THE King and Queen of Lesotho, in Southern Africa, have marked the 30th anniversary of a partnership between the Durham diocese and their nation with a three-day tour of the county.
King Letsie III and Queen Masenate Mohato Seeiso were invited to the region by the Bishop of Durham, the Rt Revd Paul Butler, who, last weekend, accompanied them to a series of locations involved with the project.
Visits were made to East Durham College’s Houghall Campus, which offers a large range of land-based courses, including animal care and horticulture; the Upper Teesdale Agricultural Support Service, where the King, who has a keen interest in farming, laid a commemorative stone; the Venerable Bede C of E Academy in Tunstall, Sunderland; and the National Glass Centre in Sunderland.
The Durham Diocese-Lesotho Link was set up in 1986 to tackle issues such as poverty, climate change, inequality, and AIDS. Its executive director, the Revd Margaret Bianchi, said: “The King has often attended significant Link events in Lesotho, he is also patron of the Lesotho Royal Lifesaving Society, which the Link set up; so it is fantastic that he is able to be here, and for us to show him around the diocese, taking in places and areas of mutual interest.”
King Letsie, who is a cricket fan, also watched the Durham Jets beat the Yorkshire Vikings in a T20 match at the Emirates Riverside ground in Chester-Le-Street, on Friday evening. The commercial and community director of Durham County Cricket Club, Michelle Carney, spent 18 months in Lesotho working with vulnerable young people, including orphans and street children. She said: “The King and Queen were very involved and supportive of the charity work I was doing, and were a great personal support to me during my time there.”
The King said that the link with Durham had helped to uplift marginalised members of the community and equipped them with life skills, so that they could embark on self-help programmes. He said: “The exchange programme offered by the Link gives a new perspective to life to those that participated in it; and at a people-to-people level, friendships have also been forged between the people of Durham and Lesotho.”
Lesotho is landlocked and surrounded by South Africa. It lies high in the southern Drakensberg mountains, which has earned it the name of the Switzerland of Africa. It is one of the world’s few remaining constitutional monarchies, and a predominantly Christian society. The King, who is Roman Catholic, has said that his faith has been a pillar of strength in his personal life “to persevere over all life’s challenges”.He said that Christianity provided “the moral compass to guide the society to know what is right.
“The Church was instrumental in developing the education system in Lesotho. Schools were established by different church denominations, including the Anglican Church. The National University of Lesotho started as Pius XII, founded by the Roman Catholic Church. The Church also made some impressive strides in the development of health facilities in Lesotho.”
He acknowledged that Lesotho had some of the highest rates of HIV-infection, but strategies were being developed to reduce them, including his becoming a champion of initiatives. “The National AIDS Commission has just been revived to co-ordinate all efforts and programmes in the country that deal with HIV/AIDS; and Vodafone, working through its regional subsidiary Vodacom, has launched a paediatric HIV testing programme,” he said.
The country has also been affected by the slowdown in the global economy; increasing poverty and unemployment are estimated at 26 per cent. It was also badly affected by the recent drought in Southern Africa. “Lesotho has had a devastating planting and harvesting season, and even went on to make an appeal to the donor community to render assistance to address emerging hunger from lack of food in the households,” he said. “Assistance in this regard is most welcome.
“Several measures are being considered to address its effects, such as harnessing water during the rainy season and from the rivers. Underground water is also to be drilled for domestic and even industrial usage, as it has proven to withstand drought conditions.”
The King led the Lesotho delegation to the Paris conference on climate change last November. He said: “We support and are fully behind the international intervention programmes to address climate change. Lesotho is a signatory to the recently signed UN agreement aimed at combating the effects of climate change.”