Thursday, September 3, 2009

The Relationship Between Revolutionary Freemasonry & South Africa

The Relationship Between Revolutionary Freemasonry and South Africa

Parts IV through VIII

Written By

SP Isaiah Kirk, 32°
AASR Valley of Albany, New York

IV) Observations on Masonic Elements in the French and American Revolutions

Although brief, our quick overview indicates four primary factors regarding Freemasonry and the French and American Revolutions. The first, obvious factor is that many of the leading revolutionary figures were members of the Craft, and were influenced by Masonic Teachings. Even if we take a conservative approach, the mere fact that several primary leaders in both revolutions were Freemasons warrants us assuming direct channels of ideological influence. This should be countered balanced with an acknowledgement of the fact that in America “The Revolution created a multifaceted crisis within the American fraternity. It disrupted meetings and split lodges as brothers took differing positions. The break from Britain also raised questions about the ultimate legitimacy of the fraternity…”[1] Simply put there were many Masonic Loyalists especially among the Moderns[2], and the division of national loyalties split many lodges asunder.

The second factor that can be derived is that the nature of both the French and American Revolutions were such that they coincided with a shifting of societal structuring towards more republican equality. The Fraternity of Freemasonry embodied theses shifting societal demands, for through its measure of equality among the Brethren, the Lodge stood out as a republican institution with direct ties to the greater movements in the Enlightenment. Through increasing its membership, especially during the early years of the American Republic, the Fraternity increased an appreciation of more egalitarian societal structuring.

The third aspect is that Freemasonry became increasingly powerful because it offered a beacon of stability and order in an otherwise turbulent period of vast societal change. The Fraternity’s alleged ties to all of the Perennial Philosophy of illumination, acted as a cornerstone of immutable existence for the revolutionary movements looking to construct new human edifices. This was counterbalanced by the Fraternity’s inherent conservative nature that allowed it to embrace change but in a hybridized metamorphic manner. It was also marked by a division between Brothers of both a revolutionary and reactionary mindset, who adopted both revolutionary and royalist positions during the wars.

The final factor is the use of Masonic symbolism by the revolutionaries in both America and France. Although this is most prominent in the case of the United States, both revolutions drew from Masonic sources while constructing the icons of newly established nations. With the falling of traditional royal symbols of hieratical power, the new republican nations turned to the Fraternity for new more modern symbols through which they could frame their understanding of the events unfolding; thus the Scepter and Crown was replaced by the Square, Level and Plum-line.

V) A Concise Overview of South African History

Before discussing Freemasonry in South Africa it is important to cover the timeline of South African national development. Unlike the History of the French and American Revolutions, that of South Africa is not as prominent in the general public’s historical knowledge. For all intensive purposes this concise overview of South African history shall cover the period between the First Boer War (1880–1881), also known as the "Transvaal War, and the installation of Nelson Mandela as the President of South Africa in 1994. We will briefly introduce the historical setting first.

South Africa’s first established settlement was that of the Dutch East India Company in Cape Town in 1652. Other groups consisting of Germans and French Huguenots joined the Cape Colony shortly after the Dutch settlers. The English entered the scene in 1795, “motivated by their determination to cut Napoleon off from his Dutch overseas empire…”[3] The English outlawed the Slave Trade in 1807, and 20-30 years later the Dutch descendants (referred to by the Dutch word for farmer, the Boers) partook on the ‘Great Trek’. The ‘Great Trek’ consisted of the Boers moving out of English controlled areas of South Africa, so they could more directly control their affairs and keep the practice of slavery. During this time the native population of South Africa was never considered autonomous or even capable of autonomy.

The Boers (also called the voortrekkers) and the British eventually had two wars over control of South Africa. These wars were partially motivated by the recent discovery of diamonds and gold in the country. The first war was relatively short and lasted only from 1880 to 1881. The result was that the Boers successfully stopped the British from annexing the area that they established called the Transvaal (meaning beyond the Vaal River). The second Boer War was quite a different story. It lasted from 1899-1902 and consisted of a vast mobilization on the part of the British. At the end of the War with the Boer’s defeat, the Boer republic was assimilated into Britannia as a colony. However the cost of victory was terribly high, for the British loses were exceptional. The British were also reduced to using unethical warfare that directly led to high civilian causalities among the Boers. These extreme tactics forced the Boers to consolidate themselves as a separate entity, and although they lost the war they gained a collective identity that would latter influence their actions.

After the war, the Boers retained a degree of local control politically, however both they and the British faced an even bigger problem, namely, the population of South Africa was primarily black, and this threatened the posterity of the white European immigrants and decedents. In 1903 the South African Native Affairs Commission (SANAC) was formed to deal with this problem. SANAC’s report on the problem proposed that a system of segregation be imposed. As the system spread among the ideology of the white population, the black population naturally began to form an opposition. However the resistance never consolidated significantly.

With a changing of the guard in Britain, new foreign policies came into play and full self-governance was granted to the Boer controlled areas of Transvaal and the Orange River in 1907. Three years later, the separate colonies of South Africa united and formed the South African Union, which remained loosely associated with England as a commonwealth, but was independently run. In an attempt to assure the prosperity of whites, the new united commonwealth instituted a regime characterized by segregation and industrialization. The first major act of this united commonwealth was to pass the Mines and Work Act, which restricted skilled labor in the mines and on the railroads to whites.

In 1913, the South African government passed the Natives’ Land Act that severely limited black African ownership of land to roughly 7% of the country. A year before this extreme law was passed the black South Africans formed the South African Native National Congress (SANNC) in retaliation. This organization would stand as the primary form of resistance to the ever-increasing discriminatory legislation. According to Clark and Worger in South Africa: The Rise and Fall of Apartheid, “The Congress was moderate in composition, tone and practice. Its founders were men who felt that British rule had brought considerable benefits, especially Christianity, education and the rule of law, but who also considered that their careers as teachers, lawyers and court translators were hindered by the racial discrimination…”[4] Their primary means of action was counter legislation.

In order to keep the details at a minimum, so not to bog down and distract from the overall aims of this short essay, we will only glance at several historical factors and ignore innumerable others. In 1914 J.B.M. Hertzog formed the National Party (NP), which dominated South African politics for the next 80 years. The National Party’s regime was characterized by ever increasing racist legislation. One primary example were the Pass Laws, which required black South Africans to carry passbooks on them at all times and travel only in restricted territories and for restricted reasons. While this was happening the Boers solidified their Afrikaner identity and even formed a secret society limited to Afrikaners. This organization was called the Afrikaner Broederbond (Afrikaner Brotherhood).

In 1923 the SANNC changed its name to the African National Congress (ANC), and remained the primary counter-power to the NP led government. Under the guidance of several leading characters the ANC used non-violent methodologies to protest the segregation policies. In 1944, frustrated with the lack of progress that the ANC was making, a new more militant branch of the ANC was created called the ANC Youth League. As both sides continued to confront one another, the legislation and racist policies increased and the resistance began to turn more violent. In 1959 another resistance organization called the Pan-African Congress (PAC) was formed that went even further in radical counter-philosophy and action. A year later Police opened fire on a funeral procession, killing 21 people. The ANC and PAC were officially banned the same year.

In 1961 South Africa became a republic and left the common wealth. During the next twenty years Apartheid developing more restrictive measures and the country edged ever closer to exploding. However in the 1980’s, influenced by the fact that the segregation system of Apartheid was simply not working, and the South African government received a lot of international criticism, things began to improve. Over the next 14 years the discriminatory legislation was removed and the system of Apartheid began dismantling itself. In 1990, several political prisoners were released from jail, including Nelson Mandela, a leader of the ANC. The next four years reverted once again to bloodshed over how to run the new South Africa, yet in 1994 Mandela was sworn in as the president. Although the racial situation has surely improved, the country of South Africa has continued to struggle with instability ever since.

VI) A Short History of Freemasonry in South Africa

In the first part of this discussion I will be primarily drawing my information from an address given in 1990 by the then Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of South Africa, Most Worshipful George Groenewald.[5] He begins his historic rendering with the installation of the first Lodge in South Africa in 1772. Establish by the Grand East of the Netherlands, under the authority vested in Brother Abraham van der Weijde, Lodge De Goede Hoop (Lodge of the Good Hope) was the first Lodge in South Africa, which was a major rest-stop along the all important trade route from India. “The lodge depended for its existence on visitors, conferring numerous degrees but failing to attract local residents as members, particularity because of the ridged social and religious attitudes of the confined Cape society.”[6] Pressured by the religious opinion of the Cape society and the policies of the Dutch East India Company (which didn’t allow company members to trade or own land, or even to associate intimately with those whose contract had expired called Free Burghers) the Lodge De Goede Hoop went into recess in 1781.

In 1794, the Lodge began operating again, riding as it were, the increased interest in Freemasonry universally occurring across the globe. As South African Freemasonry developed it did so in a unique way for the Grand Lodge of the Netherlands, the Grand Lodge of England, the Grand Lodge of Ireland and the Grand Lodge of Scotland all established lodges in the South African colonies. The presence of numerous Grand Lodges is in of itself not unique, but what is unique is that these Grand Lodges were all mutually respected in South Africa and even shared jurisdictions and constitutional elements, at least for some time. With the British influx “of English-speaking members into the lodge (they) brought tension and an inevitable split, when English members broke away to form the first permanent English Lodge in the Cape.”[7]

The ‘Great Trek’ and other internal South African tensions greatly hurt the Craft, which was further aggravated by the problem of which language to embrace in Lodge. The period of Masonic unrest was short lived for the discovery of gold and diamonds improved the situation for most white South Africans, and thus for the Masons in the colony as well. This optimistic upturn led for the proposal to establish a Grand Lodge of South Africa, but many years would pass for this to occur. It wasn’t until “the emergence of the Afrikaner nationalism as a dominant political force in South Africa in 1948, (that) the movement among Freemasons for a South African Grand Lodge again gained momentum…when it did come, it is actually attributed to a combination of events enacted in the Masonic Grand Lodges of Europe, and not associated initially directly in any manner to local pressure.”[8] These reasons, which center on the chaos in Europe wrought by WWII, while being relevant to the discussion at hand exceed the limits of this endeavor. It is therefore significant only to note that the Grand Lodge of South Africa received its independence and Masonic authority form the Grand East of the Netherlands following WWII, and up until today the 4 Grand Lodges of South Africa, England, Scotland and Ireland still share the country of South Africa in a surprisingly beneficial mutual harmony.

It should be mentioned that all the Lodges discussed above only admitted white men into their establishments. Prince Hall Freemasonry was brought into South Africa and established by a Bishop of the African Methodist Episcopal Church from Philadelphia. Bishop Coppin established Ethopia Lodge No. 75 and Coppin Lodge No. 76 in 1902. However, because of the institution of Apartheid, black Africans were not allowed to be Freemasons, and the Prince Hall Lodges were restricted to ‘Coloreds’ only. In South Africa, Coloreds refer not to blacks, but only to non-white and non-black people, and people of mixed blood. In 1977 the two Prince Hall lodges of South Africa, gave up their Charter from the Grand Lodge of Prince Hall Masonry in Philadelphia in order to join with and become adsorbed into the jurisdiction of the Grand Lodge of South Africa. A series of primary documents along with a short essay detailing this absorption can be found on-line.[9] In the late 1970’s this was a radical move that despite some opposition helped to begin breaking down the role of Apartheid in the country. On September 6th, 2007 Mr. Zolani Skithi became the first black South African to be initiated into a Masonic Lodge. The Lodge was St. Finbars Lodge, which is chartered by the Grand Lodge of Ireland.[10]

VII) The Relationship Between Revolutionary Freemasonry and the
History of the South African Nation

If we return to our derived revolutionary Masonic principles and apply them to South Africa we can better understand not only Freemasonry in the country but also the overall South African historical development. The first principle states that many of the leading French and American revolutionary figures were members of the Craft, and were influenced by Masonic Teachings. If we were to look into the role call of South African Freemasons, by far the most prominent and powerful members would be among the British Freemasons in South Africa. This is especially the case during the Boer Wars when such Englishmen as Rudyard Kipling, Arthur Conan Doyle, and Winston Churchill were stationed in South Africa and fought under the command of their Masonic Brother Lord Kitchener.

Because blacks were excluded from the Craf,t the Revolutionary Masonic trend of influence would never play out in South Africa. There simply were no black Freemasons in South Africa, and the ‘colored’ Prince Hall Masonic population never really amounted to more than a handful prior to their integration into mainstream South African Freemasonry. This brings us to the second factor, which states that, the nature of both the French and American Revolutions were such that they coincided with a shifting of societal structuring towards more republican equality. In the extremely segregated and classified society of South Africa the overall Masonic emphasis on Brotherhood could never really take hold outside of the white population. This means the black plight for equality would fall outside of the sphere of direct relationship to the Brethren in South Africa. In the French and American situations there were numerous Masons among those calling out for equality, but in the South African situation those calling out were black and therefore not legally allowed to be Masons.

The third factor of a revolutionary manner in Freemasonry is that in France and America, Freemasonry became increasingly powerful because it offered a beacon of stability and order in an otherwise turbulent period of vast societal change. This is perhaps the only factor relevant to the South African situation, for despite the numerous points of potential demise, Freemasonry in South Africa has been growing and expanding consistently since 1794. The mere fact that 4 Grand Lodges jointly control and share jurisdictional influence with one another in a harmonious way is astounding, and represents the stability of the Craft in South Africa.

The final factor was the use of Masonic symbols and ideologies in the French and American Revolutions. Here too, the segregationist policies of Apartheid caused blacks to be barred from membership in the Craft, and therefore those most likely to have revolutionary impulses could not draw on the Craft and its teachings; the symbols and ideologies of Masonry were therefore obviously not used by members of the black South African communities. Perhaps the fact that unlike several other revolutionary situations, in South Africa no revolution (strictly speaking) happened, was influenced by the lack of Masonic connections. Perhaps Apartheid was too powerful to be overcome quickly and in a revolutionary manner. In order to answer these questions further study is needed, and other historians must take up this line of questioning.

VIII) Concluding Thoughts

In the late 1790’s and early 1800’s through “…invoking fraternity as a member of an international brotherhood, (Prince) Hall gained the moral authority necessary to challenge the inconsistencies of a white orthodoxy that praised equality, religion, and fraternity yet treated blacks as inferiors.”[11] Yet blacks remained to be excluded from the American Fraternity for years to come. Today most African American Masons are Prince Hall Masons, although an intermingling does occur, and fraternal connections have been and continue to be established. Blacks are no longer restricted to join the Fraternity, nor are whites excluded from Prince Hall Lodges. This being said, the races tend to this day to segregate among the various Free and Accepted Masonic Lodges and the Prince Hall Masonic Lodges.

Freemasonry has always worn the costume of the culture in which it arises. In South Africa, a regime of Apartheid literally made it impossible to bring the more oppressed populations (the black South Africans) into the Craft. This one fact alone eliminates any Masonic revolutionary influence in the struggles of South Africa. Freemasonry in South Africa was not always free from challenges from the government of the country, but it remained free from persecution because it did not directly interfere with the Apartheid system.

I will conclude by quoting Jaspar Ridley’s The Freemasons: A History of the World’s Most Powerful Secret Society at length. I believe it summarizes Freemasonry’s place in South African history nicely.

“Having Suppressed the Communist Party and the African National Congress, and arrested Nelson Mandela and his colleagues, the government, on 28 July 1964, appointed Mr. Justice D.H. Botha as the sole member of a commission of inquiry into secret organizations. The South African Freemasons had never taken part in the struggle against apartheid; they were as respectable and law-abiding as the British Freemasons. But they were accused by certain members of the Dutch Reformed Church of aiming at establishing ‘a world government and a world religion’ which would replace the authority of the government of an independent South Africa. Mr. Justice Botha reported that there was no evidence ‘that Freemasonry in South Africa actively interests itself in the establishment of a world state with a world government, or that through its conduct it in any way weakens the will of the South African nation to fight for its survival.”[12]

[1] Steven Bullock Revolutionary Brotherhood: Freemasonry and the Transformation of the American Social Order, 1730-1840 (Chapel Hill, NC University of North Carolina Press 1996) p109
[2] Early American Masonry was divided among the Moderns (the older more aristocratic form) and the Ancients (the newer more egalitarian form).
[3] Nancy Clark and William Worger South Africa: The Rise and Fall of Apartheid (Pearson/Longman Harlow UK 2004) p12
[4] Nancy Clark and William Worger South Africa: The Rise and Fall of Apartheid (Pearson/Longman Harlow UK 2004) p23
[5] M.’. W.’. George Groenewald “A History of South African Freemasonry”
[6] Ibid., p1
[7] Ibid., p2
[8] Ibid., p3-4
[11] Steven Bullock Revolutionary Brotherhood: Freemasonry and the Transformation of the American Social Order, 1730-1840 (Chapel Hill, NC University of North Carolina Press 1996) p160
[12] Jasper Ridley The Freemasons: A History of the World’s Most Powerful Secret Society (New York NY, Arcade Publishing 2001) p237

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