South Africa closes its borders with Lesotho


Border between SA & Lesotho

Wednesday, 1 January 1986

On 1 January 1986 the South African Government closed its borders with Lesotho, cutting off fundamental food and fuel supplies. The relationship of the South African and Lesotho in the 1970s and early 1980s was fraught with friction. This was the case particularly under government of Basutoland National party (BNP) led by Chief Leabua Jonathan who came to power as Prime Minister in 1966. For instance, Jonathan repeatedly criticized the South African government's policy of apartheid while declaring his support for the African National Congress (ANC).

Jonathan further accused the South African government of supporting the Lesotho Liberation Army (LLA) which was the military wing of the Basutoland Congress Party (BCP). The suspension of impending elections scheduled for 1985 by Jonathan resulted in increased tensions and attacks on BNP targets by the LLA. Lesotho refused to sign a non aggression pact with South Africa. In turn, South Africa responded by threatening to impose an arms embargo and economic sanctions on Lesotho.  On 1 January 1986 the South African Government closed its borders with Lesotho, cutting off fundamental food and fuel supplies.

This was followed by negotiations between the South African government and prominent Basotho, including opposition leaders and the heads of the armed forces in Lesotho. On 15 January forces led by Maj-Gen Metsing Lekhanya who had been in talks with the apartheid government in South Africa seized power. The National Assembly was dissolved, and executive and legislative powers were vested on the king. Maj-Gen Metsing Lekhanya became head of a military. One week after the coup, 60 members of the ANC were deported to South Africa and the blockage was lifted.


• Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC), Democracy and Governance, (2000), Women marching into the 21st century: wathint' abafazi, wathint' imbokodo, pp.125-126.
• Wallis, F, (2000). Nuusdagboek: feite en fratse oor 1000 jaar, Kaapstad: Human & Rousseau.
• NE, Lesotho - Political parties, from Encyclopedia of the Nations, [online], Available at [Accessed: 18 December 2014]

Last updated : 18-Dec-2014

This article was produced by South African History Online on 16-Mar-2011

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