History of Freemasonry in South Africa

On the grounds of Parliament, close to Tuynhuys in the heart of Cape Town, is an old, white, plastered building. The Lodge De Goede Hoop is hidden behind a parking lot filled with shiny ministerial cars.

Only the Freemason symbol on the window and the Star of David above the large wooden doors show that this is not just another parliamentary building.

Rumour has it that the Freemasons sold the land on which Parliament stands to the Government for £1 on condition that should Parliament move, the land had to be sold back to the Freemasons for the same price. If the urban legend is true, the Freemasons would own Parliament if it were to move to Gauteng.

In 1772 the foundation of the masonic order in South Africa was laid by the establishment of the Lodge de Goede Hoop. It received its warrant from the Grand Lodge National of the Netherlands. At first the Brothers had their meetings in a new building which they hired and adapted to their requirements. After 1794 they hired a building which stood on the site of the former Union Hotel in Plein Street. This site belonged to Abraham de Smidt, a prominent Freemason of that time. They subsequently bought the building, but it soon proved to be inadequate for their purpose. Thus in 1800 they purchased the grounds, on which the Lodge now stands, from a certain George Muller.

This property was known as (the Garden) Domburg. Originally this piece of land came from two grants — the one in 1666 to the Governor at that time, Zacharias Wagenaar, and the other in 1667 to Maria Prignon, the widow of the Rev. P. Wagtendorp. In 1668 both came into the hands of H E Gresingh and thereafter continued as one property. The Freemasons converted the existing buildings on the premises into a Temple and a Club Room, but shortly after decided to erect a proper building in which to meet. For this purpose they had at their disposal the services of three men from their own ranks — the select triumvirate of that time: Louis Michel THIBAULT, architect; Herman SCHUTTE, builder, and Anton ANREITH, sculptor.

In 1801 Brother Louis THIBAULT drew the plans for the masonic buildings. A contract was entered into with Brother Herman SCHUTTE to erect it for £6 000 (R12 000) and Brother Anton Anreith was instructed to make four statues of symbolic figures, larger than life-size, to put up along the walls in the Temple and three more to use in other rooms.

While the Lodge was in course of construction, the Cape was given back to the Batavian Republic in terms of the Treaty of Amiens. Adv. J H de Mist was sent to the Cape as Commissioner to put the administration on a sound basis. His arrival was of great importance to the Freemasons because in the Netherlands he was the Deputy Grand Master National and he was instructed to inquire into masonic affairs at the Cape and to put things right if he deemed it necessary. He had the honour to consecrate the Temple on the 7th July, 1803, and a large concourse gathered.

De Mist himself described the Lodge as the most beautiful in the world. The strong and bold facade of the building was, and still is, very striking. The interior was indeed impressive. From the entrance hall steps led up to the Temple — a huge hall with a florid, barrel-vaulted ceiling and the four statues of Anton Anreith against the wall.

During the forties of the nineteenth century the Freemasons had the Banqueting Hall built next to the Lodge. This hall housed the Cape Parliament from 1854 till 1884 when the present House of Assembly was completed.

The building was inaugurated as the first masonic temple in South Africa in 1803 and is still used daily by its members.

On a table in the foyer are a square and a pair of compasses – well-known masonic symbols. On the wall is an engraved list of the names of former masters and the wall beside the front door is adorned with a framed photograph of Watty Watson, former DA chief whip and retiring Grand Master.

People say the Freemasons are on parliamentary grounds, but that’s not true. Actually, Parliament is on Freemasonry grounds.

Governments rise and fall, but one thing remains constant in the precincts of parliament in cape town: 235-year old Masonic lodge. Few know that an old and venerable temple of the ancient and mysterious brotherhood of Freemasons exists in the parliamentary complex. But De Goede Hoop Temple was built long before Parliament.

The Cape government of the time and the Freemasons were so intertwined that the Cape Parliament used the masonic banquet hall as a venue from 1854 to 1884 until the old House of Assembly was completed.

The organisation, regarded as among the most mysterious in the world, is all about money, power and secret handshakes, its detractors whisper. There are many conspiracy theories, alleged links with murders, and those who believe the Freemasons “planted the seeds” of apartheid.

Others say that from the organisation’s inception in the 14th century, it has been the secret hand that is quietly ruling the world.

Two artificial human skulls add a chilling edge to the room. People say the Freemasons have ruled the world over the centuries, but the truth is that many rulers were simply masons.

The most fascinating room in the Lodge De Goede Hoop is undoubtedly the middle chamber. With only two small windows letting in a sliver of light, the room is dark even in the middle of the day. Here, ceremonies are held at night in the pitch dark to remind members just how fleeting their lives are.

The organisation is open to all races, but does not accept women as members. There are female lodges in some parts of the world, but they are not recognised by the Freemasons’ constitution. No atheists are permitted to join. Members believe in the “life hereafter”, so atheists aren’t welcome.

To become a member, the person is required to believe in a ‘higher power’, but we do not say who that must be. Freemasonry is not a religion. We offer no path to heaven.

Freemasons believe in tolerance, and promoting peace and harmony.

Just how many members of Parliament are Freemasons?

Well you’d have to become a member to find out.

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