Integrating the Prince Hall Lodges
By Brother Desmond Lemmon-Warde
It is a little known fact that during Apartheid in South Africa there was only one organisation permitted to fraternise or socialise with Colored people. This organisation was Freemasonry. I talked with Morris Levin, a 33° Freemason who was in charge of the lengthy and sometimes candid negotiations which led to this unique breakthrough
The process began in 1970 at the Provincial Grand Lodge headquarters in Cape Town. Morris Levin and senior Masonic officials of other constitutions met with over forty coloured men who were members of Prince Hall Lodges and who were anxious to join the Grand Lodge of South Africa (GLSA). Prince Hall Masonry, which had existed in South Africa for over seventy years, was as yet unrecognised by ‘Regular’ Freemasonry.
Resolutions necessary for GLSA approval, which included disbanding the existing Prince Hall Lodges, were drawn up and signed by the Prince Hall members.
The next step was to present the case to the government. Full membership for coloured people was impossible under Apartheid laws. The Group Areas Act, the Liquor Act and the Assembly Act effectively banned socialising between ‘whites’ and ‘non-whites’.
Conditions Morris recalls as being “very stringent” in order to “overcome the expected opposition from the government” were formalised and the decision to go ahead with the proposal was made at a Provincial Grand Lodge meeting on 25 August 1973.
In 1977, after three meetings with the Department of Home Affairs, a meeting was held with Prime Minister John Vorster and the head of intelligence, General van den Berg. van den Berg, an old school friend of the Grand Master, Eddie Conradie, urged the Prime Minister, who had been “dragging his feet” to “move it” and grant permission.
The final breakthrough in negotiations came through an “unexpected support” met during the opening of a home for the aged. A number of Freemasons, including Morris Levin, were present. The support came from the Prime Minister’s wife, who was the nominated patron of the home. After hearing Morris’ case, which argued that it was “a worldwide opportunity to show that we are not racist”, she assured him she would see what she could do. Morris recalls with a laugh that “the next thing we knew we got a letter from Mr Vorster granting permission!”.
On 19 November 1977, in a series of workings going right through the day, the Prince Hall members were Initiated, Passed and Raised (the first, second and third degrees of Freemasonry), this taking place at the De Goede Hoop Temple in Cape Town. Morris remembers that there were “hundreds of people” and it was as “hot as hell”. After all the workings had been completed, the Grand Master consecrated the new Lodges, Perseverance and Phoenix, and a mixed banquet attended by over 400 people followed.
Through the remaining years of Apartheid it was possible to accept coloured and Muslim men as full members and several of them have proven their ability and willingness to serve Freemasonry by achieving high office in the Grand Lodge or in Provincial Grand Lodges around the country