Literally, Lesotho is in a special position in Africa, as the country has a long written literary tradition in the national language Sesotho (Southern Sotho). This tradition began with the missionaries, who started the first printing press in the country as early as 1841. The Bible was finally translated into Sesotho in 1878, but as soon as the printing press was installed, the first religious writings began to come out.
The country’s true literary tradition begins with Azariele Sekeses’s (1849-1930) collection of proverbs and oral traditions, Buka et pokello et mekhoa and Basotho le maele le litsome (1893, new edition 1907). Lesotho’s most important author is Thomas Mofolo. He wrote a number of moralizing historical novels that peaked in the masterpiece Chaka (written in 1910, ed. 1925, translated into English as Chaka the Zulu, 1931; new translated 1981), which tells of the life of the great Zulu king in the form of a tragic epic. Mofolo’s teacher, Everitt Segoete (1858–1923), also wrote a novel, the first from southern Africa, based on the fable of the innocent boy from the countryside who comes to Johannesburg and is exposed to the temptations of the big city. This is also the subject of Lesotho’s most famous modern novel, Attwell Sidwell Mopeli-Paul’s (1913-60) Blanket Boy’s Moon (1953).
The mission and the church left their mark on the literature up to the post-war period, and very much of what was published was of a moral nature. But from the 1950s onwards, the poetry of sesotho grew in importance. Many of the readers were in South Africa as workers in the mines, and among the Sotho-speaking population there. A number of the novels also have parallels to South African poetry and address the conditions in the mines. This is true of Albert Nqheku’s anti-racist novel Tsielala (1959). Bennett Khaketla’s novel Meokho et thabo (1951) addresses the conflict between traditional values and the challenges of the metropolis as experienced by young migrant workers, centered on love and marriage. Kemuele Ntsane wrote satirical verses, besides four novels.