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Understandings of democracy and citizenship in Lesotho : implications for civic education.

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This thesis investigates how Lesotho citizens (Basotho) understand democracy and citizenship in Lesotho. It also explores the nature of civic education for adults in the country. Positioned within the critical and interpretive paradigms, using a qualitative research design, this small scale study was conducted in Qachas’ Nek, representing a rural context, and Maseru District, representing an urban area. Data collection methods were in-depth interviews and focus group discussions with a total of 49 participants across both districts and the examination of documents that are used to provide civic education in Lesotho. Three conceptual frameworks were developed from the literature and were used to analyse the different understandings of democracy and citizenship, and the different forms of civic education that emerged from the findings. The community leaders, civic education providers and citizens revealed understandings of democracy in Lesotho which include a form of democracy through its traditional leadership structures. In these structures adult males participate democratically in the chief’s courtyard, known as khotla where collective decisions are made through consensus. There is a sense that the introduction of modern democracy after colonial rule gave people freedom and some advantages when compared with the traditional regime. However, this democracy is perceived to have also brought several tensions that have eroded the traditional cultural values. These include attitudes towards children’s behaviour, exercising of rights by both children and women and the enhanced status of women in the society. The study demonstrates that democracy is inadequately taught and misunderstood and many participants of this study were dissatisfied with the way democracy is abused by politicians. Participants’ understandings further illustrate that citizenship is understood in many ways: as a sense of belonging through legal status, as a mobile status linked to residence within the country, through exercising of rights and responsibilities and through community engagement in a communitarian way of living. Citizenship is further understood as identity, either individually or collectively, and identity is fluid and vulnerable particularly in relation to Basotho’s status with the surrounding country of South Africa. Citizenship is perceived as the behaviour of maintaining good relations through harmonious neighbourhoods and through connections, which include caring about others as reflected in the African concepts of ubuntu and botho where people are understood to be interconnected in a communal relationship. However, the ubuntu concept of ‘respect’ has potentially had a negative influence on encouraging passive citizenry. The study reveals that respondents who reside in Maseru illustrate a civic republican notion of citizenship by suggesting that citizenship activity includes exercising rights by having a voice, and through active engagement and voluntarism in community development issues. As its third major contribution, this thesis demonstrates that the nature of civic education for adults in Lesotho is shallow, fragmented and time bound because civic education in Lesotho is provided as voter education, a once off activity that takes place before elections. The type of civic education provided for adults in Lesotho is generic because it is provided to all adult citizens alike irrespective of their different ages, interests, educational and social backgrounds. Moreover, the informal means of political campaigns, the media and public gatherings, which are one way learning methods, are mostly used while the prescribed curriculum does not promote conditions that can enable active citizenship in a democratic society. The findings suggest that there is need for: harmonisation of the transition from traditional to modern democracy; nurturing of an historically fragile democracy and peace; restraint of corruption, a patronage system and a domesticated citizenry; and the drawing on the African concept of ubuntu as a way of nurturing democracy through its ethics of caring as a feature of civic education. Recommendations for how civic education programmes for adults can be provided in Lesotho include: targeting the audiences and timing of civic education, revising the civic education curriculum and the need for multiple civic education providers who can adopt adult education skills when providing civic education. In summary, this study recommends that conversations about democratisation should take note of efforts to promote good and effective governance in African countries, particularly Lesotho, and that a synergy is sought between the modern notions of democratic governance and traditional African forms of political and social organisation because the two systems are not mutually exclusive. If this is done, then Lesotho could make some progress towards its visions of becoming “a stable democracy, a united and prosperous nation at peace with itself and its neighbours” (Government of Lesotho, 2004 p.1)


Ph.D. University of KwaZulu-Natal, Pietermaritzburg 2014.


Adult education -- Lesotho., Civics -- Study and teaching., Democracy and education -- Lesotho., Political socialization., Theses -- Education.