Incredible Lives: The Basotho Shepherds of the Drakensberg

discoverafrica 04 December 2017
Part of the South Africa Safari Collection
Back to the Our Blog

If you are planning to visit the beautiful South Africa, with it’s eleven official languages and a multitude of cultures, you should be prepared to come across the distinct Basotho people. The Basotho are native to the independent, and land-locked Lesotho, as well as the Drakensberg region of Kwazulu Natal. The Basotho people are one with the mountainous terrain of the highlands and the shepherds know every peak and valley as well as they know their own children.

A dazzling landscape

Drakensberg is the eastern part of the Great Escarpment enclosing the famous Central South African plateau. The escarpment stretches from the Eastern Cape Province, Lesotho and KwaZulu-Natal province. This unique terrain makes it less suitable for agriculture but the high altitude offers great grazing areas for this community of shepherds.

A courageous occupation

The Basotho people are known to own land communally and are largely shepherds, who follow their sheep and goats along the rocky crags of the Drakensberg mountains. Their villages comprise huts or kraals. The shepherds are mainly boys aged between eight and eighteen years who usually live in small huts dotted along the grazing areas of the imposing

Drakensberg, referred to as Motibo. In Basotho culture, the responsibility of tending sheep is ascribed to these young lads as a rite of passage where they are initiated into manhood and prove their fortitude and strength.

Young men learn their way around the formidable Drakensberg from a young age

Dressing for the mountain

Basotho shepherds need to dress warmly for the changeable climate of the high mountain peaks. One can usually find them draped in beautifully patterned blankets for comfort and warmth and this has become synonymous with their cultural identity. Animal hides are also symbols of the wise men of the village; often medicine men who perform important rituals in the community. Bell-shaped straw hats are another distinct piece of traditional dress that indicate you have come across the Basotho.

A Basotho shepherd carries a heavy stick decorated with colourful, electrical wire woven into unique patterns. These are the mountain guardians’ totems, used both as a weapon and as a sign of maturity. However, modernisation and the influence of the westerners has changed the way the Basotho represent themselves in terms of their attire.

The Basotho hold their leaders in high esteem as the guardians of their culture and spiritual enlightenment

Fierce companions

Most of the Basotho shepherds are often accompanied by huge dogs which help them in their shepherding. These dogs usually help in protecting the livestock from livestock predators, like jackals and encourage stray animals to tow the line.

A young man in one of the famous Basotho blankets

If you are visiting this fascinating place as a hiker who wants to climb the majestic Drakensberg and Maluti mountains, it is an absolute joy to come across a people who call the mountain their home. We’re in awe of such bravery and commitment to ancient practices. If you’re lucky enough to meet a lonely shepherd on your South African safari, a friendly smile and small token of respect will go a long way. Not only is your safari about enjoying the picturesque landscape of the country, but also learning about other people.

Some related info

16 reasons why you should visit the Marakele National Park

Marakele National Park is set in the heart of the Waterberg Mountains, South Africa. It is well known for being the home of the largest colony of Cape Vultures in the world. The national park is home to four of the Big Five, abundant birdlife, flora, elephants, Black and White rhino, lion, leopard and Brown hyena. Guests can also enjoy activities such as bird watching, game drive and…

Durban tourist attractions: KwaZulu-Natal without a budget

Finally got your ducks in a row? It's time to dust off those travelling shoes and discover a beautiful part of South Africa's, KwaZulu-Natal (KZN). Durban, the largest city in KZN, not only boasts some of the most prime beaches in the world, it is also brimming with exciting activities. Here are five tourist attractions in Durban you have to consider when money is not a problem. Top 5…

The largest ‘twitch’ in Southern Africa

"Don’t even consider going down for this one" The birding world was turned upside down when on the 17 July 2016,  a group of specialist birders encountered a bird on the way to the Strandfontein Sewage Works. It was located at the Zeekoevlei picnic area, on the eastern banks of Zeekoevlei in Cape Town, South Africa.   The bird did not fit any of the descriptions in local reference books…

Family friendly hotels in the Cape’s Route 62

Travelling with children may not always be easy, but there are many occasions when sharing the memories with your family is the only way to travel. Here are four of the top child-friendly hotels on the Cape Route 62. Robertson Small Hotel     Sometimes all you need is a porch to sit on. #therobertsonsmallhotel #stayatthesmall #thesmallthings A post shared by The Robertson Small…

Five romantic honeymoon accommodation options in South Africa

The South African and Zambia honeymoon is perfect for the couple looking to be alone and pampering after many months of hectic wedding planning. In South Africa, honeymoons can be spent many beautiful and classic accommodations, so the only decision newlyweds need to make is whether to stay in one place or several - by choosing one of these five romantic honeymoon accommodations options…

Learn to surf like a South African: 4 Surf Schools to try on Safari

Surfing is a way of life for many South Africans, who enjoy the pleasures of the ocean from the cold Atlantic to the warm Indian ocean that stretches the length of the dazzling coast. Whether you are a seasoned coastal pro or a rookie from the mainland, it’s good to know that you can still find some fantastic places to surf and learn while on an African safari. Here are four surf schools…

You Might Also Like

 | Kruger to the Mozambican coast

Kruger to the Mozambican coast

Combining the bush and the wildlife found in the famous Sabi Sand in the Kruger National Park with a tropical stay in one of the sublime lodges of Mozambique's Ponta Mamoli...

 | Luxury South Africa to Zimbabwe safari

Luxury South Africa to Zimbabwe safari

Spot the Big Five in Thornybush Private Game Reserve and enjoy the majesty of Zimbabwe's roaring Victoria Falls ...

 | Blissful 4-day Kruger Safari

Blissful 4-day Kruger Safari

Experience luxury in the Kruger Park ...

 | Luxury Cape Town and Kruger Safari

Luxury Cape Town and Kruger Safari

Explore two of South Africa's most desirable locations in this whirlwind safari tour...