The Deserted Village

While mapping near Mohale Dam today I came across a village with perhaps 100 huts, and 20 or more large animal kraals. Surrounding the village are disused fields we are currently tracing and tagging as “landuse=farmland”. The huts themselves are in ruins.

There is a poem by Oliver Goldsmith that I once had to learn titled “The Deserted Village”. It could be about anywhere in the world, there are deserted villages everywhere it would seem. The poem laments the collapse of a small rural place, its people, its economy, its buildings, …and ultimately its beauty. The poem paints modern society, and indirectly urbanisation as an evil, which prevents people from living the simpler village life.

…[extract from the “The Deserted Village”.

Teach erring man to spurn the rage of gain;

Teach him, that states of native strength possest,

Tho’ very poor, may still be very blest;

That trade’s proud empire hastes to swift decay,

As ocean sweeps the labour’d mole away;

While self-dependent power can time defy,

As rocks resist the billows and the sky.

The cause of the abandonment of villages in Lesotho are all the usual ones. Urbanisation is happening fast in the mountain kingdom. Less usual, the HIV crisis that hit Lesotho really did hit rural Lesotho harder than urban Lesotho. the impact was both in terms of infection rate and mortality. This led to a population flight from several villages, leaving some reduced in size and others not viable as settlements, and ultimately they were deserted. The visual evidence of both outcomes is to be seen everywhere on the satellite imagery for rural Lesotho. As we map rural villages we see almost perfectly circular Mekhoro shaped Kraals, which we mark as “barrier=wall”. Drawing it in openstreetmap it can be a closed way or an open way, depending on whether a gap is visible.

deserted village3

The circular Kraals were Mekhoros, as deserted residential buildings got reused as animal enclosures. Why build a new stone wall when an abandoned hut with its thatch gone will serve perfectly well for animals?

Lesotho needs balanced urban and rural development. The main threat perceived in the Land Use and Settlement Plan in the last decade was the diminution of the total quantity of agricultural land due, (especially) to unconstrained and uncontrolled sprawling residential development. However, another threat would be an insufficient number of rural people to farm the land.

Regarding the image, my suspicion here is that this specific deserted village was caused by the Highlands Dam projects. I can’t be too sure but my feeling is the village used to be called Ha Mohale Likalaneng.The village was partly flooded and partly isolated as the water level rose.

deserted village2

Typical Villages and their productive hinterlands

This adds to the complexity of Lesotho’s requirements for sustainable development. For good planning the kingdom needs to have sufficient urban density to provide infrastructure to urban layouts. On the other hand the dispersed rural population makes a big contribution to food supply, especially for this hungry urban population.
As for Goldsmith, his poem has long been dismissed as rustic romanticism, glossing over the actual challenges and difficulties of rural living. Eventually by developing further the spatial information in #MapLesotho the Government of the Kingdom may developed balanced approaches to planning that channel the urban, and preserve the rural. Key to this will be to avoid the view that urban and rural are opposites, not connected in their purpose, fortunes and outcomes.


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