While history shows that there were a number of Freemasons living in the Cape prior to this date, it was on 2nd May 1772, that the Dutch formally introduced Freemasonry to South Africa and 10 founding Brethren established Lodge de Goede Hoop under the Mastership of Abraham Chiron. To say that these early Brethren laboured diligently is an understatement and it is recorded that some 400 degrees were conferred in the first 9 years and that in 1775 alone, the Brethren met 32 times and conferred 53 degrees.
It is worth noting that, in the early days, the Cape’s main purpose was to provide a safe shelter and halfway-station en route to the East Indies and the Dutch East India Company played a major role in all local activities. Indeed, the Lodge depended for its existence on visitors and generally failed to attract the local residents as members, mainly because of the rigid social and religious attitudes of the confined Cape society. This consisted mainly of two broad classes, the Company official and free burgher. Due to rigid Company policy their employees were not permitted to trade or own land until they were released from their contracts, and it was only after this that they could settle in the Cape and become free burghers. The Masonic philosophy of equality in the Lodge violated the structure in the Cape where difference in rank between Company officials and free burghers was practiced. Religious interference was also widespread.
In the early 1780s, war broke out between England and Holland and, as a result, ships stopped calling at the Cape. This had a major impact on Masonic labours and contributed to the Lodge, in 1781, going into recess for a period of some 9 years. The Lodge recommenced activities in the early 1790s, this time attracting more prominent persons of the Company, such as Johannes Andreas Truter, later to become Chief Justice of the Cape. These more influential members offered some protection from the Company and the pulpit and, whereas previously almost all the members were of a transient nature, more and more of the new initiates were locally born and primarily resident in the Cape – a far more stable situation. The Lodge has now laboured, uninterrupted, for well over 200 years.
It is not the objective of this article to concentrate on a single Lodge, and little more will be said about Lodge de Goede Hoop itself, although it is impossible to ignore the very major role it has played in all aspects of the history of South African Freemasonry. Indeed, in one way or another, every single one of the Lodges operating in this country can trace its foundations back to the Mother of all our Lodges.
In the late 18th century, after the year of the British occupation in 1795, there were a large number of members of overseas Lodges living in Cape Town. de Goede Hoop allowed them to use their facilities, with certain restrictions, and they functioned as irregular Lodges. One of these was Goede Verwachting, which was duly warranted as a lawful Lodge in the early 1800s. In the process of ratification, the name was changed to de Goede Trouw, now our Number 2 Lodge.
Further impetus was given to Freemasonry in the Cape by the take over of the Batavia Republic in 1802, and, after that, with the arrival of Jacob de Mist, a Deputy Grand Master in Holland, who then became the 1st Deputy Grand Master, National Netherlandic Constitution in the region. He had been sent out to reestablish the Dutch presence in the Cape and one of the important avenues he used was Freemasonry.
The 2nd British occupation of the Cape Colony saw the return of the British Military Lodges. The Commander in Chief was a Freemason and, seeing him as an ally, the Deputy Grand Master National welcomed him into Lodge de Goede Hoop as a protector. However, the influx of English speaking members into the Lodge brought its own tensions. Almost inevitably, the English speaking members broke away in 1811 and formed the British Lodge, this being the 1st permanent Masonic involvement in the territory by the United Grand Lodge of England.
Political circumstances triggered off the Great Trek when thousands of burghers moved North. Coupled to the general economic climate, this adversely affected Freemasonry at the time. Relative prosperity in the 1850s, however, resulted in an influx of English settlers and the development of the Eastern coast and the Natal Colony. The Craft was revitalised, with English Freemasonry spreading to the Eastern part and Dutch Freemasonry towards the newly formed Republics of the Orange Free State and Transvaal. Once again, the use of English in the Dutch Lodges created tensions and in 1860 resulted in the formation of the 1st Lodge under the Scottish Constitution, being Lodge Southern Cross. The 1st of the local Irish Lodges, St Patricks, was formed in 1897. There were now four Constitutions at labour in Southern Africa.
As early as 1875, there were calls for a United Grand Lodge to be formed, where all Masons would be able to find a common home and there was a similar move in 1892, when the proposal was narrowly defeated. While no unification has yet been successfully pursued, it must be said that the 4 Constitutions have almost always worked together in great harmony, have shared many projects and have always promoted the common cause of Freemasonry. There have been some extremely testing times, such as during the Anglo-Boer war, and there are many tales of Masons from opposite sides remembering their Masonic oath and saving their Brethren. It is also noted that Temples were often spared from destruction.
Perhaps as a result of political circumstances, the upsurge of Afrikanerdom and a growing campaign for a South African Republic, the striving for a South African Grand Lodge again gained momentum. The failure to make any progress in establishing a United Grand Lodge resulted in some of the Brethren of the Netherlandic Constitution forming an entirely South African "Grand Lodge" in 1952. As it was irregular, however, the 4 Constitutions operating in South Africa prohibited members from attending the meetings.
The 2nd World War heavily disrupted the world’s Masonic structures and, once the war had ended, the Grand Lodge of the Netherlands was forced to reestablish itself. In so doing, they had decided to accept Grand Orients which did not comply with ancient land marks, the 2 most important being the belief in a living God and the presence of a Volume of Sacred Law during the labours of the Lodge.
This resulted in grave disagreements with the Grand Lodges of England, Ireland and Scotland who threatened to withdraw recognition from the Netherlands – a serious problem for the Netherlandic Lodges in South Africa who worked in close cooperation with the various Lodges under these Constitutions.
When a break in the relationship between the Netherlands and the 3 Grand Lodges became imminent the English Grand Secretary advised Districts in South Africa of the situation. The Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of England wrote to Colonel Colin Graham Botha advising him that, in the circumstances, it would probably be prudent to break away from the Netherlands. As a result, in 1961, the Grand Lodge of Southern Africa was duly established.
Today, the Grand Lodge Centre is based in Orange Grove, Johannesburg. 5 Provincial Divisions have been established over the years, being Southern (1863), Northern (1906), Central (1962), Eastern (1977) and Eastern Cape (2002). The harmonious interaction between the various Divisions, as well as that enjoyed with the Sister Constitutions, plays a very positive role in the overall development of South African Freemasonry.
This article draws extensively on a paper presented by MW Bro George Groenewald and appreciation is extended to him for his efforts.
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