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The Formation of the Grand Lodge of South Africa

As we celebrate the Golden Jubilee of the Grand Lodge of South Africa this year, being 2011, it seems appropriate to explore the facts relating to the formation of our Grand Lodge.

Freemasonry, as we know it today, began with the formation of the Grand Lodge of England in 1717. The Grand Lodges of Ireland and Scotland were formed shortly thereafter and it is traditionally accepted that these three Grand Lodges are the senior ranking Grand Lodges in the World, even though each Grand Lodge has its own Constitution, Laws and Regulations and is sovereign in its own territory. The Grand Lodge National of the Netherlands was established in 1758 and all these Grand Lodges sought to spread their respective influences by establishing new Lodges in their own countries and in their territories overseas during the next two centuries.

Abraham_Chiron
Abraham Chiron

While there were several Freemasons living in the Cape during the mid to late 1700s, it was only on the 2nd of May 1772 that the Dutch formally introduced Freemasonry to South Africa by the establishment of Lodge de Goede Hoop in Cape Town. This was under the jurisdiction of the Grand Lodge of the Netherlands. The first Presiding Master of the Lodge was Bro Abraham Chiron, a German Freemason who was initiated in Germany but who later emigrated to the Cape. The first members of the Lodge included Dutch, German, French and English Freemasons.

In the late 1700s Britain was at war with Holland and in 1795 Britain captured the Cape, finding it to be a troublesome possession. The Dutch farmers and the Xhosa Africans fought on the Eastern frontier over land and cattle and both formed a dislike for the British Government as a result of the various policies introduced by it. In 1801 the Boers eventually rebelled against Britain and the Cape was returned to the Batavian Republic in 1802 at the Treaty of Amiens. Due to ongoing political unrest in Europe however, the Dutch Cape Colony was re-captured by the British in 1806.

In the meantime, during 1800, the second Lodge in South Africa was established in Cape Town, also under the jurisdiction of the Grand Lodge of the Netherlands, namely Lodge de Goede Trouw. Eventually the English speaking members of Lodge De Goede Hoop and Lodge De Goede Trouw expressed their desire to form an English speaking Lodge and they were given permission to petition the Grand Lodge of England to do so. In 1811 the first English speaking Lodge, namely British Lodge, was established with the assistance and cooperation of the members of these two Dutch Lodges. The first Lodge under the jurisdiction of the Grand Lodge of Scotland, namely Lodge Southern Cross, was consecrated in the De Goede Hoop temple during 1860, where it has been a tenant ever since. The first Lodge in the Cape under the jurisdiction of the Grand Lodge of Ireland, namely St Patricks Lodge, was established in 1897. Since then, Freemasons from the Netherlandic, English, Irish and Scottish constitutions have enjoyed a close relationship and have worked well together in South Africa.

The Grand Lodge of South Africa was established as a result of a combination of events which occurred in Europe during the years following the Second World War. These were exacerbated by the efforts of the Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of the Netherlands who tried to bring about unity amongst all the Freemasons in Europe 

The recognition and harmony which existed between the English, Irish, Scottish and Netherlandic Freemasons in South Africa was in sharp contrast to the confusion which arose in Europe after the Second World War as Grand Lodges, which had been suppressed by the Axis forces, gradually began to re-emerge. Traditionally they were required to first seek recognition from the United Grand Lodge of England and from the Grand Lodges of Ireland and Scotland, which had fortunately been able to continue with their Masonic activities during the war years.

One of the Landmarks of Freemasonry is that it does not admit atheists as members. During 1953 the Grand Lodge of the Netherlands severed its fraternal relationship with the Grand Orients of France and Belgium when they started admitting atheists as members. These Grand Orients were also not recognised by the Grand Lodges of England, Ireland and Scotland and by several others.

During 1958 a conference was organised in Brussels to which all the Grand Lodges in Europe were invited. As the Grand Masters of the Grand Orients of France and Belgium were also invited to the conference, the Grand Lodges of England, Ireland and Scotland raised an objection and refused to attend the conference. They also objected to the fact that although the Grand Lodge of France did exhibit the Holy Bible, which Freemasons refer to as the Volume of Sacred Law, at its meetings, the Grand Lodges of England, Ireland and Scotland were not convinced that it had sufficiently expressed any commitment to an unqualified belief in God as being the Divine Being and so they refused to recognise the Grand Lodge of France as a valid Masonic Grand Lodge. Eventually only the Grand Masters and certain representatives of the Grand Lodges of France, Swiss Alpina, Luxembourg and Germany attended the conference.

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Colin Davidson and Graham Botha

In 1959, MW Bro Colin Davidson, the Grand Master of the Netherlands attempted to broker an application for recognition of the Grand Lodges and the Grand Orients which were represented at the conference by the Grand Lodge of England. He was unsuccessful and in January 1960 the Grand Lodge of England issued a written warning to the Grand Lodge of the Netherlands that if it continued to recognise the Grand Lodge of France as a valid Masonic Grand Lodge, England would have to withdraw its recognition of the Netherlands and all fraternal relations between these two Grand Lodges would cease.

The Grand Lodge of England duly informed its District Grand Masters in Southern Africa of the impasse between it and the Grand Lodge of the Netherlands. The District Grand Master in Cape Town, RW Bro Cranston-Day, contacted his good friend, RW Bro Graham Botha, who was then the Deputy Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of the Netherlands for Southern Africa and informed him of this potential problem. As the close relationship between the Freemasons from the different Constitutions in Southern Africa played a fundamental role in the activities of the local Lodges, Graham Botha was more than concerned about the potential ramifications of the European situation.

The Grand Master of the Netherlands eventually informed Graham Botha that he would do his utmost to prevent a rupture with the Grand Lodge of England but that as the different constitutions had enjoyed such a close, amicable and fraternal relationship in Southern Africa since the early 1800s, it may be the best solution for the members of the Netherlandic Lodges to form an independent Grand Lodge in South Africa.

Graham Botha and his two Provincial Grand Masters, RW Bros Chris de Wet and Eddie Conradie, thereupon travelled to the Netherlands during mid 1960 to discuss this matter with the Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of the Netherlands. Nowadays we travel to Europe within a few hours but such travel was much more onerous in those days. When Chris De Wet and Eddie Conradie returned to South Africa after attending several meetings in the Hague, Graham Botha went on to the United Kingdom where he discussed the matter further with the senior representatives of the Grand Lodges of England, Ireland and Scotland.

On his return to South Africa, Graham Botha reported to his Lodges that the suggestion to establish a Grand Lodge in Southern Africa had been sympathetically received by the Grand Lodges of England, Ireland and Scotland and that this appeared to be the best way forward.

Graham Botha thereafter sought the assistance RW Bro Cranston–Day, who was an expert in Masonic constitutional law and jurisprudence, and he reviewed the proposed Constitution, Laws and Regulations for the new Grand Lodge. During December 1960 Graham Botha requested the Provincial Grand Lodge Officers to attend a meeting in this De Goede Hoop temple where the developments in Europe and the draft Constitution, Laws and Regulations for the proposed new Grand Lodge were discussed.

During January 1961 Graham Botha sent a copy of the draft Constitution, Laws and Regulations to the English, Irish and Scottish District and Provincial Grand Masters in Southern Africa and requested their objections, comments and suggestions regarding the establishment of a Grand Lodge of Southern Africa by the members of the Lodges allied to the Grand Lodge of the Netherlands.

He also sent copies of these documents to the 94 Netherlandic Lodges in Southern Africa, which included those Lodges in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) and in South West Africa (now Namibia), with a similar request. Almost all of them expressed their support for the establishment of a new Grand Lodge for Southern Africa.

During early February 1961 Botha was invited to a meeting which had been convened by the District and Provincial Grand Masters of the English, Irish and Scottish constitutions where the establishment of the new Grand Lodge was debated further. After the meeting these brethren sent a combined resolution to their respective Grand Lodges in England, Ireland and Scotland advising them that they fully supported the establishment of a Grand Lodge of Southern Africa by the members of the Netherlandic Lodges.

During late February 1961 Graham Botha convened a final meeting in this De Goede Hoop temple. It was filled to capacity as 90 of the 94 Netherlandic Lodges were represented and the meeting duly resolved to form a Grand Lodge and the draft Constitution, Laws and Regulations were accepted. Graham Botha was then elected as the first Grand Master and he duly appointed RW Bro Chris De Wet as his Deputy and RW Bro Eddie Conradie as his Assistant.

The Grand Lodge of Southern Africa was formally inaugurated in the Cape Town City Hall on the 22nd of April 1961 with due pomp and ceremony and in the presence of several hundred Freemasons, having received the prior recognition from the Grand Lodges of England, Ireland, Scotland, the Netherlands and from many others in Europe and in the United States of America. Subsequently the Grand Lodge amended its name to that of the Grand Lodge of South Africa.

MW Bro Graham Botha served as the first Grand Master until 1966 when he was succeeded by MW Bro Eddie Conradie. As our Grand Lodge’s Constitution only permits Grand Masters to hold this position for a certain period of time, 6 Grand Masters have served the Grand Lodge of South Africa since then, namely MW Bros Sidney Gasson, George Groenewald, Ronnie Bauser, Ben Lindeque, John Bowen and our present Grand Master, MW Bro Armiston Watson.

Sadly, very few of our members who were present at the inauguration of our Grand Lodge in 1961 are still with us today and so we hope and pray that the younger members will enjoy another 50 years of peaceful Masonic labour and that several of them will be present when our Grand Lodge celebrates its Centenary in 2061.

R W Bro John Smith