Southern Sotho in Lesotho

Main Language
Largest Religion
Progress Gauge

Introduction / History

The small, mountainous country of Lesotho is home to almost two million Basotho people. Most of the country is composed of temperate highlands; eighty percent of the country is over 5,900 feet above sea level. Lesotho is completely landlocked by South Africa, which provides economic opportunities and international peace. In fact, in 2017, it was estimated that over four million Basotho lived in South Africa.

In the 1800s, the powerful warrior Moshoeshoe (pronounced Mo-shway-shway) united various African peoples together to form the Basotho nation. Moshoeshoe defended his people on the mountain of Thaba Bosiu from the invading Europeans and is still considered the father of the nation and the first king of Lesotho. The mountain is the national symbol of Lesotho.

In 1966, the Kingdom of Lesotho won its complete independence. Lesotho remains a kingdom, being governed both by a King and a Prime Minister. While the office of King is passed along from generation to generation, the Prime Minister is voted in by the people.

Where Are they Located?

Of the nearly two million people living in Lesotho, ten percent of Lesotho's population live in the capital city of Maseru. However, the majority of the Basotho people live tucked away in the rural mountain villages.

What Are Their Lives Like?

The Basotho are known as "the Blanket people". Colorfully decorated wool blankets are worn by both men and women, both for their practicality in a temperate environment and to celebrate their heritage. These blankets often represent their clan. The Basotho are grouped into clans, and each clan passes along their cultural traditions from generation to generation. Children are taught about their family and clan through stories and rituals. They are communal, making decisions together and maintaining loyalty to their family.

The Basotho are a hard-working, resilient, gracious people. The man is the head of the house and is expected to make the decisions for the family, such as allocation of property and marriage decisions for the children. Because job opportunities in the rural villages are scarce, men often have to travel long distances for work; many of them travel as far as South Africa. The women often stay at home to work in the fields, take care of the house, and care for the children.

The Basotho are organized into villages, and the chief is the head of the village. The chief's position is passed along through the family and is a position of power within the community. He (or she) is responsible for the allocation of land, handling disputes among the village, and signing important paperwork. His judgment is based, not on a set of written laws, but his personal wisdom and knowledge of his village.

The Basotho face significant environmental, economic, relational, and spiritual issues. Life, especially for the Basotho living in rural areas, can be very difficult. Drought and other natural disasters can lead to economic instability for the Basotho, who rely so heavily on the land.

The life expectancy rate in Lesotho is the second lowest in the world – fifty-three years of age. While travel to South Africa provides more opportunity and higher-paying jobs, often, families can be separated for months at a time, which can lead to marriage infidelity and contraction of diseases such as HIV/AIDS. In 2018, almost 24% of Lesotho's population was living with HIV/AIDS; in addition, many in Lesotho's population are orphans.

Despite all of these challenges, the Basotho are a spirited and happy people. They are resourceful, welcoming, and they understand the value of relationship. They are unhurried, taking time to know and honor those around them. At this time, they are open and hungry to receive God's Word, and many are coming to faith in Christ.

What Are Their Beliefs?

Most Basotho practice some type of Catholicism or nominal Christianity mixed with animistic (spirit-worship) beliefs. Many Basotho have some foundational knowledge of the Bible and would even claim belief in the truths in the Bible; the problem comes in the mixing of these truths with other forms of spirit worship.

Catholicism is fully syncretized with ancestor worship. Many worship services will open with prayer to the ancestors. In their view of honor in the family, Mary should be honored as the mother of Jesus. Church tradition and decrees hold more authority than the scriptures. As a result, ownership of Bibles is not encouraged, and even discouraged. This leads to little to no knowledge of scriptural content. Most Basotho have no idea what is in the Bible. Their beliefs consist of what the priests tell them.

Because they are so closely tied to family in life, the Basotho also believe that these relationships continue after death. The Basotho believe that ancestral spirits stand as intercessors between man and God. In order to please God, one needs also to appease the spirits of their ancestors. Most Basotho have similar dreams where an ancestor comes to them while they are sleeping. In the dream, the ancestor complains of being hungry or cold. The Basotho will then offer food sacrifices or a blanket to the ancestors at their graves.

In times of conflict or turmoil, the Basotho will visit the local witchdoctor for guidance. The witchdoctor is considered the person of power within the community, as they have special knowledge of and access to the spiritual world. The Basotho believe the witchdoctor, also called a traditional healer, maintains a close relationship to the ancestors and to God. They offer sacrifices on behalf of the community, provide protective charms, and supply knowledge of rituals to be performed to gain power from the spiritual world.

The Basotho, as in many other animistic cultures, struggle daily for power over the fear that invades their lives. They live with constant uncertainty – struggling for food, coping with sickness, living in spiritual oppression. Fear has become the emotion that rules their lives – fear of loss, fear of death, fear of the spirits, fear of a lack in spiritual protection. This helplessness leads them to seek spiritual power from something outside of themselves – the spiritual realm. They pray to the ancestors for guidance, they wear charms for spiritual protection, they perform rituals to bring prosperity. Life for the Basotho is lived in this continual striving for spiritual power.

What Are Their Needs?

The greatest need of all people in all cultures is true transformation that comes from knowing Christ. Though the Basotho have many physical, environmental, and social needs, their greatest need is spiritual. They need to know and believe that salvation comes in Jesus alone that He is humanity's only Mediator before God. They need to be set free from fear and transferred into the Kingdom of Light, where they live in the power of God.

As in any culture, the Basotho are in need of relational and social restoration that only comes from Jesus. Marital infidelity, abuse, and fighting are all prevalent in this culture. When talking to missionaries in Lesotho, they mentioned that when they go to a village to teach, they will ask for prayer requests. Most of the time, someone will always ask, "Please pray for peace for our village." The Basotho need to know that true peace comes through Jesus Christ.

Prayer Points

Pray for the Basotho who have not trusted in Jesus alone for salvation; pray that the Lord would open their minds to see the light of the Gospel of the glory of Christ. (2 Corinthians 4:4-6)
Pray for the restoration of Basotho families in Christ. Pray for restored marriages, for peace in the homes. Pray for fathers, mothers, and children to trust Christ in salvation. (Ephesians 5)
Pray for Basotho believers to be bold in their witness of how God alone stands as their defense and protection. Pray for the Word to be proclaimed boldly and for the Word to spread rapidly among the Basotho. (Ephesians 6:19; 2 Thessalonians 3:1)
Pray for wisdom and discernment for pastors among the Basotho churches and for unity between the members of the churches. (Ephesians 4:1-6; 2 Timothy 4:1-5)
Pray that nationals believers will not only share the gospel, but also make disciples who make disciples.

Scripture Prayers for the Sotho, Southern in Lesotho.


"The World Factbook: Lesotho." Central Intelligence Agency, Central Intelligence Agency, 1 Feb. 2018,
"Moshoeshoe." Encyclopædia Brittannica, inc,, Encyclopædia Brittannica, inc., 27 Mar. 2020,

Profile Source:   Anonymous  

People Name General Sotho
People Name in Country Sotho, Southern
Natural Name Southern Sotho
Alternate Names Basotho; Southern Sotho; Sutu
Population this Country 1,918,000
Population all Countries 6,464,000
Total Countries 4
Indigenous Yes
Progress Scale 5
Unreached No
Frontier People Group No
GSEC 1  (per
Pioneer Workers Needed
People ID 15005
ROP3 Code 109431
ROP25 Code 307676
ROP25 Name Sotho
Country Lesotho
Region Africa, East and Southern
Continent Africa
10/40 Window No
National Bible Society Website
Persecution Rank Not ranked
Country Lesotho
Region Africa, East and Southern
Continent Africa
10/40 Window No
National Bible Society Website
Persecution Rank Not ranked

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Primary Religion: Christianity
Major Religion Percent
0.00 %
Christianity  (Evangelical 13.93 %)
94.00 %
Ethnic Religions
5.00 %
0.00 %
0.00 %
0.00 %
Other / Small
1.00 %
0.00 %
Primary Language Sotho, Southern
Language Code sot   Ethnologue Listing
Language Written Yes   ScriptSource Listing
Total Languages 1
Primary Language Sotho, Southern
Language Code sot   Ethnologue Listing
Total Languages 1
People Groups Speaking Sotho, Southern
Photo Source Steve Evans - Flickr  Creative Commons 
Profile Source Anonymous 
Data Sources Data is compiled from various sources. Learn more.

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