshoeshoe negotiated a treaty for protection of his people under Great Britain. With his death in 1870, the colonial era is considered to have begun. However the status of Lesotho was that of British protectorate, as negotiated by King Moshoeshoe I, rather than that of many other colonies, a forced annexation. Moshoeshoe’s people would continue on.

The Kingdom of Lesotho…

In 1966, the Kingdom of Lesotho came into existence with independence from Great Britain. The ruling party, upon losing in the first post-independence election, refused to cede power to the election winners, and imprisoned its political opponents. A struggle continued until 1986, twenty years following independence, when a military coup d’etat pushed the usurpers out of power and brought in Constantine Bereng Seeiso, who took the name King Moshoeshoe II. When he sought to strengthen executive power through amending the constitution, he was forced into exile and his son was installed as King Letsie III. King Moshoeshoe II was reinstated as king in 1995, but briefly, dying in an accident in 1996. His son, King Letsie III was brought as king and so continues to this day.

And King Meshoeshoe’s people continue, to this day.


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The flag and coat of arms of Lesotho are shown above.

Known as Basutoland, established as a British crown colony in 1884. Called the Kingdom of Lesotho upon its independence from Great Britain in 1966, October 4.

Between 1816 and 1840, a series of wars “raged across the breadth of the subcontinent.” Pg 263.  Named Mfecane, “the crushing” by the Nguninof the south-east, and named Difaqane, or lifaqane, “the scattering” by the Sothi-Tswana of the highveld.  The political map was transformed

Competition for resources was common and included cattle raids.  Shaka was a military commander among the Zulus along the Indian Ocean coast.  By 1819 he had established himself as ruler of the Zulu.  Shaka had introduced military innovations from his rivals and improved their efficiencies and so evolved into a dominating military force.  He introduced a short stabbing sword and drilled his regiments in warfare.  In 1828 Shaka was assassinated by his half brother and the kingdom soon declined.1

Moshoeshoe gained reputation as an able military leader and many applied to him for protection.   In 1824 he moved his people to a plateau a strong defensive position able to witstand a lengthy siege.2

  His kingdom grew, not as a centralized state, but as a “loose federation of semi-independent chiefdoms”.3

  He was a brilliant diplomat, working with weaker and stronger neighbors alike.

Moshoeshoe invited missionaries to settle in his kingdom, his motive being political rather than religious.  The relation led to trade and the import of guns and horse which, in the 1830s and 1840s made Moshoeshoe’s kingdom “one of the most formidable powers in southern Africa.”4

In 1868 Moshoeshoe requested annexation to the British, saving the Sotho from annihilation.5

The Union of South Africa was formed in 1910 with an expectation that Sotho and other regions would eventually be incorporated in some form of political union.  Developing political crises in the 1950s culminating in the March 1960 Sharpeville crisis removed all such expectations.  Political parties were then allowed by Great Britain and moves were made towards ultimate independence. In 1966 Lesotho gained independence and prime minister, the paramount chief, took the name of King Moshoeshoe II.6

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closeup of Lesotho coat of arms from Lesotho 5 maloti banknote

Lesotho – 5 Maloti – Year 1989

Lesotho 5 Maloti Banknote – Year 1989 – Face and Back
lesotho 5 maloti banknote year 1989 front featuring portrait of King Moshoeshoe of Lesotho

Lesotho, “the land of the people who speak Sesotho”1
Depicted on the front of our banknote is King Moshoeshoe II of Lesotho.  Moshoeshoe II presided as king in Lesotho during the era in which Lesotho gained full independence from Great Britain in 1966. He took his name from the great King Moshoeshoe I, founder of the kingdom in the 18th century.

lesotho 5 maloti banknote year 1989 back featuring  Maletsunyane Falls of Lesotho

The waterfalls depicted on our banknote our located in very remote territory, and, consequently, seen by very few people.. This is the Maletsunyane Falls of Lesotho, on the river of the same name.

The banknote featured is Lesotho, 5 maloti, dated 1989.  The currency is named loti, plural is maloti.

Lesotho celebrates its Independence Day on October 4.  In 1966, Lesotho declared its independence from Great Britain.

closeup of Lesotho coat of arms from Lesotho 5 maloti banknote
Lesotho Coat of Arms

The coat of arms of Lesotho is featured on our banknote.

The central crocodile is featured on a Basotho shield, the symbol for the largest ethnicity in Lesotho.  This symbol has been retained from Basutoland which preceded the establishment of Lesotho.

The shield is upheld by two Basotho horses.

Two weapons, the knobkierie club and the assegai spear are crossed behind the shield.  Vertically between them is a thyrsus tipped with ostrich feathers.

Peace, Rain, Prosperity, the motto of Lesotho, is written on the banner below