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Lesotho: 1966 - 1987 flag

Last modified: 2013-12-02 by bruce berry
Keywords: lesotho | independence | hat: basotho |
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See also:

1987 - 2006 flag

image by Željko Heimer, 07 Apr 2002

History of the flag

Following a military coup which deposed the ruling Basotho National Party (BNP) government which had led the country since independence, a new flag was adopted on 17 January 1987. It is believed that the old flag was scrapped because it was identified too closely with the BNP and incorporated its colours of red, white, blue and green.

The flag was adopted on January 20, 1987 after a military coup in which the military replaced the governing Basotho National Party. That's why the shield and spears are included - they signify the importance of defence.
Steve Kramer and Bruce Berry, 02 May 1996

In an article about the then new Lesotho flag in The Flag Bulletin (XXVI:4 = 121 of 1987: p. 175) [South Africa, is fluent in Sesotho and as such was able to directly participate in the 1987 discussions leading to the design of the new Lesotho flag, in which he was involved in an official capacity.
António Martins-Tuválkin, 04 June 2008

Description

According to the Lesotho Government Gazette Extraordinary of 15 January 1987, the new national flag is a rectangular tricolor in proportion three by two, per bend reversed, white, blue and green, the white occupying half the surface area of the flag and charged, with the centre line one fifth of the distance from the hoist with an assegai and knobkerrie in saltire, surmounted of a traditional Basotho shield with plumed spine, all in light brown; the blue and green each occupying half the remaining surface area of the flag.

The colours of the new flag represent the three elements of the national motto: white for peace; blue for rain and green for prosperity. It is for this reason that the blue and green stripes are not separated even though when viewed from a distance they merge together.
Steve Kramer and Bruce Berry, 02 May 1996

National Flag. CSW/--- 2:3
Tricolour of white blue green divided in rising diagonal and with light brown emblem in canton.
The flag is divided along diagonal in upper white part, while the lower fly triangle is divided in blue and green parallel to the diagonal dividing it in two equal areas. With the  flag overall ratio 2:3, this would mean that the blue stripe width would be 1/4 of the hoist size. (at least as I figured it out, I would appreciate if some would check that out, and possibly provide decent
mathematical explanation).
The emblem size is not quite defined, but the vertical axis is to be along line 1/5 of the flag length from the hoist.
Source: Album 2000.
Željko Heimer, 07 Apr 2002

The Lesotho Flag is based on the traditional motto of the Lesotho Nation: Khotso  (Peace); Pula (Rain); Nala (Prosperity); It was promulgated through the National Flag Order No. 1 of 1987, and hoisted for the first time on January 20, 1987.

White occupies the top triangular half with diagonal traversing from left bottom corner adjoining the hoist. Blue and green: each occupy half the surface area of the lower triangle, in that order. The light brown shield is situated on the white half of the flag, with its centre line one fifth (1/5) of the distance from the hoist. Supported by an assegai (left), a bludgeon (right), and a plumed spine (centre), it symbolises the Lesotho Nation's traditional safeguards for peace."
Source: The Lesotho Government Official Website.
Jarig Bakker, 11 Jun 2001

The "Shipmate Flagchart 1998", authenticated by the Flag Research Center, shows the current Lesotho national flag as being in proportion of 9:14.
Santiago Dotor, 24 Feb 2000

Your various correspondents are a little unclear on the shields appearing in the arms and current flag of Lesotho. Both are examples of a style which varies quite a bit. One can gain a sense of the variations when one compares these Lesotho shields with those in the arms of Bophuthatswana and Qwaqwa. (Bophuthatswana is in Armoria, but Qwaqwa not yet. You'll find both in International Civic Arms).  The shape of the Tswana shield is distinct from the South Sotho variety, yet the Tswana and Sotho shields have characteristics that set them apart from the Nguni shield which is more common in Southern Africa.

In the Tswana shield (and the one used by Qwaqwa, a South Sotho state) the four corners stick out more or less straight, and have their ends cut off straight. In the Sotho version they hang down slightly (more so on the Lesotho flag) and are rounded. Yet both varieties are characterised by what one might called a nipped waist.  Individual shield makers in different villages no doubt work to a common concept, but incorporate local variations. After all, these shields are (like the Nguni shield type) made of hide and mounted on a frame of sticks, so their outline depends very much on who is cutting the hide.

Another characteristic that the Sotho and Tswana shields have in common is that they are normally made fairly small, maximum height 30cm, for use in stick-fighting - which is the traditional recreation of young men among both the Basotho and the abeNguni.

This is in contrast with the Nguni shield, which although nowadays chiefly also used in stick-fighting mode, is still to be seen in larger formats recalling their use in actual warfare. Various Nguni dance troops (chiefly Zulu) use these shields, most often in the style introduced by the Zulu King Shaka.  In reforming the style of warfare in his realm (in the process building a kingdom out of his own rather small Zulu clan and the Mthethwa confederacy, whose king had taken him under his wing), Shaka abolished the traditional large Nguni shield, which stood about the height of a man.  The warrior traditionally stood behind his shield while the enemy threw long throwing spears, and then stepped out to throw his own spears - or return the enemy's. This practice of hiding behind the shield gave rise to the Sotho (especially North Sotho) name for the Nguni peoples: Matabele.

This means "people who hide behind large shields". The word was taken into isiNguni as Ndebele, and came to be used for three distinct Nguni groups: the amaNdebele (or South Ndebele) of Mpumalanga, the amaNdebele (North Ndebele) of Limpopo Province, and the amaNdebele of Zimbabwe. The North and South Ndebele have lived in the Transvaal region for at least three centuries, whereas the Zimbabwean tribe (created by their king Mzilikazi, previously one of Shaka's lieutenants) are a product of the Mfecane (the period of widespread tribal warfare sparked off by Shaka).  Shaka reduced the length of the spear to only 90cm, and decreed that it should be used for stabbing. (This weapon is properly called the assegai; other spears are not assegais.) To go with the assegai, the shield was reduced to about 60cm in height, and was reduced to being used to ward off blows in hand-to-hand fighting.

In case you're not clear on the shape of the Nguni shield, it appears in the arms of Ciskei, KwaZulu, Gauteng, Swaziland and Gazankulu. Elsewhere it can be seen in the arms of Kenya and Tanzania, while it appears in error in the arms of Botswana Swaziland shows a variation in the Nguni shield shape: it is quite a bit fatter than the other examples. Also, in these arms, the Nguni shield is a charge on a shield of Western shape.
Mike Oettle, 14 Dec 2001

I saw some interesting information about the Tswana definition of "thebe" in your web page about Lesotho. Thebe in Setswana means a "shield".  I did check the cited reference on this definition but I think it is a mistake.
Baitsi Podisi, 23 Feb 2002

Construction sheet

[Variant]2:3~ image by Željko Heimer, 07 Apr 2002

I've just been looking at the construction sheet for the Lesotho flag as shown on the FOTW website. It shows that the central axis of the emblem is 2/30 of the way across the flag from hoist to fly. The details written below indicate that this should be the much more probable figure of 1/5 (that is, 6/30). Also, if - as suggested by Željko - the blue and green parts of the flag are of equal area, then the size of the green triangle is a little over 21 units along the length of the flag (three times the square root of 50) by a little over 14 units up the width (twice the square root of 50). Not - as Željko calculated - 3/4 the width of the lower triangle of the flag.
The explanation is a little tricky - the ratio of sides is 2:3.
The area of a triangle is base x height divided by 2. That is A = bh/2
The entire lower triangle (green & blue) has area 30 x 20 / 2 = 300 units.
The green alone therefore should have area of 150 units.
We want a green triangle with bh/2 = 150. We know that the base is 3/2 the size of the height (the ratio of the flag). Therefore, with a little algebra we need to find 3x.2x/2 = 150, where x is 1/3 of the triangle's length and also 1/2 of its width.
3x.2x = 6x.x, so 6x.x/2 = 150.
Dividing both sides by 6/2, we find that x.x = 50.
If  x squared is 50, x is a little over 7.
The sides of the green triangle are therefore three times a little over 7 by twice a little over seven, or - to be a little more precise: 21.213 x 14.142 units.
James Dignan
, 31 Aug 2003.

I am afraid that the diagram we have on FOTW is not quite accurate.  According to official figures published in Issue No 2 of the Lesotho Government Gazette Extraordinary Vol XXXIII dated 15 January 1987, the flag is given as 200 x 300 units, the width of the blue stripe as 64 units measured on the vertical, the emblem as being contained within an imaginary rectangle of 116 units high x 90 units wide and set 15 units from the hoist and the top of the flag.
Christopher Southworth, 31 Aug 2003

I can't argue against this - 1/5 is indeed 6/30 and not 2/30 as I indicated it on the gif for some reason. I believe that I have indicated that width of the blue stripe is approximately 1/4 of the hoist size, as width is measured perpendicular to the stripe, not along the hoist - so it would not yield 3/4 for the green! See the sheet how the 1/4 is measured (i.e. see line indicated ~5).  I am not going though the procedure in detail, but at first glance it does seem reasonable, so it is probably right. Now, if you indicate what would be the approximate length of the blue edges, I could make a sheet that makes a bit more sense. (The same procedure with a just bit more maths would provide exact number of the width of the blue stripe, and would confirm my "estimate" to 5). 
Željko Heimer, 31 Aug 2003

I misunderstood you to mean that the blue would have taken up 1/4 of the width of the flag. Still, the 2 for the distance to the emblem is completely wrong (and would be impossible to construct). The blue edges would be: along the length, 8.787; along the width 5.858; diagonally against the white, 36.056; diagonally against the green, 25.495.
James Dignan, 31 Aug 2003


1966 - 1987 flag

[Lesotho - 1966]  | [Variant] 2:3~ image by Bruce Berry, 19 Feb 1998

On independence on 04 October 1966 the Kingdom of Lesotho adopted a new Coat of Arms, a national flag and a Royal Standard. Details of the new symbols were published in the Government Gazette Extraordinary of 30 September 1966 and are as follows:
The national flag is a rectangular tricolor in proportion three by two with two vertical stripes, one green and one red in that order, on a blue ground on the left hand side of the flag next to the flag staff; each stripe being one tenth of the total width of the flag and a white Basotho hat being placed in the centre of the blue stripe.

The Royal Standard, illustrated in Whitney Smith's Flags through the Ages and across the World [smi75b], had the full Arms in colour superimposed on the white Basotho hat in the fly.
Bruce Berry, 19 Feb 1998

Whitney Smith explains the colors as: blue - sky and rain, white - peace, green - land and red - faith. It was officially hoisted on 04 October 1966 and was designed by Peter Hancock, a local architect. The Royal flag was similar, having a bit smaller hat above the states coats of arms.
Željko Heimer, 01 May 1996

I've always seen the 1966 Lesotho flag in a lighter shade of blue.
Philippe Bondurand, 19 Feb 1998

This flag incorporates the colors of the National Party which led Lesotho to independence and shows a traditional Basuto hat. The constitution was suspended in 1970 when the National Party refused to accept the victory of the opposition Congress Party in the first post-independence elections. A military coup overthrew the National Party régime in 1986 and the present flag was adopted a year later. Elections subsequently brought the Congress Party to power.
Vincent Morley, 21 Feb 1998

As the designer of the original Lesotho flag, in use from 1966 to 1987,  I thought it might be of interest to know the true story of how the flag came to be designed.

In 1965-66 I was the architect of the Prime Minister of Lesotho's new official residence, which I called Thlako-ea-Pere (the Horseshoe), as the Basotho pony is the national and traditional form of transport, although seldom seen today except in the mountainous interior of Lesotho, which reaches 11 425 ft (3 482m).  I was then sent drawings of various flags of newly independent states, such as Guyana (formerly British Guiana), and told to 'draw them up', which I did.  None were accepted, but I was then sent a design which comprised a simple large blue square, with a vertical red and green stripe on the staff side. I looked at the design and thought it unimaginative and that it needed some sort of motif to give it life and identity.

It was then that I thought of the Basotho hat, or Mokorotlo, which I thought would make an excellent motif as the Basotho hat is the traditional headgear of the Basotho people.  I coloured the Basotho hat, in the centre of the blue square, whit,  like the white clouds against the blue sky. Knowing that if the colours of the flag were red, white, blue and green, they would be the colours of the ruling Basutoland National Party; and the Opposition Basutoland Congress Party, would reject the design.  So, to make the flag politically neutral, I offered two alternatives - one with a red Basotho hat and the other with a yellow Basotho hat.  Having drawn the
design, I handed it to the Prime Minister's secretary who was a woman called Sonia and a friend of mine and asked her to place the design on the Prime Minister's desk, which she did.  The next morning the phone rang
at 8 a.m. and Sonia said that the PM wanted to see me immediately.

I then went to see then the Prime Minister, Chief Leabua Jonathan, where he said to me and I quote:
"The Cabinet is unanimous. This is the flag we shall have but the hat must white;  and here is the hat".   Having said that he handed me a Basotho hat of the type found in the Leribe district, about 60 miles (96 km) north of Maseru (the capital) adding, "And this is the hat.... ".

I also designed the original royal standard and a new coat of arms for the newly independent Lesotho.  The latter featured a horizontal crocodile (Kuena in Sesotho) supporting a traditional Basotho shield, set above a drawing of Thaba Bosiu ('mountain by night'), the mountain fortress where Moshoeshoe I established his capital on top of the flat-topped mountain plateau, or mesa, about 20 miles (32 km) from the present capital of Maseru.  When I showed the late king of Lesotho this design for the royal standard, which required his approval, he was polite and acquiescent, saying "It's about the best we could have hoped for".

That, in outline is the true story of the origin and design of the first Lesotho National flag.
Peter Hancock, 28 Feb 2012