Interpersonal violence: patterns in a Basotho community

J Trop Med Hyg. 1993 Apr;96(2):93-9.


This study was conducted to quantify the importance of trauma and death due to interpersonal violence in rural Lesotho and to gain an insight into the profile of the assault victims, the circumstances of the violent incidents and the type of weapons wielded and wounds inflicted. During a one-year period starting June 1988 information was recorded on all patients with assault trauma attending Quthing District Hospital. The annual incidence rate of assault on men between 20 and 49, the most affected age group, was estimated to be as high as 30 per 1000. The crude homicide rate could reliably be calculated as 44 per 100,000 per year. The male to female sex ratio amongst the 506 identified victims was 1.7:1. The assailants were male in 89% of the incidents; other men were their victim in 68% of these events. Only 26% of the consulting women suffered at the hands of their husband or partner. Over 55% of injuries (and deaths) inflicted by men were caused by beating with traditional sticks; 15% were due to stabbing. Women used stones, teeth or bare hands and feet equally frequently. The limited presence of firearms may have prevented higher death rates. It is suggested that the disruption of the social structure of the Basotho society through its dependence on migrant labour leads to weakened normative reference, the moral net, which is the underlying cause for the serious violence problem of the country.

PIP: This study examined patterns of interpersonal violence in rural Quthing district, Lesotho, over 1 year during 1988-89. Data were obtained from interviews with 321 male and 185 female clients with assault trauma at Quthing District Hospital. Clients ranged in age from 11 to 87 years. 40.9% of men and 25.7% of all clients involved young men aged 20-29 years. 62% of males and 82% of females were married. 46% of men were unemployed. 87% of the women were housewives without a paid job. 77 clients were prior assault victims; 23 men and 13 women were perpetrators before this incident; and 2 men and 1 woman had killed someone. 8% of 500 clients had female assailants; 89% had male assailants. 156 clients were assaulted by more than 1 person. 30% had assailants who were close neighbors. In 40% of female cases, the assailant was a husband or partner (26%) or family relative (14%). Men were assaulted by their partners or relatives in 17% of cases. Most attacks occurred in the evening, especially on weekends and Saturdays. Attacks were high in the months of October and November. 58% were treated on the same day or within 24 hours. At least 185 incidents involved alcohol. 30% admitted to drunkenness. Most fights started as trivial quarrels. 56% of clients were assaulted with sticks. The second most common weapon was a knife, followed by stones and blows from hands and feet. Most women assailants were unarmed. 41% of all cases had head wounds, and 13% had stab wounds. Women had fewer head wounds and fractures. 42 men and 6 women died (44/100,000), many with head injuries.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Age Factors
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Alcohol Drinking
  • Child
  • Employment
  • Female
  • Homicide / statistics & numerical data
  • Humans
  • Lesotho / epidemiology
  • Male
  • Marital Status
  • Middle Aged
  • Prospective Studies
  • Sex Factors
  • Time Factors
  • Violence*
  • Wounds and Injuries / epidemiology*
  • Wounds and Injuries / etiology
  • Wounds and Injuries / mortality