My friend the King

My friend the King

…. Sweet memories that mellows a heart

 

WHAT did King Letsie III get up to when he was a little boy?

That is a tough question to answer in a country where little is recorded and the bit that makes into the record books is scattered.

The Royal Archives and Museums in Matsieng is trying to piece together enough documents and pictures to tell the story of the monarchy. In so doing they are also attempting to tell the story of the King.

It is a process saddled by lack of material. Since it was not recorded museums have to make do with what they have and hope to start recording it for future generations.

On other aspects the museum is rich. For instance, you will find a plethora of royal letters, some as old as 100 years.

There is a treasure trove of legal documents and judgements, dating back to a time when this country’s independence was just a dream as the colonial regime’s roots were firmly stuck in Lesotho.

When it comes to King Letsie III the archives are thin, especially when it comes to his early childhood.

Thus far there is a single picture of the King as a baby. In the picture he appears with his father King Moshoeshoe II and his mother Queen Mamohato.

The future King is wrapped in a shawl. How old he was at that time is not known although indications are that he could have been born months earlier.

King 4There is also a picture of the King with his brother Prince Seeiso when they were boys.

Another shows the King in a school uniform at Ikeketseng Primary while another shows him in the United Kingdom.

But there the material on his childhood ends. There is a silence of many years before we start seeing the King at his wedding. Not that the history is not there somewhere in the photo albums in the Royal Palace. It’s just that what is in the archives is what people see.

The museum meant to document the history of the monarchy is still in its formative stages, having been opened just three years ago. As more documents are gathered it will sure be able to tell a near complete story of the monarchy.

For now it is a decent patchwork that tells the story adequately without opulent details. It’s a story good enough to satiate a tourist but one that will leave a journalist yearning for more.

How to fill the gaps is a challenge requiring both time and patience to accomplish. You don’t just walk into a homestead and start talking about his Majesty’s childhood even if your intentions are innocent.

“There is a man who really knows the king’s childhood but he is not here today,” says one of the guides at the museum when asked who could put flesh to the sketchy story in the archives.

And so thepost’s hunt for the story had begun.

“I wasn’t there when he was growing up. There are two old people who were in this area who know the story very well but the Lord has called them,” said the chief.

I used to herd cattle there but I know every little detail about him, says a man who looks in his 60s.

A stone’s throw from the Palace are rondavels where an old relative stays. He says he knows the story but would need approval to talk about it.

HisMajestyFamily

In Maseru several relatives were also reluctant to tell the story.

The internet too is thin on such details. What it did though was to point in the right direction. On a Facebook page of Thabo Mokenela is a rare picture of the King with his friends. He is with Mokenela, Tsielo Molapo and Mohakane Mosala. A chat with Mokenela about the picture ends the hunt for the story.

From his base in South Africa Mokenela recalls the picture vividly. The King and the two friends had organised a party for him in March 1988 when he came from university in the United States.

The party was held at Jampu’s house in Ha-Tsosane.

It is inevitable that when Mokenela speaks of his childhood the story is punctuated with references to King Letsie III. That’s because they were close friends.

So in telling the story of his boyhood he cannot avoid mentioning the King. In so doing he makes it possible for others to gain a glimpse of the King’s early life. They have been friends since they were boys.

But before he gets to the titbits about what they got up to when they were young Mokenela puts a cautionary statement which he mentions with a muffled up laughter.

“I will be there over the weekend for his birthday celebrations so don’t be surprised if I get a bloody nose for what I will say,” he says.

“The four of us in the picture were known as the four musketeers,” he says as he laughs, perhaps at the thought of meeting the King days after revealing their ‘little secrets’.

Then he starts listing the nicknames of the people in the picture. Molapo was called Fix because he could fix everything, he says.

“I was called Jampu and Mosala was called Olo.”

And the king?

He takes a deep breath and lets out a loud and mischievous laugh.

His-Majestry-King-Letsie-III“Those I am not saying. They were not very nice nicknames and I don’t want to be in trouble with my dear friend,” he says.

What he can say without the fear of getting his ears wringed is that they grew up like other boys in Lesotho and like all boys they got up to “naughty things”. Nothing sinister, just boys being boys, he says.

Jampu remembers how they used to stand on the fence at the Royal Palace in Maseru and court girls from St Catherine’s High School.

“I was a messenger, a good one. Hahahahahahaha and I never tried to keep any for myself,” he says.

Every year the future King would be sent to collect the royal herd from Matsunyane to Semokong and Jampu would come alone.

“The bodyguards were not too fussy so we could play all games in the veld. We would sleep in the veld too.”

The king, he says, preferred to walk with his friends instead of being driven. Together they would go to play football almost every week. The King’s favourite team was School Boys.

Jampu played for Matlama.

“Hey, I remember how he used to be irritated when I scored against the School Boys or they were beaten.”

“He loves his football and is an avid supporter of Liverpool. I like Jose Morinho but I don’t like Manchester United.”

What always surprised Jampu about the King was his humility. He recalls how every morning before school the king would go to the old Race Course (where Maseru Mall now stands) to wash his father’s horses.

“There was never a day he complained about that. Not a day did he grumble about doing that chore. He was very strong.”

He also admired how the King made decisions.

“He would never rush to make decisions. He was more like a chess player, very careful and cautious. But when he eventually made the decision it was one you would not fight against.”

The other thing that impressed him was how the King always stood by his friends. One day they were riding a motorbike, Jampu driving with the King a passenger.

Jampu doesn’t recall how the accident happened but he remembers how the King came to his defence when the bodyguards were angry with him.

“He was calm. I have never seen him angry.”

“I can tell you that Basotho have a wonderful King. I hope they keep cherishing and loving him”.

King and ramaphosaThe boys also had a company called Triple Nine Consulting which they started soon after high school.

“We were already having business plans not only as friend but we were trying to build the brotherhood bond which still holds until today. He was a back bencher and giving us emotional and business IQ support small as we were,” says Jampu.

“He is the role model for the young Basotho to think of doing business and developing Lesotho to be a respected country with entrepreneurs who can make use of the resources they have in the country.”

When they were not cleaning horses, collecting cattle and watching football, the King and his friends liked to play tennis and squash. He inherited the love for tennis from his father King Moshoeshoe II, a decent player himself.

It is that love for tennis that brought the King and Jampu together. At that time Jampu was a junior tennis champion and the King was a keen player.

From the tennis court a relationship blossomed. It would survive separation when the King moved to the United Kingdom.

They kept in contact when the King went to the National University of Lesotho while Jampu went to the United States.

Years later the King would become godfather to Jampu’s son.

Today they call each other at least once a week.

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