The month of May marks the birth of the late King Moshoeshoe II and is, therefore, very important to the Royal Archives & Museum. This year, in celebration of King Moshoeshoe II’s birthday, we will provide snippets of his life. The following is the first in a series.
King Moshoeshoe II was the eldest son of Morena e Moholo Seeiso Griffith and Mofumahali ‘M’a-Bereng (born Sekhothali Lebopo). He was born on 2nd May, 1938, at Salang, in Mokhotlong district, and given the name Bereng; and named Constantine at baptism. He was also known as ‘Selala’, the initiation name of Letsie I’s son, Bereng, after whom he was named. The name ‘Bereng’ came from the way Basotho pronounced ‘Barends’, the name of a Griqua man, Barends Barends, whom Letsie I had befriended.
Khosana (Prince) Bereng Constantine Seeiso received private tutoring from 1942 until 1947 when he joined Roma College (later Christ the King High School), where he completed his Junior Certificate in 1953. He then proceeded to Ampleforth College in 1954, and then to Corpus Christi College, University of Oxford, in 1957, both in the United Kingdom. At Oxford he read Politics, Philosophy and Economics (PPE).
On the 12th March, 1960, Khosana Bereng Seeiso was installed as Motlotlehi (His Majesty) Moshoeshoe II. Unlike his predecessors, he was neither a colonial Paramount Chief nor a traditional Morena e Moholo. On 23rd August, 1962, he married Khosatsana (Princess) Tabitha ‘M’asentle Mojela, daughter of Morena Thabo Lerotholi Mojela and Mofumahali Tabitha Pali Mojela ( born Nkuebe) in a splendid Roman Catholic wedding held at Mofumahali oaThlolo (Our Lady of Victories) Cathedral in Maseru. They were blessed with two sons, Khosana Mohato (now King Letsie III); Khosana Seeiso (now Principal Chief of Matsieng), and a daughter, Khosatsana ‘M’a-Seeiso, who sadly passed away in 1994, after a short illness.
His very ascension to the throne in 1960 became very controversial and divided the country into the supporters of the king on the one hand and the supporters of Chieftainess Mants’ebo (his father’s senior wife who had acted as regent from 1940 when his father died) on the other. The formation of the Marema Tlou Party late in the 1950s to push for his enthronement was just one indication of how divided the nation was as well as of how committed some politicians were to the cause. He ascended to the throne after failing to secure a set of constitutional conditions that he would have preferred and therefore became king under a constitutional arrangement to which he was wrongly or rightly opposed. The problems that Moshoeshoe II had had during negotiations for Lesotho’s independence continued after independence. The country received its independence in October, 1966 and less than five years later politicians forced the king into exile in the Netherlands. He came back from exile under extremely restrictive political conditions which were imposed on him by the government of the day.
Following a military coup in January 1986 the king agreed to work with the military government but this uneasy alliance collapsed some four years later in 1990. One of the consequences of that fallout was that once again he was exiled and later dethroned in November, 1990. When he died in 1996 King Moshoeshoe II had just been returned to the throne by the government a year earlier in January, 1995.
King Moshoeshoe II left behind him many significant milestones to which he had contributed directly or indirectly. The king was not only an important factor in Lesotho’s negotiations for independence from Britain but after independence he engaged in a series of efforts to find lasting solutions to the problems of poverty, inequitable society, lack of respect for human rights and instability in Lesotho in particular and in the region in general. The results of these efforts remain today as building blocks for national and regional development. As an internationalist, King Moshoeshoe II was well-known as a fighter against apartheid in South Africa – one of the primary explanations, in fact, for the uneasiness and eventual collapse of his alliance with the military government.