Queen ‘Masenate Mohato Seeiso reflects on her marriage, being 38, society at large and her transition to the Royal Queen she is today.
QUEEN ‘Masenate Mohato Seeiso, who turned 38 on 2 June, says her 14 years as the wife of King Letsie III has been “an exciting, learning experience”.
Since tying the knot on 18 February 2000, the Royal couple has been blessed with two daughters — Princess Senate (12) and Princess ‘Maseeiso (9) — and one son, Prince Lerotholi (7).
Her Majesty, born Anna Karabo Motšoeneng in Mapoteng, Berea district, says she had much to learn during the early days of her marriage due to her background as she was not from the Royal family.
In an exclusive interview with the Lesotho Times at the Royal Palace on Monday this week, Her Majesty said she was grateful for all the support she received from her late mother-in-law, Queen ‘Mamohato Bereng Seeiso, her husband and the entire royal family in helping her make the transition from “a commoner” to the Queen she is today.
“As you know, I was a commoner who married His Majesty, which was very rare but 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. When the Queen Mother passed away (on 6 September 2003), it was hard on me for some time because she had been my pillar of strength. However, I am glad His Majesty was there for me and supported me until I got back on my feet again,” she said.
Her Majesty says her marriage is a very happy one, although she would have loved to have more children.
“I would have loved to have more children but I think it is risky to conceive at 38,” she laughed.
“Maybe I should have had one early after Prince Lerotholi but now my biological clock is telling me the time is up. 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.”
With Senate and ‘Maseeiso away at boarding school, the Royal couple now has more time to themselves and also make sure the Prince, who is heir to the throne, receives proper guidance.
Both husband and wife are interested in crop and livestock farming and the family boasts of bumper harvests every year and many highly productive cattle, goats and sheep in the mountains.
The couple spends time managing their agricultural operations and Her Majesty said these too, bring both of them much joy.
“I married at 24 and I am looking forward to more happiness to share with His Majesty and our children. That’s the beauty of growing up. I am really looking forward to the 40s now that they are around the corner. I can’t wait to be 40 and to see all my children grow.”
Her Majesty further said over the years, she has shared everything with His Majesty and always had the opportunity to advise him on personal issues.
“I like the fact that he listens when I advise him on various issues that are personal. For instance, I want him to be well-dressed for various functions. And, as the woman of the house, I also recommend a lot of things, food, music, movies and more educative television channels for all of us. His Majesty is a very reserved, respectful, patient, wise and humble person and he is all that in a very sweet way. These are the qualities he has sustained over the years. They have drawn me much closer to him. I love him dearly every day.”
Passion for Children
Her Majesty said she decided to continue with the work of the late Queen Mother — the Queen’s National Trust Fund — because of her similar passion for children. The Trust Fund was established by Queen ‘Mamohato Bereng Seeiso in 1985.
“I am a mother and understand the pain of a vulnerable child. That really drives everything I do within the Trust Fund. I enjoy doing this work because I would also like to contribute towards making sure that the next generation has a brighter future. I believe that if we can mould the children well and guide them onto the right paths, they can grow to become better citizens of this country.”
She further noted that while education remains important, there should also be efforts to make sure every child knows the importance of loving his or her country.
“I would like them to be patriotic. Maybe I feel strongly about it because of my position as the mother of the heir to the throne, who is still very young. I would really like him to grow with a generation that understands the importance of patriotism. I know that way, his job would be easier.
“He should lead a nation that puts its country and fellow citizens first; selfless people with good values and principles. We are also teaching him to be humble, caring and for him to understand that he should always be there for his people. I know as parents, we are not going to be there for him always and imparting these life-skills is part of the legacy we would like to leave him.”
Support for the Queen’s National Trust Fund
Although the National Trust Fund enjoys good support from various organisations, Queen ‘Masenate Mohato Seeiso said she had realised the need to embark on other projects to boost funds in order to reach out to the growing number of vulnerable and orphaned children.
“We have a very small corporate sector and I know they are doing their best to help us. Their support is making a huge difference to the lives of many children from underprivileged families.
“There are other stakeholders who have even gone a step further by partnering with us and for this gesture, we are grateful. This shows they are aware of their social responsibility and would like the sustainability of the Trust Fund to be their responsibility. I wish other companies could also emulate that good spirit of giving and partnership.”
The Queen also said she understands companies and organisations have other obligations and support other needy people.
“We understand their pressure and it is for that reason that we have decided to take up other initiatives so that we do not completely depend on donations. We have also decided to do this because we are still struggling to achieve our goal.”
She said the Trust Fund has not been able to touch the lives of all vulnerable children throughout the country.
“It would make me happy to see the Trust Fund helping all the underprivileged children countrywide. I know that this would give them hope and let them know we are there for them.”
To raise more funds, the Trust Fund has partnered with a South African company in the production and marketing of the Lesotho Royal and Lesotho Prince Roses. The Trust Fund launched the Royal Rose perfume last year and is now available on the local market.
“What is exciting about this initiative is that the perfume is made from our very own unique roses, The Lesotho Royal and The Lesotho Prince. For each perfume sold, the proceeds go to the Trust Fund. We hope this is going to help us widen our revenue base.”
Since the project started, Her Majesty said she had learnt a lot about the sector.
“We had to start with a small number of perfumes to assess the response of the market. So far, the response has been fairly good. We are learning fast and currently, we are working on addressing the issues around packaging and also improving the fragrance itself.
“Our objective is to take this initiative to another level and make sure we sell our product internationally. We are also looking at diversifying into other flower-related projects and have identified a unique wild flower, which we can also use to produce a variety of other cosmetic products.”
Her Majesty’s Views on Women Development
Her Majesty explained that while she is passionate about children, she is also interested in the development and economic emancipation of Basotho women. She believes women have what it takes to contribute to the development of the various sectors of the economy.
“Working with women is an area I would like to diversify into in future because I understand the need for more women to participate in the development of the economy is a big issue and will always be a big issue. As women, we are not yet there despite our huge potential to change the landscape of the economy.”
She said this is despite the fact that women constitute more than half the country’s population.
“It would be good to see women countrywide, taking up medium-to-large-scale businesses, particularly in the small districts and rural areas. I think rural women should not only concentrate on subsistence farming but be supported to also go commercial. That way, they can realise more benefits from their agricultural efforts.”
The Queen added with abundant opportunities in the value-addition sector, only the sky can limit women to realise more from their agricultural initiatives.
She urged women struggling to make it in business to adopt other effective and practical strategies to realise their dreams.
“I like the idea of working collectively in the establishment and expansion of companies. Partnerships or cooperatives can help deal with the difficulties associated with failure to access finance, consistency and reliability in supplies and general sustainability of operations.”
She further said fear of the unknown, lack of innovation and ideas, business diversity, limited skills, difficulties to access finance to start and expand businesses were some of the reasons why only a few women are found in well-established businesses.
“Despite those challenges, I have also noticed that some women are not in business because they underestimate their capacity. The truth of the matter is women can make better entrepreneurs because they are cautious, they learn fast and are easily inspired by their responsibilities to work hard.”
She cited the garment sector, which employs thousands of Basotho women, as offering great opportunities.
“What should continue happening is to help the women on the aspects of managing their own businesses, supporting them to acquire proper sewing machines and also helping them identify rewarding markets. Such efforts can support sustainability and contribute towards job-creation and poverty-alleviation.”
Despite challenges in the development of women in business, Her Majesty congratulated all the women contributing in the various sectors of the economy for having the courage to stand up and make a difference.
“This goes to prove that as women we can also do it. We do have many skilled women who are doing it for themselves without necessarily having to heavily depend on their male counterparts.”
How she balances her time
Queen ‘Masenate Mohato Seeiso said because she works with many people, that has compelled her to master the art of time-management.
“I have to strike a balance because I am a mother to my own children, to the nation, a wife and have to also fulfil official duties and other responsibilities. However, over the years, I have seen how many people have volunteered their support for my work. Many people always come to volunteer their services in different areas. I can, therefore, delegate and that makes my work easier. I appreciate that a lot because it gives me more time to attend to other issues.”
How she views the society today
“It is heartbreaking to see the society we have become today. The majority of people are now materialistic and for me, that is sad because it drives people to go against our values and norms, all in the name of acquiring so much wealth.”
Growing up in a religious family, she said she was raised to value the importance of family unity.
The ills in society today and the great love for money, she added, break her heart.
“Not many people have time for family matters anymore. The trend nowadays is working 24 hours to make money, money and more money. Life, for many people, is about buying cars and houses and tomorrow, another set of assets. I don’t understand what kind of comfort they are looking for, if
not that they are just addicted to extravagance.”
Queen ‘Masenate Seeiso said having normal expectations and compassion for the poor can help rehabilitate the society.
“I believe people should strive to acquire wealth enough to sustain them. People should also understand the diversity of wealth and work towards acquiring other forms of wealth.”
She further said other forms of wealth are having wisdom, sharing with others to help create a vibrant and self-reliant nation and maintaining good health.
“Critically, we should also strive to be a skilled people because through our skills, we can work and grow. We should see the importance of growing together as a healthy society.”
Her views on parenthood
“I think as parents, families and communities, we have neglected our responsibilities of nurturing our society and as a result, as a people we have largely transformed into something else beyond my understanding,” Queen ‘Masenate Seeiso said.
“If you look at how many teenagers are falling pregnant these days, you wonder where we are going as a people. On a weekly basis, there is news about elderly women, the disabled and children, being sexually assaulted. And that can tell you with certainty that something in us shifted into the wrong position.”
She emphasised the importance of returning to the traditional values that made Basotho a distinct people.
However, she said to achieve this, collective efforts are needed.
“We have a complex situation because many of our children have lost their parents. Therefore communities, the government, non-governmental organisations, companies, traditional and religious leaders and others should work together to save our future.”
On the issue of teenage girls who get married or fall pregnant while still at school, Her Majesty said efforts should be made to revive the Thakaneng traditional custom.
“When we talk of how girls are affected, we should also not forget how this affects our male-children, who, in some cases are responsible for the pregnancies. I think among other interventions, it would help if we could
return to the Thakaneng traditional custom. This is where girls used to gather from the age of around 12 and were taught about the importance of giving themselves time to grow before they can start behaving like adults. I know a lady who has brought this concept back and I think she is doing a good job.”
She further noted that although there are some parents who might not want their children associated with old customs, the
future of Basotho children depends on such efforts.
“This could be another way to educate our children because many parents and families no longer have time for children. In some cases, parents might not know how to communicate with their children because of fear that educating them about reproductive health, for instance, might just make them curious and want to experiment.
“However, I believe opening up to our children can help build trust and make it easy for them to confide in us. We are living in difficult times where children, nowadays, know a lot because of easy access to a lot of information on the internet and other sources. And not all this information can help them make the right choices. At the same time, nothing can replace the truth they can get from us.”
Her Majesty on Society and Christianity
Queen ‘Masenate Seeiso said although Lesotho is a Christian country, it comprises different people who look at things differently and also behave differently based on their socialisation.
“I think diversity also comes with challenges because we cannot all have uniformed behaviour and views. However, as a largely Christian nation, the bottom line is whatever we do, we have to ask ourselves whether our behaviour is in the right standing with God. Only a foolish person can be easily influenced by a bad group of people simply because he or she wants to fit in.
“This is important because the choices we make affect us in the long-run and also affect those close to us.”