Nelson Mandela, A Freemason, and the End of Apartheid

Nelson Mandela

Hello readers,

So I have your attention. The title of this blog is 100% true. This may be news to you but it’s actually even news to many of us Masons. We do a terrible job telling each other who is a Mason and who isn’t.

Over in Redditland, a thread was created by the poster Defjamblaster.

Reddit Nelson Mandela Freemason

Just letting Brothers know that he too, was allegedly one of us (i’ll research this). He was allegedly made on sight in North Carolina at a time when there were no Prince Hall Lodges in South Africa. They later went on to charter Mandela Lodge # 843 under the PHGL of NC. As far as I know, he did not go further than the Blue house. The details of his being made are scant below, but it appears to have been done by Grand Master William Parker Jr. of the M.W. Prince Hall Grand Lodge of North Carolina.

Edit 1: i’ve added “allegedly” to the statement until we get some better info.

Update 1: I’ve left messages for 2 of the 3 grand lodge historians for the MWPHGLONC. Will report any updates received.

Update 2: just spoke with the assistant Grand Historian. He confirmed that Mandela was made on site as listed above, with this added info: ” it occurred june 28, 1990 in Georgia. his wife was made a member of OES as well.” Mandela was receiving a gift from the MWPHGLO Georgia in his hotel suite, and the GM of NC was present as well. He says that this info appears in the grand lodge proceedings of that year. He also said that the Grand Junior Warden of NC issued a statement that makes reference to his membership. He will be forwarding that to me. He also indicated that he thinks the lodge in South Africa has since dissolved.

Update 3: statement added as jpg.

Update 4: photo of Mandela Lodge # 843 info from NC proceedings

Above are two pictures to show proof that he was indeed initiated, passed, and raised as a Master Mason.

So the question I now ask, what does this mean for you. For me, I’m honored to have Nelson Mandela as part of our Fraternity. He was someone who took power in South Africa and instead of immediately turning around and crushing the Whites, he did the best he could to run South Africa peacefully. The pressure for him to turn around and punish the former apartheid regime must have been great. But he took the high road.

However, there is some interesting history about this and I want to talk about what it means to us. Here are a few quick links to get your started.

Nelson Mandela Biography Article

Nelson Mandela Wikipedia Article

So from what we have from the North Carolina Prince Hall Grand Lodge, Nelson Mandela was made a “Mason On Sight” in 1990. Because of the documentation we have from the Grand Lodge, we have to assume this is all true. North Carolina PHA has never claimed anyone else falsely and Masonry is known to take terrific records of who passed the west entrance.

In 1990, Nelson Mandela had been in prison for 27 years. When F.W. de Klerk became president, he immediately released Nelson Mandela on February 11th 1990. Now being in prison for 27 years is no small feat. I don’t think any of us can really imagine the magnitude of the suffering and abuse Mandela dealt with while in prison. I’m sure when he became free, there were a million things he wanted to do, resting for a long time being one of them.

So when it came to light that a mere four months later he came to the US and became a Mason…it raises a few eyebrows for me. I’m not raising an eyebrow of whether it happened or not, not at all as the documentation is there. What I’m intrigued about is Nelson Mandela himself and why in the world he would do this. He must had had a thousand things on his mind, apartheid was still in full swing in South Africa and the street battles/protests were still raging. The world was looking to Mandela to take the reigns. His life was in full throttle. He had no free time.

When people wonder what it takes to be made a “Mason on Sight”, it’s no small feat. The ceremony, proficiency, and work take an entire day. Usually 10 hours of ritual work and other things are involved to make it official. For someone in his position, to spend 10 hours anywhere is almost impossible unless something was extremely important to him. Obviously it was important to the South Carolina PHA Masons. Having Mandela as one of them is something to be proud of. But for Mandela to choose to be one of us…that’s something to meditate over.

But what we do know are the timelines. Let’s take a look at them to see if we can gather any clues from them.

Negotiations to end Apartheid

Informal negotiations began on May 4th 1990, and suspension of the ANC armed struggle occurred on August 6th 1990. Official negotiations to end apartheid begin on December 20th 1991.

This period of history was one of the most sensitive for South African national politics. Many of us remember how close the Israeli/Palestinian peace negotiations came and then how quickly they collapsed. To be able to pull this off without falling back into violence and bloodshed takes a super human effort, coordination and trust among all the parties competing for power and attention. Yet Mandela found a way to fit in becoming a Freemason.

My first speculation was that Mandela was using Freemasonry to help allay the fears of other leaders. By becoming a Mason, he was now “one of them”. Also Masonry makes it very natural to meet other leaders in a non-hostile environment. Also in Mandela’s case by being a Mason it shows his psychological mentality was of the moderation that Masonry espouses. Mandela did have a terrorist and Communist history. For some, the perception of Mandela as this peaceful dove who wanted to end the struggle and nothing more seemed like a false narrative created for the media. Considering the suffering he faced, it would be hard for anyone to believe he didn’t want vengeance. Becoming a Freemason can do wonders to change that perception of you.

Now I did speculate that Mandela became a Mason to be able to use it as a way to quietly talk to other leaders. Looking at the people involved, the information on other Masonic leaders is scarce. Of the world players, we do know US President Ronald Reagan was also a “Mason on Sight” but his was more of the unofficial variety and the rituals he went through didn’t fully fulfill the typical Mason on Sight requirements. But he stopped being a president in 1988. George Bush Sr. was Skull and Bones and while the Bonesmen do have some Masonic DNA elements, they aren’t Masonic in origin or affiliation. Bill Clinton’s father was a Freemason and he was a Demolay (Youth Freemason) as a kid. Margaret Thatcher was a women so it’s highly unlikely she was a Freemason, but GODF Masonry does have a foothold in England so there is a slight chance she was a member. As for South African politicians, not much is known for SA Masonic leaders, if any of them were. Botha Pik is listed as a Freemason on a few Masonic websites. Also the founder of the South African nation Piet Retief is one of us as well. Now it’s common for people affiliating with Masonry to never have their Masonic affiliation know. The World Wide web doesn’t find out everything, especially because of Masonry’s long history before the internet. And while Masons have a long record of proudly trumpeting famous Masons, many Masons keep their Masonic identity religiously guarded as to not interfere with their personal lives. Another reason is that many Masons choose not to be remembered as Masons. For Masons, how you choose to be known is just as important as whether to join or not.

So looking through this, it still isn’t clear to how or why he decided to become a Mason. Becoming a Mason is not always a plus as anti-Masonry among the ignorant and disturbed is high. Considering the various factional elements in the Black population of South Africa, becoming a Freemason would have made him a target for those who wanted to take control.  Mandela never really advertised his affiliation, possibly because of the reasons stated above. I could speculate that Mandela became a Freemason for a reason other Masons join, to be part of something special. But Mandela was already a part of something special heading the ANC and was doing miraculous things for human rights and equality. Or maybe he wanted to become a Mason because he wanted to build a society and country in a constructive way as many past Masonic revolutionaries and leaders have done. But he could have done that without becoming a Mason. Why he became a Mason is similar to Masonry’s ancient history, we’ll never know what caused it to be.

So what does this mean to you? Nelson Mandela chose to become a Mason but not to have it as part of his public identity. We remember him for his great accomplishments, his dedication to South Africa, and his super human ability to remain resolute in the face of incomprehensible suffering and anguish.  So while I have told you that he is indeed a Freemason, he chose not to be remembered as one. Fair enough. He’s a Freemason, but he should be remembered the way he wanted to be remembered. As a man of peace and nothing more.