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Lesotho 2017 Crime & Safety Report

Africa > Lesotho; Africa > Lesotho > Maseru

Overall Crime and Safety Situation

U.S. Embassy Lesotho does not assume responsibility for the professional ability or integrity of the persons or firms appearing in this report. The ACS Unit cannot recommend a particular individual or location and assumes no responsibility for the quality of service provided.

THE U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE HAS ASSESSED MASERU AS BEING A CRITICAL- THREAT LOCATION FOR CRIME DIRECTED AT OR AFFECTING OFFICIAL U.S. GOVERNMENT INTERESTS.

Please review OSAC’s Lesotho-specific webpage for proprietary analytic reports, Consular Messages, and contact information.

Endemic poverty and widespread unemployment continue to contribute to an increase in criminal activity. Limited private sector work opportunities in Lesotho and in South Africa contribute to high rates of unemployment estimated at 25% but believed to be much higher. Steadily declining remittances from Basotho workers performing seasonal or mining work in South Africa continue to have a negative impact on this trend as well. The large number of unemployed individuals loitering downtown, in residential areas, and in other areas frequented by expatriates allows criminals to blend into the populace easily.

Crime Threats

There is no evidence that Americans or U.S. government employees are being directly targeted for any criminal activity in Maseru. Most reported incidents are crimes of opportunity for immediate gain (simple assault, pickpocketing, petty theft). Victims of street crime are often inattentive targets of opportunity. Theft of cell phones, computers, money, jewelry, and other handheld electronic devices is common. Thieves can and do snatch valuables through open car windows. There has been an increase in the number of criminal incidents involving expatriates who were walking during the hours approaching dusk and overnight hours.

While ATM scams (skimming) are not common, they are prevalent throughout South Africa. Police indicate an increase in attempts to use cloned debit cards at ATMs in Lesotho. Exercise caution when using any ATM. Use ATMs inside shopping malls, hotels, and banks, since they are normally high-traffic areas and are monitored by security guards/cameras. Before approaching the ATM, scan the area for any suspicious persons or activity. Should anyone approach you while you are withdrawing money, immediately cancel the transaction and leave the area. Should you encounter issues while using the ATM, never accept assistance from a Good Samaritan. Avoid the vicinity of an ATM when it is being serviced. Scan the ATM for any odd or out of place device (especially around the area of the card reader), an altered keypad, etc. Avoid using an ATM with a cord or other foreign object attached to it. There have been reported instances of criminals using small explosive charges to break into ATMs. Check your credit card and other banking statements on a regular basis. You should also ensure that you receive a yearly credit report. If discrepancies are noted, inform your banking institution immediately.

Even though Lesotho has very strict gun-control laws, criminal elements smuggle firearms in from South Africa. The use of firearms in conducting criminal acts is on the rise. As such, increases in the tactics more commonly seen in South Africa are on the rise in Lesotho. This includes the increased use of car remote blockers to commit burglaries of vehicles parked at large shopping areas with limited visibility by guards or cameras. Criminals are generally well-armed and are not averse to using violence in order to achieve their objective, especially when they encounter resistance. Should you be confronted by an armed individual, immediately comply, avoid making sudden movements, and do not offer any resistance. Any hesitation could be perceived as a threat and could result in violence. Crimes committed at knifepoint have increased and are the most common force used; however, crimes committed at gunpoint are becoming more common.

The limited amount of police data available indicates an increase in more violent crimes (armed robberies, sexual assaults, homicides, residential break-ins). Increasingly, criminals are resorting to violence to subdue their victims, obtain items of value, commit a sexual offense, or as a means of eliciting information regarding valuables in the home. Current trends indicate an increase in motor vehicle theft, home invasions, and increased cooperation with criminal elements in South Africa.

Persons living in Lesotho, especially in Maseru, are strongly encouraged to upgrade security at their residences to reduce their vulnerability to home invasions. Intrusion alarms, solid perimeter barriers (approximately 2.2 meters in height and topped with razor wire or another security topping), perimeter lighting, telephone intercom system, and window/door grilles are all part of a comprehensive residential security program.

Vehicle theft in Maseru is common. Motorists should park in well-illuminated areas with high foot traffic and security guards. While carjackings are not as prevalent as in South Africa, vehicle theft takes place in all hours in both downtown and residential neighborhoods.

Organized crime is uncommon and generally involves participants from South Africa. Organized crime is known to be involved in vehicle theft and human trafficking. While the government is taking active steps to combat both, the well-established and often sophisticated organized crime networks use Lesotho as a venue to register stolen cars. There are some incidents attributed to gang violence in Lesotho by groups based in the Mafeteng district south of Maseru. These gangs, related to local accordion music called FAMO and affiliated with the local political parties, occasionally clash in the capital and in outlying areas.

Cybersecurity Issues

Lesotho-based fraud-related crimes remain low, but cybercrimes are increasing regionally. Cyber security should remain a priority for any company operating in Lesotho, and the importance of using legitimate software cannot be over-stressed.

Other Areas of Concern

Travelers should be aware that the number of crimes and incidents increases at night, and crimes are more common in the industrial and downtown areas of Maseru after dark.

Transportation-Safety Situation

Road Safety and Road Conditions

All major roads are tarred and in good condition. Road conditions are generally good in Maseru, as most roads are paved; nevertheless, vehicle accidents are a major safety concern. Most secondary roads are either graveled or hard-packed earth. Some residential roads in Maseru and roads leading to rural Lesotho districts are in poor condition with potholes, rutting, and collapsing shoulders. Vegetation can grow over the edge of the road, particularly during the rainy season, causing a lack of visibility on bends and also concealing hazards at the side of the road. Mountain roads are often partially obstructed by rubble from rockslides without proper signage noting the hazards. Caution and defensive driving should be practiced.

Driving is one of the biggest risks to personal safety and security. Vehicular traffic circulates on the left. Many vehicles are not roadworthy, and not all drivers are properly trained. The average speed limit in cities is 50 km/hr and outside cities/towns is 80km/hr, but not all vehicles drive at this speed. It is common to come up behind a vehicle moving at little more than a crawl or to encounter vehicles that pull out onto the roadway without looking or leaving proper distance for acceleration. A lethal combination of factors makes driving a challenge: poorly illuminated roadways, roadways in a state of disrepair, inexperienced/irresponsible drivers, pedestrian traffic, wandering livestock, and intense rain. Drivers should also beware of potholes, unskilled drivers, careless pedestrians, and the presence of non-roadworthy vehicles. Drivers frequently change lanes into oncoming traffic without looking and expect others to take evasive maneuvers. Street lighting is very poor and frequently non-existent. Pedestrians do not look when crossing the road and frequently walk out into traffic. Livestock often appear on roadways without warning, as there is an overall lack of fencing—especially in rural areas. Even if the road appears fenced, people leave gates open so livestock can feed along the sides of the road.

Many people operate vehicles while under the influence of alcohol/marijuana that can lead to erratic, unpredictable, and unsafe driving conditions. Insobriety is a significant contributing factor to many accidents, particularly in the evening, at weekends, and month’s end (payday).

It is recommended you use a GPS navigation tool with the appropriate software to check your route and the accommodations, particularly for police stations, hospitals, shops, and fuel stations.

Carry a cell phone with you and have emergency numbers readily available. It is illegal to use a cell phone while driving although many drivers do so to the detriment of their attention and driving ability. A local SIM card is quite cheap, and network coverage is generally good on the major routes and in most towns. It is recommended you use a local number, as calls are cheaper, and your number will be displayed on the cell phone of whomever you call—so they can call back in the event of emergency.

Do not get out of your car if there are suspicious looking persons nearby, instead, drive away. Be suspicious of anyone who hails you or tries to get your attention while you are in/near your car. Visitors are strongly encouraged not to drive after dark outside of Maseru.

Drivers who are involved in traffic accidents should attempt to exchange insurance information with the other party and summon a traffic policeman if possible. It is inadvisable to make restitution at the scene, especially if livestock/pedestrians are involved. While local law requires that operators involved in a road traffic accident remain at the scene until police arrived to make a report, drivers should be wary of crowds gathering at the scene of an accident and should depart immediately if they perceive a threat to their safety.

For more information on self-driving, please review OSAC’s Report “Driving Overseas: Best Practices” or “Road Safety in Africa.”

Public Transportation Conditions

The most common form of mass transportation are kombis. Kombis are minibuses that transport passengers around the city and from town to town. They are not a safe means of transport in Lesotho. Every year, there are a number of serious and fatal accidents involving kombis. Many lack proper safety equipment. The drivers are often reckless, making frequent unauthorized stops to pick up passengers and speeding from one stop to the next.

Aviation/Airport Conditions

Lesotho has one international airport (Moshoeshoe International Airport), which is approximately 40 minutes from downtown Maseru. The airport provides direct flights to Johannesburg’s Tambo International Airport.

Terrorism Threat

THE U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE HAS ASSESSED MASERU AS BEING A LOW-THREAT LOCATION FOR TERRORIST ACTIVITY DIRECTED AT OR AFFECTING OFFICIAL U.S. GOVERNMENT INTERESTS.

Local, Regional, and International Terrorism Threats/Concerns

The Department of State remains concerned about the continued threat of terrorist attacks, demonstrations, and other violent actions against U.S. citizens and interests overseas. There were no acts of international terrorism or transnational terrorism in Lesotho during 2016. Lesotho’s border with South Africa is porous, however, and individuals or groups connected to terrorism could move easily back and forth between the two countries.

Political, Economic, Religious, and Ethnic Violence

THE U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE HAS ASSESSED MASERU AS BEING A MEDIUM -THREAT LOCATION FOR POLITICAL VIOLENCE DIRECTED AT OR AFFECTING OFFICIAL U.S. GOVERNMENT INTERESTS.

Lesotho is a constitutional monarchy, which gained its independence in 1966. The king, who is constitutionally barred from domestic politics, is head of state; the prime minister is head of the government and cabinet. The legislative branch consists of a bicameral parliament: an elected National Assembly and non-elected Senate. The judicial branch consists of the High Court, Court of Appeals, magistrate’s Court, and customary courts. The political environment is highly contested within and among Lesotho’s numerous political parties. The most recent election, a snap election held in 2015, followed a period of instability beginning with August 30, 2014 clashes between the army and police and the collapse of the ruling three-party coalition. The previous opposition party won a plurality of seats and took power at the head of a seven-party coalition. A peaceful transition capped an electoral period that was free of violence.

Civil Unrest

Lesotho has a history of politically-related civil unrest, exemplified by the attacks by the Lesotho Defense Force (LDF) on August 30, 2014 on Lesotho Mounted Police Service (LMPS) personnel. Following the 2014 clashes, Maseru was without a law enforcement presence for almost four days. However, during this period, there were no episodes of civil disruption or unrest. While improved since September 2014, tensions between the police and army remain.

In 2015, the army arrested more than 50 soldiers on charges of mutiny or failure to suppress mutiny. On June 25, the former LDF Commander was killed in what the LDF called a botched arrest and the victim’s family called an assassination. In response to the incident, a Southern African Development Community (SADC) Commission of Inquiry came to Lesotho to investigate the killing and other sources of instability. Its report recommended the dismissal of the LDF commander, the release of a group of soldiers accused of mutiny, accountability for those accused of torture, murder, and other crimes, and wide ranging reforms. The LDF Commander left office in December 2016, and a nascent reform process is underway, but the other recommendations have yet to be implemented.

There were numerous demonstrations in 2016. Demonstrations are primarily small, non-violent, and politically-based. The Embassy expects marches and demonstrations to continue throughout the country by opposing political parties and groups. Several marches and protests in 2016, while not violent, caused disruption to the flow of pedestrians and traffic. Any such demonstration or large gatherings of people should be avoided.

Religious/Ethnic Violence

There has been targeting of ethnic Chinese business owners by criminals. This targeting is believed to be the by-product of the perception by local criminal elements that ethnic Chinese business owners do not use local banking establishments and prefer to keep cash in their homes/businesses. Criminals often target Chinese businessmen at their homes and places of work, and there have been car robberies of Chinese individuals driving to/from their workplace.

  • In 2016, there were two reported incidents involving Chinese business owners who were carjacked and robbed in Maseru. The individuals were both robbed at gunpoint while in their vehicles departing their workplace when criminals blocked their vehicles. In both cases, the criminals drove the occupants and their vehicles to an isolated location in Maseru and took money and electronic devices (cell phones, tablets) but left without injuring any parties involved.


Post-specific Concerns

Environmental Hazards

The most common environmental hazard is heavy rain and lightning. While urban areas and roads are fairly well-drained, torrential downpours in short periods occasionally result in standing water, soil, and other debris being washed onto roadways. Rural and mountain roads are neither well illuminated nor well drained, and travel on these roadways during heavy rain fall should be avoided.

Critical Infrastructure

Lesotho has become less reliant on South Africa for electrical power, but concerns exist on how the extended ESKOM crisis will impact the country. Lesotho has two major dams, which supply water to South Africa. Lesotho has one major dam providing water to Maseru and a number of smaller dams providing water to other parts of the country, but poor infrastructure and distribution issues plague the country’s water supply and have put high demands on this resource. Lesotho is in the midst of a severe drought. The water supply in Maseru has been largely uninterrupted, but the water system has been less reliable outside of the capital.

Personal Identity Concerns

Accommodations for persons with disabilities are limited.

The law prohibits consensual sexual relations between men, but authorities generally do not enforce it. The law is silent on consensual sex between women. LGBTI persons face societal discrimination and official insensitivity to this discrimination. There is an LGBTI advocacy and support group that operates freely and publically in Lesotho and has members in all 10 districts.

People of East Asian descent may be at higher risk for robberies.

Drug-related Crimes

Drugs (marijuana) are present. Occasionally, passengers are arrested attempting to smuggle drugs through the Moshoeshoe International Airport or across the border with South Africa. Care should be taken to avoid being involved in any form of narcotics activity, as penalties are stiff and taken seriously.

Kidnapping Threat

Most incidents are more accurately categorized as false imprisonment and are usually the result of a domestic dispute or an express kidnapping wherein the victim is driven to an ATM to retrieve money and subsequently released. Most victims are members of the local population. There were no reported instances of kidnappings of expatriates in 2016.

Police Response

Police will speak Sesotho and often English. There are limited vehicle and foot patrols in residential or commercial areas. The LMPS do not have an adequate response capability. Due to lack of resources, it is common to have to pick up police to respond to an incident.

Foreigners are required by law to present documentation to law enforcement personnel if requested. All foreign visitors should always carry identification (passport, residence permit, or copies of these items).

How to Handle Incidents of Police Detention or Harassment

While incidents of police detention, corruption, bribery, or harassment have been reported, they are not common. Should an encounter with police occur, respect and cooperation is the best way to avoid potential problems. Should such incidents occur, do not do anything that could put personal safety at risk.

Crime Victim Assistance

Visitors requiring police assistance are advised to appear in person at the police station in their area or at Police Headquarters in Maseru. The LMPS telephone number is +266-22-317-263 or +266-5-888-1010 from any phone or 112 from a landline phone in Lesotho.

Police/Security Agencies

Lesotho Mounted Police Service (LMPS), the national police service, is a centralized, national organization and falls under the Ministry of Police. Its headquarters are in Maseru, with offices in all districts and border post locations with South Africa, as well as an office at Moshoeshoe International airport. Most areas of policing and law enforcement fall under the LMPS (airport security, emergency response, criminal investigations, and drug enforcement), with the exception of immigration matters, which are handled by the Lesotho Immigration Department.

Medical Emergencies

Medical facilities are inadequate, even though a new hospital opened in Maseru in 2011. Local medical facilities do not generally offer the standard of care available in more developed countries. There are medical clinic facilities in Lesotho that provide limited, basic medical treatment.

Lesotho has a small number of pharmacies that carry some prescription drugs and usually do not require a prescription. Many larger pharmacies are in South Africa. Plan accordingly and bring your needed prescriptions with you. For more information, please refer to OSAC’s Report, “Traveling with Medications.”

Contact Information for Available Medical Services

Full service medical hospitals are located in South Africa in Bloemfontein (approximately 1.5-2 hour drive from Lesotho) and Johannesburg (approximately 4.5 hour drive from Lesotho).

Wilies Clinic, tel: +266-22-333-600/601

Maseru Private Clinic, tel: +266- 22-313-260

Queen Mamohato Memorial Hospital: tel: +266-22-220-300

Available Air Ambulance Services

Mission Aviation Fellowship + 266 22 314 790/22 313 640

Permission to land aircraft in Maseru must be obtained from Civil Aviation Officer: Mrs. Sesinye: +266 22 312 499 or +266 5885 3885

Insurance Guidance

Medical evacuation to South Africa is often the only option for serious accidents. Professional, private emergency rescue services operate air and ground ambulances, which are available, but care and transport is rendered only after a patient's ability to pay is established.

Country-specific Vaccination and Health Guidance

Water quality varies across the country; therefore, it is advisable to drink treated water.

Lesotho has one of the highest prevalence rates of HIV in the world. Visitors are advised to exercise appropriate precautions if engaging in sexual activity or if exposed to a blood source other than that supplied by a hospital/clinic for transfusion purposes.

Tuberculosis is also endemic. Individuals who plan to reside or stay for extended periods are advised to obtain a tuberculosis skin test prior to arrival and again upon departure from Lesotho.

The CDC offers additional information on vaccines and health guidance for Lesotho.

OSAC Country Council Information

Embassy Maseru does not have a formal OSAC Country Council due to the limited number of American-owned or -operated business in Lesotho. The nearest OSAC Country Council is in South Africa. The RSO continues to provide country briefings for representatives of American businesses, non-governmental organizations, academia, and faith-based organizations as requested. Organizations meeting the OSAC membership requirements are encouraged to contact the Regional Security Officer for additional information. Please contact OSAC’s Africa team with any questions.

U.S. Embassy Location and Contact Information

Embassy Address and Hours of Operation

254 Kingsway, Maseru 100, Lesotho

Hours of Operation: Mon-Thurs 0730-1700 Fri 0730-1330

Embassy Contact Numbers

Regional Security Office: +266-22-312-666 Ext. 4125

RSO email: DS_RSO_Maseru@state.gov

Embassy Operator (Business hours): +266-22-312-666

Consular Affairs: +266-22-312-666 Ext. 4102

Consular email: usconsularmaseru@state.gov

Website: http://maseru.usembassy.gov/

Additional Resources

Lesotho Country Information Sheet
South Africa Country Information Sheet