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Lesotho - Religion

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 2.0 million (July 2016 estimate). According to the Christian Council of Lesotho, approximately 90 percent of the population is Christian, including Roman Catholics, Anglicans, evangelical Christians, Methodists, members of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, and Pentecostals. The remaining 10 percent is Muslim, Hindu, Bahai, belongs to indigenous or other religious groups, or is atheist.

Most Basotho are Roman Catholic, but the Lesotho Evangelical Church and the Anglican Church are prominent. French missionaries first came to Lesotho in the 1820s. On the books, there is freedom of religion in Lesotho, but Lesotho is 70% Roman Catholic, and the general population is not well educated about other religions. There is a higher percentage of Protestants in northern Lesotho; central and southern Lesotho has a higher percentage of Catholics.

The early history of Christianity in Lesotho cannot be understood apart from the history of Lesotho, or apart from Moshoeshoe I, the founder and chief of the Basotho nation. Moshoeshoe was ambitious and did not hide the fact that he had an aspiration to become a great end powerful king. He succeeded in gathering many people, mostly refugees, about him by his own initiative and prudence. He was full of hopes for the future, and looked forward to a period of peace and prosperity during which there would be no more tribal wars and his chiefdom would steadily increase. These hopes were to be disappointed.

In February 1833 two young French missionaries, Rev. Eugene Casalis and Rev. Thomas Arbousset were being called to Lesotho. Moshoeshoe was overjoyed to see the missionaries. Arbousset first arranged for a thorough training of a small group of Christians from different villages, who were, in turn, to impart uhe Christian faith to their fellow villagers. The French Peotestant Missionaries always got involved in the political struggles of Lesotho in one way or another, mainly because of the close friendship between their first missionaries and the Basotho chiefs.

But in 1854 the Basotho's turning against the Government of the Cape was resulted in a widespread turning away from the Church. Many of them had fondly imagined that the British were all practising Christians, and had looked up to Warden and Smith as potential benefactors. Now the myth had been destroyed and they were disappointed and disgusted with the British and with their religion alike• There was a revival of Sotho customs, led by some of the very chiefs who had previously been outstanding for their Christian piety and fervor, such as Mopeli, Molapo, Masopha, Makhobalo and Sekhonyana.

The Protestant missions in Basutoland are maintained by the Paris Evangelical Missionary Society, which entered the country under Rolland and Semué in 1833, and by the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel, which began its work in 1875. The population in 1904 was estimated at 348,500, of whom 900 were whites. No white colonists were admitted to this territory. About 300,000 of the people were pagans; about 40,000 were Protestant Christians; and about 5,000 were Roman Catholics.

The work of conversion was carried on by missionary priests, and although more workers were required and despite the difficulty of obtaining funds, the record of conversions was very encouraging. Particularly important was the conversion of Griffith, high chief of the Basutos, in 1912, and of three lesser chiefs— Soko (1916), Maama (1921), and Peete (1921). The entire population of this territory in 1922 comprised 543,078 natives (Basutos), 1,241 colored people, and 1,603 whites; of these 31,698 were baptized and 11,229 catechumens.

Many Christians practice traditional indigenous rituals in conjunction with Christianity. In regard to religious practice however, the boundaries between the different religions are frequently somewhat fluid. Thus Christians may also follow traditional African rites and customs. The government has “no established requirements for recognition of religious groups. Most religious groups register, but there is no penalty for those that do not.”

The term "ditlo" was the traditional name for flesh obtained from the body of an enemy killed in battle. The new term diretlo was used for ‘medicine murders’. In July 1949 the British Government appointed an anthropologist from Cambridge. G.I.Jones, to inquire into the diretlo murders in the Protectorate of Basutofand. From the report which he compiled (Jone, G. I (1951); Basutoland Medicine Murder: A Report on the Recent Outbreak of Diretlo Murders in Basutoland. HMSO. London), the occurrence of the murders is recorded from 1895, where there were 6 reported cases in that year, rising and declining through the years, until they reached a peak of 20 in 1948.

According to Jones' definition: "Ditto is the traditional name for flesh and other parts of the body obtained from the body of an enemy killed in the normal course of warfare... diretlo is not obtained from bodies of strangers or enemies, but from a definite person who is thought to possess specific attributes considered essential for the particular medicine being made." We are further informed that a person marked for diretlo is "usually a member of the same community and is frequently a relative of some of the killers. He is killed specifically for this diretlo which has to be cut from his body while he is alive".

In 21st Century Botswana, apart from a handful of high profile cases, many such killings are never reported or if reported, they are never taken seriously by the Police. Admittedly, by their nature the killing of persons for the sole purpose of harvesting some body parts for sale is shrouded in excessive secrecy, which perhaps explains, in part, why the culprits are difficult to nab. Research has shown that incidences of ritual or medicine murder increase in times of political and economic stress.

Some “New Age” Americans have said that Lesotho is a place of high spiritual energy. While that’s not strictly a religious categorization, it’s not hard to sense that there are forces at work in the land on which the Hobbit books were modeled. There is a small number of Jews, most of whom are not citizens. Muslims live primarily in the northern area of the country. There is no significant correlation between religious affiliation and ethnicity.

The constitution prohibits religious discrimination and provides for freedom of conscience, thought, and religion, including the freedom to change religion or belief and to manifest and propagate one’s religion. These rights may be limited by laws in the interests of defense, public safety, order, morality, or protecting the rights of other persons, provided the limitations are the minimum necessary.

The government has no established requirements for recognition of religious groups. By law any group, religious or otherwise, may register as a legal entity with the government, regardless of its purpose, as long as it has a constitution and a leadership committee. Most religious groups register, but there is no penalty for those that do not. The benefits of registration are administrative. It gives a group legal standing and formalizes its structure under the law. In the absence of registration, religious organizations may operate freely and tend to business as they see fit, but without any of the legal standing or protections of registered organizations.

The education ministry pays and certifies all teachers at government funded schools, including religious schools, and requires a standard curriculum for both secular and religious schools. The government does not mandate religious education in schools, and the constitution exempts students at any educational institution from requirements to receive instruction or attend any ceremony or observance associated with a religion not their own. All curricula, including for religious education classes, must be approved by the minister of education.

Churches owned and operated approximately 80 percent of all primary and secondary schools. The Roman Catholic Church, the Lesotho Evangelical Church, the Anglican Church, and, to a lesser extent, the Methodist Church were the primary operators of religious schools, which were publicly funded. In practice, in any school offering religious education – including all religious schools and some secular schools – the subject was mandatory. Children continued to be permitted to attend schools run by a religious group other than their own, and some families chose this option. Others went to public schools or secular private schools.

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Page last modified: 19-11-2017 11:44:29 ZULU