Like the rest of Africa south of the Sahara, the landscape features a dominant high central plateau surrounded by coastal lowlands. Any glance at a proper map will show you that.
One of the more prominent features is the Great Escarpment between KwaZulu Natal and Lesotho otherwise known as the Drakensburg. That was caused by lava flows which are more resistant to weathering than conglomerates or sandstone.
Most of this lava has eroded away but a small patch remains and covers much of Lesotho today.
This mountainous area has a major part to play in our story, although these days South African’s are pretty disparaging about the tiny mountain kingdom.
Some regard it as the tenth province. That would be an historical mistake although Lesotho is utterly dependent on South Africa for its income – but that wasn’t always the case.
Consider what happened when the Boers first arrived at Basotho King Moshoeshoe’s door. The trekkers were escaping from British rule in the 1830s.
The Boers bartered meat and other goods for grain from the Sotho.
At that point migrating Dutch were not very good at planting or growing grains in sustainable volumes but much better at livestock management.
They were more like the Khoekhoe and San – less like the Xhosa and Zulu. This fact will sit most uncomfortably with those who believe some races are somehow genetically predisposed to be more effective farmers than others.
The Lesotho mountains were eroded in the south West by tributaries of the Orange River which drain the highlands away from the escarpment, making it rugged and particularly scenic landscape as the rivers head off to the Atlantic Ocean.
These mountains can rise to ten thousand feet with the highest peak of Thabana Ntlenyana at 11 500 feet.
Not a place to drive an ox-wagon then which is why settler movements have been funnelled to the east and west of Lesotho. It is also why Lesotho survived politically. More about this later.
The escarpment slopes away to the west and is flat – tilted slightly higher in the east then sloping gently downwards to the west at about 1000m above sea level.
The downward slope to the south is less pronounced while the plateau also slopes northwards towards the Limpopo Lowveld which is less than 500m above sea level.
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