History of the Free State District

In 1864 there was only one Masonic Lodge in Bloemfontein, the Lodge Unie working under the Grand Lodge of the Netherlands, but, as the ritual was exclusively in Dutch, several English Masons joined to form an English Lodge. They obtained a Charter from the Grand Lodge of England for the Rising Star Lodge, No 1022, dated 31st May 1864, which was first posted to the Provincial Grand Lodge in Cape Town, under whose jurisdiction the Lodge came.

In 1870 the Lodges in the Eastern Province of the Cape Colony and the Rising Star Lodge in Bloemfontein signed a petition to form a District Grand Lodge in the Eastern Cape, but nothing resulted from this at that time.

Some six years later, Grand Lodge decided to divide the Cape Colony and Griqualand West into three Districts and the option was given to Rising Star Lodge in Bloemfontein to act independently of any District Grand Lodge, and to make their returns and communications direct to Grand Lodge in London. On 31stDecember 1876 the Lodge finally severed its connections with the District Grand Lodge in Cape Town.

The District Grand Lodge of the Eastern Division was formed on 23rd July 1877 and held its first meeting in King Williamstown on 23rd July 1878.

On 15th August 1892 the Rising Star Lodge petitioned to the District Grand Master of the Eastern Cape District to requesting to be incorporated in that District and be brought within the jurisdiction of its District Grand Lodge.

On 22nd November 1892, the Grand Secretary of United Grand Lodge of England wrote a letter to the District Grand Master informing him that the Most Worshipful was pleased to grant the prayer of the petition.

The numerous attempts made by the members of the Rising Star Lodge to establish a District Grand Lodge in the Orange River Colony having failed, did not deter the ardent members from their objective, and on 4th August 1914 they decided to request the District Grand Secretary to put the following on the agenda for discussion at the Annual Communication in Bloemfontein in 1914.

“In view of the fact that the Eastern District Grand Lodge has several Lodges under its control, situated at very considerable distances from each other, and that some of these Lodges are very rarely brought into closer contact with their District Grand Lodge, this Lodge considers that it would be advisable for the District to be divided, and advocates the formation of a new District, comprising the O.F.S. and Basutoland and the creation of a District Grand Lodge with control of that area.”

With the clouds of the 1914 war gathering over Europe, the District Annual Meeting in Bloemfontein was cancelled and the above resolution was shelved for the time being, but we must not assume that the matter had been finally dropped. On the contrary, several well-known zealous Brethren were quietly working behind the scenes for this ultimate objective, and the fulfillment of their work was rewarded when W. Bro. W.H. Weekes announced on 6th September 1932 that the Grand Master had approved the establishment of a District Grand Lodge, to be known as the North Eastern Division and that five Lodges in the Eastern Division namely Rising Star, Golden Hope, Alan B Gordon, Ivan Haarburger and Mimosa, would transfer thereto with him as the first District Grand Master.

Lodges Star of Bethlehem, Sir John Brand, Ficksburg, Vrede, Lindley, Harrismith and Basutoland were still under the jurisdiction of Natal. Lodge Diamond at Koffiefontein was under the jurisdiction of the Central Division, but later changed their allegiance to the G.L.S.A.

The Inaugural Meeting of the District Grand Lodge, and the Installation of Very W. Bro William Hae Weekes, Past Grand Chaplain, took place on Wednesday, 22nd February, 1933. The Installing Officer was RW. Bro. G.S. Burt Andrews, District Grand Master of the Transvaal. A total of 165 Distinguished Brethren and Brethren attended.

Dignitaries were:

RW. Bro G.S. Burt Andrews, D.G.M., Transvaal

RW. Bro J. v. b Praagh, D.G.M. Central

RW. Bro J. Croghan Prov. G.M. I.C., Transvaal

RW. Bro. W.B.M. Vogts Prov. G.M. N.C., Transvaal

W.Bro. C. Maple Polmear D.D.G.M. Transvaal

W.Bro. R. Ray D.Prov. G.M., I.C. Transvaal

W.Bro Francis Carter Hon Grand Marshal Grand Lodge of Scotland

W.Bro. N. Luke representing RW. Bro. Silberbauer, D.G.M. S.A. (N.C.)

W.Bro. H.R.Whiting, P.D.G.W. (Western Div) and P.D.G.W. (Eastern Div)

Brethren present from various Lodges were: Rising Star 40, (including V.W.Bro Weekes and W.Bro Reid), Golden Hope 2, Alan B Gordon 9, Ivan Haarburger 5, Mimosa 6, and visitors from all constitutions, 96. Letters and telegrams of congratulation and apologies for absence were received from 34 distinguished brethren and brethren.

The RW. Installing Officer addressed the Brethren upon the purpose for which the meeting was called, after which Very W. Bro, the Very Revd, William Haye Weekes, M.A., Past Grand Chaplain of England, RW. District Grand Master Designate, was escorted into the Temple and duly installed, proclaimed and saluted.

The RW. District Grand Master then obligated and invested his deputy, W.Bro. John Alexander Reid, P.G.D., after which he addressed the District Grand Lodge as follows:

“You will have noticed, Brethren, that there has been no Consecration of this new District Grand Lodge this afternoon. The District Grand Lodge emanates from the District Grand Master by virtue of the authority vested in him by his Patent of appointment and, therefore, the District Grand Master in his own jurisdiction is the only brother entitled officially to represent, and to speak and to act for, by the English Constitution in general, and for his District in particular.

This country of South Africa is divided into six Districts, each governed by a District Grand Master directly appointed by the M.W. the Grand Master, and invested with rank and power in his particular District similar to that possessed by the District Grand Master. Each District Grand Master in fact might be entitled Deputy Grand Master for his District. Our Districts in South Africa have come into existence gradually – the Western and Eastern Districts in 1877, Natal 1882 and Transvaal and Central in 1895, whilst the North Eastern has been constituted by my Installation today. Many of us are of opinion that a new delimitation of the territorial areas of the Districts should be made in order to secure greater convenience in visiting and efficiency of working. For instance, the Eastern Division covers an area extending from Port Elizabeth to Matabele in Griqualand East, Natal includes six Lodges in the Free State and one in Basutoland, whilst the District of the Transvaal, although the Lodges are perhaps not so difficult of access is of vast area. It comprises 62 Lodges – it is the largest District in South Africa.

The question of the formation of a District Grand Lodge to cover the Free State area has been discussed and considered by members of the Rising Star Lodge for quite thirty years. I well remember an interview which I had with the Pro Grand Master, Lord Amptill, twenty one years ago, when it was his considered opinion that Free State Lodges should link up with the Central Division. This plan, however, did not find favour in this Province. No decisive step was taken until the Deputation from Grand Lodge visiting South Africa in 1926 when the members of that Deputation were enabled to judge of the Masonic conditions in this country from personal observation. Ever since that visit the question of a District Grand Lodge for the Orange Free State has been in the minds of the advisers of the Grand Master. After some correspondence with the R.W, District Grand Masters of the Eastern Division, Central Division and Natal, the M.W. the Grand Master determined to sanction the formation of the new District Grand Lodge and asked me to accept the position of the first District Grand Master. Of course, such matters as to whether the present period of depression was an auspicious time in which to start a new District and as to whether it was possible to carry on successfully with a membership at first of only five Lodges, had to be carefully considered, but after consultation with the Past Masters of my own Lodge, many of whom are old and experienced Brethren, I decided to accept the position so graciously offered me by the M.W. the Grand Master. In making our decision, I and my advisers, were influenced by no selfish motives, but by the conviction that the establishment of the new District Grand Lodge was in the best interests of English Freemasonry in these parts. The Lodges forming the new District sever their connection with the Eastern Division with great reluctance, and with sacrifices, in the form of their interests in the Charity Funds of that District, for which the grant from these funds does not compensate them. It will be the duty of the District Board of General Purposes when it is elected, to inaugurate Charity Funds for our District.

I wish now to direct your attention to the District Grand Lodge Banner. You will observe that its emblems are the Volume of the Sacred Law and the Dove with the olive branch in its beak. These symbols testify to the obligations we incur as founders of this District Grand Lodge. There can be little doubt that Freemasonry is one of the oldest Brotherhoods in the world. On the stately Cathedrals and ancient Churches throughout Europe, and, to go back to the more remote, on those old world monuments the Pyramids in Egypt, there are found masonic signs which bear witness to the truth of this statement. And if we ask, “How is it that while other great Societies, founded on mutual help and support, have had their day and vanished, Freemasonry has withstood the ravages of time and still flourishes”, I believe that the answer is that the Volume of the Scared Law is always open in our Lodges and that we teach our Brethren to regard it as the unerring standard of truth and justice and that we bid them to regulate their actions by the Divine precepts it contains. Yes, in every ceremony, every action, every minute detail of Freemasonry is to be found a reverent and devout tone.

Every candidate for admission into our Order is required to declare his belief in God. This is one of the Landmarks of our ancient and honourable Institution and is, I believe, the secret of Masonry’s greatness. It lives and will live and prosper as long as the belief in God is guarded and upheld at all costs. The dove is the emblem of peace. We are required to work in our Lodges in peace and harmony. The prayer offered by the Chaplain at the opening of the Lodge in the First Degree implores the G.A.O.T.U. to grant that our labours begun in peace may end in harmony; and the W.M. in his address to the newly-initiated Brother after his Investiture exhorts him never to put on his badge should he wish to enter a Lodge in which there is a brother with whom he is at variance, but rather to seek for reconciliation outside the Lodge before entering it. Thus our Order teaches us that all Brethren to whatever Constitution they may belong and whatever nationality is theirs, must live in peace brotherly love and harmony, one with another. Surely this should be an important factor towards securing the peace of the world. There is an inclination among some of our Brethren to say that Freemasonry has failed because countries in which Masonry was strong were at war with each other in recent times.

To such Brethren we can only answer that Freemasonry has not failed, but that its numerical influence is not yet sufficiently strong. The Day of Triumph for Freemasonry has yet to come and for that much-to-be desired consummation we must all labour and pray.”

A Ballot was taken for the office of District Grand Treasurer and W.Bro. E.M. Tidmarsh was elected. A Ballot was also taken for members to serve on the Board of General Purposes and the following brethren were elected and were requested to draft By-Laws for approval at an early date.

President: W.Bro. L.W. Deane Rising Star

RW Bro. W.H. Weekes Rising Star

W.Bro. J.A. Reid Rising Star

W.Bro. E.M. Tidmarsh Rising Star

W.Bro. J. Mc Laren Rising Star

W.Bro. A.J. Pallet Golden Hope

W.Bro. H.T. Cox Alan B Gordon

W.Bro. I.C.. Potgieter Mimosa

W.Bro. J.F. v.d. Westhuizen Ivan Haarburger

The following officers were appointed and invested:

DSGW W.Bro A.J. Pallet Golden Hope

DJGW W.Bro. H.T. Cox Alan B Gordon

D.G. Treasurer W.Bro. E.M. Tidmarsh Rising Star

D.G. Registrar W.Bro. J. McLaren Rising Star

President, B.G.P. W.Bro. L.W. Dean Rising Star

D.G. Secretary W.Bro. R.B.H. Betty Rising Star

D.G.D.C. W.Bro. J.F. v.d. Westhuizen Ivan Haarburger

D.S.G.D W.Bro. F.R. Clemenz, (absent) Ivan Haarburger

D.J.G.D. W.Bro. I.C. Potgieter Mimosa

D.G. Supt of Works W.Bro. C.J. Foggo Mimosa

D.G. Swd Br. W.Bro. J.L. Benn Alan B Gordon

D.G. Std Br. W.Bro. S.M. Pierce Golden Hope

D.G. Organist W.Bro. C.S. Hamer Rising Star

D.G. Pur. W.Bro. W. Badger Mimosa

D.G. Stewards W.Bro B.P.Jones Rising Star

W.Bro. B. Lemmer Alan B Gordon

W.Bro. R.E. Haxton Ivan Haarburger

W.Bro. J.M. Wells Mimosa

W.Bro. C.F. Warner was duly elected as Tyler and invested.

A collection was taken for the new District Benevolent Fund, amounting to £11.10.0d., after which the District Grand Lodge was closed in due form. The Installation Banquet was held at the Bloemfontein Club where the brethren were treated to an elegant repast.

On Monday, 17th July 1933, the following report appeared in the Bloemfontein newspaper, “The Friend”

SPECIAL MASONIC SERVICE

Commemorating Launching of District Grand Lodge

The Cathedral was crowded last night on the occasion of the special Masonic service in commemoration of the launching of the District Grand Lodge, north-eastern division, English constitution, and the opening of the new Masonic hospital in London by the King. The service was attended by Freemasons representatives of the following lodges, who, after forming a double column from the entrance to the Cathedral, entered th church: Dagbreek, Ballingary, Emerald, Unie Thistle, Mimosa, Haarburger, Alan B Gordon , Golden Hope and Rising Star. The district grand officers of other constitutions came next, followed by the past district grand officers of the English Constitution, and lastly, the district grand officers of the north-eastern division.

The parade, in full Masonic regalia, was an imposing one, the banners of the Rising Star Lodge and the District Grand Lodge, north-eastern division, being borne through the aisle. The preacher was the Rev. H.P. Coster, formerly vicar of St. Margaret’s, Bloemfontein, a past master of the order, and now the vicar of St. Aldan’s Church, Johannesburg. Prior to the evening service proper, the Freemasons’ hymn of praise to the Most High was sung

The prayers included those for commemoration of Delville Wood day. The preacher said that the service was mainly to return thanks to God for the realisation of a dream of many years – the formation of the Free State District Grand Lodge, and the opening by the King of the great Masonic memorial hospital overseas. Mr. Coster stressed the fact that Freemasonry was based on the Bible, and without the Bible and its teachings Masonry could not exist. He thought that the lessons learned by Masons of unselfishness and abundant brotherly love were needed to strengthen the life of the churches. True Christians and Masons new that when love was in the heart, the spirit of Christ was there also.

Speaking of the power of God, and referring to the possibility of the failure of the World Economic Conference, he said it was impossible to believe that if all the statesmen of the various nations were imbued with the spirit of God, put God first, and were subservient to His will, that they would fail, for if they put their trust in Him they would be filled with that divine wisdom which alone would bring success. Too often God was only sought when people were in trouble. We could all help by a fuller realisation of the troubles of the world, and by having a daily talk with God. The world-wide influences of Masonry could be still further extended by ordering our lives to the will of God.

In the Parish Hall, after the service, the District Grand Master, [sic] Worshipful Brother John Reid, returned thanks to the various lodges for their fraternal support and presence, which he said again demonstrated the reality of the brotherhood of Freemasons.

Mr. W. Atkinson, one of the oldest local Freemasons, who is over 80 years of age, also attended the service.

The District Grand Lodge opens its session this morning, at 9 o’clock, at the Temple in Adderley Street.

On 8th November 1933 Springfontein Lodge, No 5129 was consecrated. That same year there were fourteen initiations and twenty-one joining members, ten resignations two deaths and eight exclusions in the District, bringing the total membership up to 216.

The territorial limits of the jurisdiction of the six District Grand Lodges was referred to in a circular letter of the District Grand Secretary of the Eastern Division of 24th November 1933. RW. Bro Weekes reacted by writing to that District as well as to District Grand Lodge of Natal and Grand Lodge, suggesting that, where such limits exist, they should be abandoned and that every Lodge should be attached to the District whose headquarters are easy of access and with which there is a community of interest. In advocating a rearrangement of Lodges, he suggested that a Grand Officer of tact and experience and also possessed of a competent knowledge of finance, be sent to South Africa to arrange the rearrangement.

Grand Lodge acceded to the request and as the Deputy Grand Registrar, V.W. Bro. H.B. Vaisey, K.C. was proposing to take a holiday trip to South Africa, he offered to do anything he could to be of assistance.

In expressing his appreciation in a subsequent letter to Grand Lodge, the D.G.M. outlined some of the issues that had to be taken into consideration, viz. the two official languages of which the overwhelming proportion of the population speak Afrikaans and distances of 300 miles or more between Lodges and their headquarters.

A meeting in Bloemfontein was arranged between V.W.Bro Vaisey and the District Grand Master and one Brother from every District to be held on 29th August 1935. With the exception of the Transvaal, all the Districts were represented.

At the 4th Annual Communication, held on 13th May 1936, the District Grand Master reported V.W. Bro Vaisey’s recommendations that:

1. The area of the District be the Province of the Orange Free State together with Basutoland, and

2. Subject to the consent of the District Grand Lodge, the name of the District be changed to “The Orange Free State.”

The following proposals were then adopted by the Board of General Purposes:

1. That the change of the name to “The Orange Free State Division” be agreed to provided that all the existing Lodges and any future Lodge falling within the prescribed area as indicated in V.W. Bro. Vaisey’s report shall immediately fall under the jurisdiction of this Division.

2. That when a Lodge be transferred from one Division to another, the Division assuming control shall receive from the Division relinquishing the said Lodge a proportion of the funds of that Division on a “per capita” basis.

3. That all necessary expenditure which may be incurred in effecting the change of name be borne by Grand Lodge.

RW.Bro the Rev. W.H. Weekes held office till 1939. During his term of office, two new Lodges were consecrated, namely Springfontein, No 5429 and Steynsrust No 5604. He was succeeded by RW. Bro.John Reid, P.G.D.

RW. Bro Reid was installed by RW.Bro. Joseph van Praagh, District Grand Master for the Central Division, on 22nd May 1940. W.Br. Arthur J. Pallet was appointed and invested as Deputy District Grand Master.

On 14th August that year, President Reitz Lodge, No 5824, was consecrated at Reitz.

On 24th June 1942 the District of the North Eastern Division changed its designation to that of the Orange Free State District. The District was then eight Lodges strong.

On 25th August 1942, our Grand Master, HRH the Duke of Kent,KG, was killed on Active Service, after having presided for only two years and two months. The Earl of Harewood, KG, was elected in his stead on 2nd December that year. He was installed by Most Worshipful Brother, His Majesty King George VI, Past Grand Master, on 1st June 1943.

Smithfield Lodge, No 6142 was consecrated in 1945, which brought the total of Lodges in the District up to nine. The Most Worshipful, the Grand Master, the Earl of Harewood, passed away on 24th May, 1947. The outstanding event of that same year, was the visit of His Majesty the King, a Past Grand Master accompanied by the Royal Family. That same year, Wepener Lodge, No 6475 was consecrated.

RW. Bro Reid held office till 1947. He was succeeded by RW. Bro. Benjamin P. Jones, who was installed by RW. Bro. T.N. Cranstoun-Day, on 21st July 1948. His deputy was W.Bro. L.W. Deane.

At the 17th annual Communication held on 14th September 1949, the District Grand Master announced the celebration of the silver wedding anniversary of the King and his Consort. He also requested a strict adherence to the English Ritual to secure conformity in the District.

His Majesty. King George VI passed away on 6th February 1952. The following cablegram was sent to Grand Lodge:

“Brethren of the Orange Free State deeply regret tragic death of His Majesty, M.W. Brother King George. Please convey our sincere sympathy to the Royal Family and our loyal and fraternal affection to Queen Elizabeth.”

The District Grand Master received a sincere reply from Buckingham Palace and the District Board suggested the letter be framed and hung in the District Grand Lodge Room.

At the 20th Annual Communication held on 4th October 1952, The District Grand Master reported the formation of a body of men called the South African Order of Freemasons. An urgent conference of all masonic constitutions had been held on 26 March, attended by the representatives of all the constitutions and the instigator of this breakaway movement and four of his colleagues. They were informed that the formation of their Lodge would be highly irregular. Havenga responded that there was a “national urge” for a South African Grand Lodge. If the present constitutions would sponsor this Grand Lodge, he and his associates would drop out but, whether or not they sponsored it, it would be formed. Havenga and his party were warned of the encroachment of political influences in any new body. Havenga warned that if there were opposition from the existing constitutions, his Order would become clandestine.

The heads of the four constitutions were united in their stand against the Order. In May they issued a statement replying to Havenga’s request that they sponsor the S.A. Order “either as an additional constitution or as a basis for a united Grand Lodge of South Africa ” rejecting his proposals, and earnestly requested him and his associates to take no further steps to proceed with the formation of the South African Order of Freemasons.

Sanctions followed and our District Grand Master advised the Brethren not to have any association with that Order and appealed to them to make it known and requested them to obey the wishes of Grand Lodge.

The Order was however, short-lived. Having registered on 14th October 1960, it was dissolved on 29th September 1961 with the formation of the Grand Lodge of Southern Africa. At the time of dissolution they had one Lodge and 100 members, of which sixty were active.

On 7th February 1953, Odendaalsrus Lodge, No 7229 was consecrated at Odendaalsrus and on 15th May 1954 United Goldfields Lodge No 7340 was consecrated in Welkom bringing the total Lodges in the District up to thirteen and the total membership up to 528

The Assistant Grand Master Sir Alan Adair and his wife, Lady Adair also visited our country in 1954.

On 7th February 1957 a banquet was held in the Bloemfontein Club on the occasion of the District Grand Master’s seventieth birthday anniversary. There were only two toasts given on that occasion, namely to Her Majesty the Queen and RW. Bro Jones. The President of the Board of General Purposes, W.Bro. R.H. Bolt, proposed the toast to the Queen and W.Bro. J. Hodes that of the District Grand Master. Sixteen brethren signed RW. Bros Jones’ menu. The 25th Annual Communication was held on 28th September 1957.

On 23rd August, 1958 the unveiling of the Plaque, the opening and dedication of the New Masonic Temple and the dedication of the two Lodges, Steynsrust, No 5604 and President Reitz, No 5824 were conducted at Reitz. At the 26th Annual Communication held on 20th September 1958, the President of the Board of General Purposes commented favourably on the good attendances and high standard maintained in all the ceremonies.

On 16th September 1961 the Ceremony of the unveiling of the Plaque and the dedication of the New Temple of Rising Star Lodge at Voortrekker Street, Bloemfontein was conducted by the RW. District Grand Master. That same year, Grand Lodge of Southern Africa came into being. The District extended their best wishes for the future to the new Grand Lodge.

In 1962 Lindley Lodge joined the District from Natal,. In 1964, however, Springfontein Lodge closed down.

At the 32nd Annual Communication held on 17th October 1964, the District Grand Master reported on the findings of the Commission that was appointed by the Government to enquire into the workings of Freemasonry, etc. The finding of the Commission proved very favourable to the Craft.

RW. Bro. Jones held office till 1966. He installed his successor, RW. Bro R.H. Bolt, on 12th March that year. The ceremony was held in the City Hall, Bloemfontein. The banquet was a joyous event and was highlighted by a most elevated speech by RW.Bro. J.G. Folly who proposed the toast to the District Grand Master.

Soon after the stark tragedy of the untimely death of the prime minister, Dr. H.F. Verwoerd earlier that month, the 34th Annual Communication was held on 17th September 1966. The following message of sympathy was sent by all constitutions to the office of the State President:

“We, the Freemasons in this our beloved country, who are lovers of peace and believers in the will of God, are tremendously shocked at the untimely and tragic death of the Prime Minister whilst serving his people as the leader of our land.

Please accept our profound regret and real and sincere sympathy in the great loss that will be felt in and beyond our Borders, and we trust our heartfelt condolences may be tendered to Mrs. Verwoerd and her family whose loss is irreparable. May Almighty God bless, comfort and sustain them in their time of need.”

After reading out the message in his address, the Brethren all stood as a silent tribute

The 35th Annual General Meeting was held on 16th September 1967 in Star of Bethlehem Lodge, the first time in the history of the District that the meeting was held outside Bloemfontein.

At the 37th Annual General Meeting held on 6th September 1969 m the District Grand Master welcomed the two Lodges, Basutoland, No 2835, and Sir John Brand, No 3035 into the District. The District was then fifteen Lodges strong, with a total membership of 577

RW.Bro. Bolt presided as District Grand Master till 1970. He was the prime mover in purchasing the 25 morgen on which the Centre is situated and was the personal overseer of the construction of the complex which is now occupied by all four Constitutions. During his term of office the four constitutions came together and in August 1969 the building of the Centre started. However, he did not have the honour of presiding at the 1970 Annual General Meeting, but passed away shortly after completion of the complex and was succeeded in office by RW. Bro Hendrik J. van den Berg.

RW. Bro van den Berg was installed on 20th February 1971 by RW. Bro. B.A. Armitage, District Grand Master of Natal. W.Bro A.L. du Plooy was appointed and invested as Deputy District Grand Master.

At the 40th Annual Convocation held on 16th September 1972, The District Grand Master reported that he attended the bicentenary celebrations of Lodge De Goede Hoop in Cape Town . The President of the Board of General Purposes, W. Bro. H.H. Haarburger, expressed his concern, that it came to his knowledge that open Rituals are sometimes used in ceremonial workings.

In 1974 the Temple at Bethlehem was consecrated. It was a combined ceremony of the English and Scottish Constitutions and the Grand Lodge of South Africa.

RW.Bro van den Berg held office till 1975. He installed his successor, RW.Bro A.L. du Plooy at the 43rd Annual Communication held on 13th September 1975. W.Bro B.J. van Rensburg was appointed and invested as Deputy District Grand Master.

Ficksburg Lodge, No 3553 changed their allegiance from Natal to the Orange Free State District and was cordially welcomed by the District Grand Master at the 48th Annual Communication held on 13th September 1980. At the same meeting, the President of the Board of General Purposes expressed concern about the slow decline in membership. That year, the total membership fell from 487 to 454 in spite of Ficksburg Lodge joining our District and bringing the total Lodges up to sixteen.

At the 49th Annual Communication held on 5th September 1981, the District Grand Master announced that President Reitz Lodge handed in its Warrant, which again brought the number of Lodges down to fifteen.

When the District was half a century old, at the 50th Annual Communication held in 11th September 1982, RW. Bro Du Plooy installed his successor, W.Bro B.J. van Rensburg as District Grand Master. W.Bro .C.F.J. van Rensburg was appointed and invested as Deputy District Grand Master.

Smithfield Lodge closed down in 1983 and Maseru Lodge, formerly Basotuland Lodge, changed their allegiance to the Transvaal Division in 1984. Unfortunately, a lot of unpleasantness occurred between the District Grand Master and Maseru Lodge at that time, which was handled with calm and dignity by RW.Bro van Rensburg. That same year Steynsrus Lodge also handed in their charter after years of struggle for survival.

Ficksburg Lodge celebrated their 75th anniversary in 1986. That year the District Grand Master and his Deputy attended the Installation meeting of the Lodge of Friendship, No 1696 in Mauritius, which fell under the Jurisdiction of Transvaal.

In 1988 Wepener Lodge surrendered their charter, due to non-attendance of members. That year membership in the District dropped to 292.

W.Bro. Gaby Viviers started a News Letter for the District in 1994. The first News Letter saw the light in August that year. W.Bro. Gaby intended to put out four per year to start with, depending on the responses from Lodges and Brethren. In November that year, the District Grand Master expressed the opinion that a permanent and tangible project, such as accommodation for the elderly – both Masons and non-Masons – be investigated At a Board meeting in 1995 it was decided to proceed with the project. In October 1995 the foundations of the first buildings were laid in Bethlehem and at the 64th Annual Communication, held on 14th September 1996, the district Grand Master reported that six two bedroom and four one bedroom units were completed and occupied.

Our Deputy District Grand Master, and editor of our News Letter, W.Bro Gaby Viviers passed away In May 1997.

The Masonic Haven was fully occupied and happy, and the overdraft we had was cleared by a donation of £10.000 received from London. The loss of members was also a matter of concern. At the end of our 65th Masonic year, our membership fell from 192 to 178.

With the passing away of W.Bro. Viviers, W.Bro. Pikkie Matthee screwed up courage and ventured to take the responsibility of issuing the News Letter, which reappeared in December 1998.

The District was still losing members and at the 68th Annual General Meeting the President of the Board announced that United Goldfields surrendered their warrant.

The decline in membership continued for another four years, and it was only in 2002, at the 70th Annual Communication that the President of the Board could announce a small gain. At the end of that Masonic year our membership in the District was 162.

Our 71st Annual Communication was the last one at which RW. Bro Van Rensburg presided. He closed his address that day with the following well-known poem, little knowing that he had come to the end of his road:

Through this toilsome world, alas!

Once and only once I pass;

If a kindness I may show,

If a good deed I can do

To a suffering fellow man,

Let me do it while I can.

No delay, for it is plain

I shall not pass this way again.

RW.Bro. Benjamin Janse van Rensburg presided for 22 years and was not only the longest presiding District Grand Master in our District, but was beaten only by RW.Bro T.N. Cranstoun-Day of the Western Division who held office for nearly forty years, and equalled only by Prince Michael of Kent who is now Provincial Grand Master of Middlesex since 1982. He died tragically in a car accident while returning home from the Ficksburg Installation on 22 May, 2004

He was succeeded by RW. Bro Dennis Neville Hayden, who was installed by RW. Bro.C.A. Young, District Grand Master of the Central Division, on 30thOctober 2004.

The ceremony was a memorable occasion. All Districts of the English Constitution in Southern Africa, with the exception of Zimbabwe, who sent their apologies and congratulations, as well as representatives of the other three Constitutions attended.

On 1st January 2005 our membership was down to 107, but at our 73rd Annual General Meeting the District Grand Master could announce that we have grown to 130. A decision was taken that year to dispose of the Masonic Haven. Our late District Grand Master, RW. Bro Van Rensburg had ensured that the Haven remained viable by devoting a great deal of his time and energy in the project, but after his death we had to rely on other parties to maintain the premises, collect the rents and attend to everyday problems, making it very difficult to control matters from a distance and therefor the running expenses rose dramatically. Consequently we had no alternative but to call it a day and sell the property.

It was sold at the amount of R975 000, and after deduction of commission, etc., we were left with the nett amount of R916 000 plus. The income derived from interest on the investment of the Haven, which was established when the Haven was sold, the amount of R80 000 was transferred to the Benevolent Fund. Monthly grants from this fund totalled just over R50 000 and two donations of R15 000 each were made to Jean Webber Home (association for Persons with Disabilities) and Martie du Plessis School for handicapped children.

Our District is the smallest in the country, but what we lack in numbers, we make up in quality. From the humble beginning of five Lodges seventy five years ago, the District has grown to 15 Lodges and a total of 577 members in 1969. In spite of the harsh and unrelenting attacks on the Order from various sources, the horrors of World War II, when many Brethren went to the Front, the building of the superstructure proceeded; the work of no ordinary builder! The columns rise like the brawny trunks of heroes, the terrible spans and arches are the joined hands of brethren. They are still building – building and being built upon. Sometimes the work goes forward in deep darkness. Sometimes in blinding light, sometimes beneath the burden of unutterable anguish, sometimes to the tune of great laughter and heroic shoutings, being led unwaveringly by the dedication of a Weekes, a Reid, a Jones, a Bolt, a Van den Berg, a Du Plooy, a Van Rensburg and a Hayden, a man in every decade!

Since 1969 we experienced a slow decline in numbers and the closing of six country Lodges, due to changing times, new lifestyles and the depopulation of country towns. This is, however not unique and the situation appears to be improving. Our smallest Lodge, Alan B Gordon is showing its resilience and is steadily growing and Star of Bethlehem is slowly returning to its former strength.

Everything augurs well for the future of English Freemasonry in this region..

The following is a list of our District Grand Masters:

RW. Bro Dean W.H. Weekes – 1933 to 1939

RW. Bro J.A. Reid – 1939 to 1947

RW. Bro B.P. Jones – 1947 to 1966

RW. Bro R.H. Bolt – 1966 to 1971

RW. Bro H.J. v.d.Berg – 1971 to 1975

RW. Bro A.L. du Plooy – 1975 to 1982

RW. Bro. B.J. van Rensburg – 1982 to 2004

RW. Bro D.N. Hayden – 2004 to 2009

RW. Bro C. Pedlar – 2009 to 2014

RW. Bro JJ van Zyl 2014 to present

(Compiled by Pikkie Matthee and Tony Hocking.)