Originally published in Inqaba ya Basebenzi No. 9 (February-April 1983).

by R. Molapo

The memory of the unbridled savagery of the SADF in the early hours of 9 December, when 42 ANC refugees and Basotho civilians were slaughtered, will remain with the Basotho for a long time.

The massacre underlined, as it was intended to do, their perilous situation. Lesotho is defenceless, exposed to attack without warning by the apartheid regime, as it strikes again and again.

The fundamental purpose of the SA regime is to maintain the cheap labour demanded by the capitalist system, which keeps Basotho and all black Southern African workers under the iron heel of repression.

Lesotho is economically a Bantustan. Independence, in 1966, has brought little improvement to the lives of the people.

Only 13% of the land is arable, and there is almost no industry to provide jobs for the people who cannot survive on the land.

Between 1980 and 1982, for example, the Lesotho National Development Corporation created only 3,650 jobs – although some 60,000 youth were looking for their first job.

On 1 December last year a sales tax was imposed (without any discussion) and is probably the worst single blow to Basotho living standards since independence.

Political power was usurped in 1970 by Leabua Jonathan’s BNP, after losing the election to the opposition BCP under Ntsu Mokhehle (who had led the campaign for Lesotho independence). This has increased the hardship for all Basotho, except those tied to the government through jobs and privilege.

The degeneration of the BCP during the 1970s can be traced to a false understanding of the perspectives for Lesotho, leading to the belief that Lesotho could somehow be really independent despite its geographical position and lack of industry.

But the struggle for democracy and a better life for the Basotho people cannot be won within the borders of Lesotho alone.

This was shown as early as 1868, when the British and Boers forced Moshweshwe to accept the alienation of Basotho land and people to the Orange Free State, and the present borders were agreed.


It remains the position today, after more than 100 years during which the Basotho workers in their hundreds of thousands yearly have contributed with their sweat, blood and many lives to the building up of the enormous wealth of white SA.

160,000, 40% of Basotho male workers, work in SA. Lesotho’s people are overwhelmingly a working class and a part of the South African working class.

There is no possibility of freedom, social liberation and democracy in Lesotho until the struggle of the SA workers is successful and the capitalist system in SA is overthrown, ending racism and white privilege.

The Basotho workers must look to and join in the SA revolution for their liberation.

This means organising in trade unions together with the South African workers, and building political links with them.

Links were built in the past as, for example, between the SA Communist Party and the Lekhotla la Bafo (the League of Commoners) in the late 1920s.

It is unfortunate that the leaders of the ANC are building links not with the Basotho workers, but with Leabua and the BNP leadership.

Ironically, at the funeral of the massacre victims, where he shared a platform with Oliver Tambo, Leabua Jonathan called for the trade unions of Lesotho and SA to unite, to protect Basotho migrants threatened with repatriation by the Pretoria regime.

He also said: “guns are destructive, but nothing could be more destructive than a mass strike throughout SA.”[1]

It is true that the workers have the real power to change society, but how serious is Jonathan in these statements?

The Basotho people know the origins of the BNP, its virulent anti-communism, and the direct support given to Jonathan by the Pretoria regime in the 1965 and 1966 elections, and in clinging to power in 1970.

They have suffered 17 years of BNP government, with no elections since 1970, corruption and misappropriation of aid money, the growing wealth and ostentation of a small number of Government ministers and supporters, imposition of the Sales Tax, no political meetings allowed, and the repression of opposition tendencies by the Lesotho Paramilitary Force.

The Lesotho Weekly carried a report of a court case arising from an attempt by Basotho workers to organise in Maseru, where even the magistrate criticised “frequent involvement of police in trade disputes”. It was revealed that the police were called to “drive the striking workers out of the firm, if they did not return to work”.

The magistrate also criticised the police for “not carrying out an order I gave at the start of the case to allow the accused to see a doctor”, pointing out that the “accused had visible open wounds as a result of the assault by the police”.

During the strike at Barclays and Standard Bank last April, the government forced the members of the Lesotho Union of Bank Employees back to work by placing the banks under the Essential Services Act overnight.

Because of the anti-worker policies of the BNP, many Basotho youth and workers look instead to the BCP/LLA for a way forward. For example it was reported (Capital Radio, 1 December) that a young Basotho miner had been sentenced to four years at Maseru court for collecting money at a Free State gold mine for the LLA.

But now, for their own devious purposes, the apartheid regime is giving covert support to the LLA. After the Maseru massacre Basotho opposition supporters must see that anyone who allies with these South African thugs cannot be a friend of the Basotho people, no matter what his past record. Such alliances can lead only to disaster.

At the same time it is hardly useful, as some do, to condemn the BCP/LLA without at the same time putting forward to the youth and workers the reality that liberation for the Basotho can only come through the liberation of SA.

This will require the building of the ANC by the working class as its own organisation fighting on a socialist programme to rally all the oppressed.

It is necessary for the ANC to assist in the organisation of the Basotho workers, always explaining the shared exploitation and the common struggle of all Southern African workers.

As the crisis of the SA economy intensifies, the regime is likely to repatriate many Basotho workers, both as a lever on the Lesotho government to put the screws on the ANC, and as they continue to orient recruitment towards the Bantustans.

Fighting for workers’ solidarity is necessary against such ‘divide and rule’ tactics by the bosses, which set the Basotho against the Xhosa, the Zulu, the Shangaan, etc.


In the raid, Basotho were killed along with refugees from East London, Cradock, PE, Umtata, Cape Town, Soweto, Matatiele, Evaton and Bloemfontein. This has underlined that the struggle against exploitation and oppression involves the working people of all the countries of Southern Africa.

After the Massacre

Rather than fraternising with Jonathan, the enemy of the Basotho workers, the ANC leaders should spell out to the Basotho workers what the position will be for the peoples of the neighbouring countries after liberation.

Will influx control be abandoned? Will the unemployed masses of these countries be allowed into the cities and towns of SA for jobs not available at home? Will there be enough jobs? Will there be decent wages, trade union rights and freedom to work where one wants, for all Southern African working people?

These questions need answers if Basotho workers are to be won to support for the South African workers’ revolution.

It must be made clear that there can be no freedom in Southern Africa until the capitalist system is overthrown and workers’ democratic rule is established in South Africa.

Given the choice, the overwhelming majority of the Basotho people would probably seek union with such an SA state. At the same time, a workers’ state in SA would recognise and defend the right of the Basotho and all other nations of the sub-continent to states of their own, if they desire it.

Within a federation of Southern African workers’ states, the divisions and inequalities created by capitalist rule could finally begin to be overcome.

© Transcribed from the original by the Marxist Workers Party (2022).

[1] Lesotho Weekly, 24 December 1982