South African intervention in Lesotho

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SADC intervention in Lesotho
Date22 September 1998 – May 1999
(8 months)

Lesotho Government


Lesotho opposition

Commanders and leaders
Pakalitha Mosisili
South Africa Nelson Mandela
South Africa Mangosuthu Buthelezi
Botswana Festus Mogae
Units involved
Pro-government faction of the Lesotho Defence Force
South African National Defence Force
Botswana Defence Force
Pro-opposition faction of the Lesotho Defence Force


South Africa 600 soldiers
2,000+ rebellious soldiers[2]
Casualties and losses

 South Africa:

11 killed, 17+ wounded[1][3]

The South African intervention in Lesotho, codenamed Operation Boleas, was a military invasion launched by the Southern African Development Community (SADC), and led by South Africa through its South African National Defence Force into Lesotho to quell unrest after the 1998 elections.


In May 1998, parliamentary elections in Lesotho resulted in an overwhelming majority for the ruling Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) Party, which won 79 out of 80 seats. The main opposition party, the Basotho National Party, won the remaining 1 seat, yet with a 24% share of voters. Allegations of vote fraud soon surfaced, and after a failed lawsuit by the opposition parties, widespread rioting broke out. In addition the new government lacked support in key areas of the military, police and civil service, facing rebellion in the army. Under President Nelson Mandela the ANC-led government in South Africa (which completely landlocks Lesotho) announced it would create a SADC commission to determine the allegations of corruption. Led by South African judge, Pius Langa, the commission's report stated there was no evidence of electoral malpractice or fraud.


In light of the rising crisis and lack of support from elements of the state, the de jure ruling party, the LCD, sent a plea for military assistance to South Africa and Botswana.[4] At the time of the intervention, both Mandela and Deputy President Thabo Mbeki were out of South Africa, with Home Affairs Minister Mangosuthu Buthelezi serving as acting president.[5] Mandela approved[6] the deployment of the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) to Lesotho on 22 September 1998 to quell the rioting and maintain order. Botswana Defence Force soldiers were also deployed. The operation was described as an "intervention to restore democracy and the rule of law". The SANDF contingent included a squadron of Ratel-90 and Rooikat armoured fighting vehicles seconded from 1 Special Service Battalion.[7]

Widespread arson, violence, and looting occurred despite the presence of SADC soldiers. The central business district of the capital, Maseru, was burned down by opposition supporters. The heavily damaged city required a period of several years of rebuilding.

International reactions[edit]

South Africa was accused in some quarters of using its military and diplomatic superiority as a regional hegemon to dominate and meddle in the internal affairs of its much smaller, weaker enclave in order to further its own strategic interests, in particular the water supply to its economic hub, Gauteng Province.[8] South Africa is the largest economic and military power in the SADC. Despite this, many influential powers such as the United Kingdom, United States of America and the European Union supported the SADC intervention in Lesotho as an "appropriate assumption of regional responsibility".[9]


In November 1998 the opposition parties accepted an agreement where the LCD government would be restored to power in return for the establishment of the Independent Political Authority (IPA). The IPA was constituted of 2 members of each of the 12 parties that participated in the 1998 election and was tasked with reforming Lesotho's electoral system with new elections planned for 1999. During this time it was also agreed that SADC forces would remain in Lesotho until the Lesotho Defence Force was able to carry out their constitutional duties. The last South African troops were pulled out in May 1999 after seven months of occupation. The LCD and IPA after significant negotiation reached an agreement on electoral reform in December 1999, thus the elections had to be postponed. A Mixed Member Proportional (MMP) electoral system was introduced in Lesotho seeking to amend the distortions in representation caused by the prior plurality system, with elections to be held at the latest in May 2001. However, further disagreements between the government and IPA, and administrative issues led to the elections being again postponed until 2002. This MMP system saw success in the 2002 election, with the Lesotho Congress for Democracy winning 77 of the 120 seats and the opposition parties accepting these results.[10]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d "South Africa invades Lesotho - Green Left Weekly". 6 September 2016.
  2. ^ "SANDF's chaotic invasion". Mail & Guardian. 25 September 1998.
  3. ^ "'A fractious lot': Anatomy of (another) coup in Lesotho". Daily Maverick. South Africa. 3 July 2015.
  4. ^ Southall, Roger (20 May 2003). "An unlikely success: South Africa and Lesotho's election of 2002". The Journal of Modern African Studies. 41 (2): 269–296. doi:10.1017/s0022278x03004233. ISSN 0022-278X.
  5. ^ David Beresford, "The flawed visionary of New Africa", The Guardian 9 Jan. 1999.
  6. ^ "Remembering the moment that SA soldiers marched into Lesotho - The Mail & Guardian". 19 September 2018.
  7. ^ "Customs, Traditions, History, and Insignia of the South African Armoured Corps" (PDF). Bloemfontein: South African Armour Association. 18 October 2009. Archived from the original (PDF) on 13 September 2012. Retrieved 14 October 2012.
  8. ^ Hadebe, Siyabonga (1 January 1970). "South African military intervention in Lesotho - A critical overview | Siyabonga Hadebe". Retrieved 19 January 2016.
  9. ^ Southall, Roger (20 May 2003). "An unlikely success: South Africa and Lesotho's election of 2002". The Journal of Modern African Studies. 41 (2): 269–296. doi:10.1017/s0022278x03004233. ISSN 0022-278X.
  10. ^ Southall, Roger (20 May 2003). "An unlikely success: South Africa and Lesotho's election of 2002". The Journal of Modern African Studies. 41 (2): 269–296. doi:10.1017/s0022278x03004233. ISSN 0022-278X.

External links[edit]