In February 2000 when ‘Masenate Mohato Seeiso married King Letsie III of Lesotho at a stadium in front of a crowd of around 40,000 people, it was the first time in modern history that a commoner had married into the Lesotho Royal Family. ‘Masenate, who is the eldest daughter of Thekiso Motšoeneng and ‘Makarabo, had first met King Letsie III in 1996 while enrolled at the National University of Lesotho.
But for her mother-in-law Queen ‘Mamohato, she may not have felt comfortable in the Royal Family. “As you know, I was a commoner who married His Majesty, which was very rare and also says a lot about his humble nature. I am thankful for the support I received from the Royal Family. His family accepted and loved me and taught me almost everything that I know today. I am now comfortable and no longer intimidated by my role as Queen,” ‘Masenate said in an interview with the Lesotho Times in 2014.
Born on June 2, 1976, as Anna Karabo Motšoeneng, ‘Masenate enrolled in the Machabeng International College in Maseru in 1990 before graduating with an International General Certificate for Secondary Education and an International Baccalaureate diploma. She could not complete her studies at the University of Lesotho after she got engaged with King Letsie III in October 1999.
Lesotho is a constitutional monarchy. Unlike the other African monarchies in Morocco and eSwatini where the king plays an important role in politics, the powers of a king in Lesotho are largely ceremonial. King Letsie III succeeded his father, King Moshoeshoe II, who was dethroned in 1990. Five years after the return of civilian rule, King Letsie III abdicated amid political instability, and his father was reinstated as monarch. But in 1996, his father died in a car accident and he was restored as king.
“I have no constitutional powers to intervene in public affairs or settle disputes that may arise between different political factions or between sections of the population and their political leaders. So it does cause, sometimes, a bit of a problem or a frustration on my part,” King Letsie III told Al Jazeera in 2014. He, however, added that he was willing to play a larger role in politics while ensuring that he doesn’t usurp the powers of the elected government. And his wife has been by his side throughout his duties in the landlocked Kingdom where poverty and unemployment rates are high amid reports of abuse against women.
In spite of its small population, Lesotho also has the second-highest HIV prevalence in the world. An estimated 340,000 people were living with HIV in Lesotho and 6,100 died from AIDS-related illnesses in 2018. ‘Masenate, as queen, is a patron of several organizations, including the SOS Children’s Village, the Lesotho Red Cross Society, and the Machabeng International College. She is also actively involved in HIV/AIDS awareness campaigns while helping to improve reproductive health services for women and girls.
Last month, ‘Masenate called on leaders and decision-makers to use their power to provide an enabling environment for the implementation of the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) agenda to improve lives, particularly the reproductive health services of women and girls.
“We must ensure that none of our women are ever going to die while giving life,” she said. “We need to ensure that gender-based violence and harmful practices such as child marriage, which are rampant in our country, cease to exist and we must take efforts to halt the high rate of new HIV infections especially among our youth.”
Interestingly, one of her children, Princess Senate Mohato Seeiso, from age 17, made it a point to start a nationwide campaign against child marriage and the importance of female education in the country. In April 2018, the princess embarked on a nationwide tour to schools, educating the youth on early marriage and its disadvantages to the girlchild. Awarded by several organizations in Lesotho and other parts of Southern Africa as well as the United Nations, the princess has also spent time advocating for women’s rights.
Her parents couldn’t be prouder. ‘Masenate and King Letse III have three children together — Princess Senate, Princess ‘Maseeiso and Prince Lerotholi, though ‘Masenate once stated that she would have loved having more children.
“…Maybe I should have had one early after Prince Lerotholi, but now my biological clock is telling me the time is up,” a 38-year-old ‘Masenate said in a 2014 interview. “I have read a lot about reproductive health-related risks and some medical researchers, in their studies, don’t recommend women to consider falling pregnant at my age. When your eggs are no longer that fresh to make a healthy baby, then it’s better to be on the safe side,” said the queen who has also been involved in her late mother-in-law’s work with the Queen’s National Trust Fund which is helping underprivileged children in the tiny nation.