Each year when the calendar marks 17 July, the people of Lesotho mark the birthday of their beloved king, His Royal Majesty Letsie III. Each of Lesotho’s 10 districts holds its own local celebrations on this special day (a national holiday, no less) and rotates hosting the official celebration. This year, for King Letsie’s 51st birthday, Mokhotlong had the distinct honour of hosting their royal majesties.
Mokhotlong has a special tie to the royal family. Letsie’s father, the late King Moshoeshoe II, was born here and a royal residence sits on a hill just outside of town. To welcome home their favourite son, hundreds of people from all over Mokhotlong district turned out for two days of events.
The Horse Races at Maligoaneng
On 16 July, the village of Maligoaneng held traditional pre-birthday activities: dancing, singing, and horse-racing. Basotho ponies are indigenous to Lesotho and South Africa and are the pride of the Mountain Kingdom. They serve functional daily purposes such as transporting goods and people, but once in a while they take a break to spruce up. Jockeys decorate their ponies with colourful harnesses, blankets, and occasionally masks, streamers, and balloons. Racing and high-stepping parades are quite regal!
The annual King’s Birthday celebrations tend to follow a similar pattern and, curiously, the events receive little royal acknowledgement from stage. That is not to say that the king does not appreciate the gestures, but rather that a king has never partaken in the ceremony himself before. Yet this year King Letsie determined to break that cycle and issued forth a royal thank-you to the people of Mokhotlong who had clearly worked so hard to make the celebration special for him. Letsie is a fine speaker and had the crowd murmuring their approval and even laughing from time to time.
The King’s Birthday
In contrast to the casual celebrations of the day before, the king’s actual birthday is a formal affair, right down to the full military dress and 21-gun salute. The military parade is the holiday highlight, the event that hundreds of Basotho (and a handful of foreigners) turned up to see. Mokhotlong’s Lesotho Defence Force troops had been practicing for days leading up to the 17th and their efforts paid off. Admittedly, it was pretty impressive.
By all accounts, Mokhotlong pulled off both days successfully and the town was alive with people – quite a change from the usual humdrum. It was a nice opportunity to thank the king for his leadership and to look forward to positive changes on the horizon. His Majesty was recently appointed the official AU Nutrition Champion and TTL certainly has a vested interest in what he does under his new title!
TTL looks forward to hearing his plans to help combat malnutrition and wishes him a very happy birthday!
The TTLF Fellow is a representative of the North American organisation Touching Tiny Lives Foundation. Based for one year in Mokhotlong, Lesotho, the TTLF Fellow serves in an administrative support capacity for the Basotho charity Touching Tiny Lives (TTL).