Egyptian society celebrates a milestone

This 2007 picture shows the first committee of The Egyptian Society of South Africa. Back, from left, are Carla Irving, Angus McBride and Elizabeth Headley. Middle: Desmond Caywood and Mireille Farah. Seated: founder Keith Grenville and vice-chairwoman and curator of the Ancient Egyptian Collection at the SA Cultural History Museum Anlen Boshoff.

Sharing over 3000 years of ancient Egyptian history and introducing members to expert guests is the ongoing work of The Egyptian Society of South Africa.

The society, which is based in Table View but holds lectures and meetings at Mowbray’s St George’s Grammar School, is marking its 25th anniversary this year.

“Our founder and now patron, Keith Grenville, as a tour leader, led many on popular tours to Egypt for a number of years. Realising there was an interest in Egypt and her monuments, he advertised a meeting of those interested,” says Jean Smith, the society’s secretary.

On November 4 1996, 153 people attended the first meeting of what was then known as The Cape Town Egyptian Society. The name was changed when they started getting visitors from all over the country.

The society now has a website, a Facebook page with 2000 members and a quarterly newsletter, Shemu, the Egyptian word for “harvest”.

The society has worked with the History Society, the South African African Archaeological Society and the Slave Lodge in the City Bowl, which has an Egyptian Room.

“I would encourage people to visit the Egyptian Room, which is beautifully refurbished with the added attraction of interactive displays,” says Ms Smith.

The society also has an extensive library at St George’s Grammar School.

Colleen Cox, from Plumstead, has been a member for 24 years and has performed library duties for the society.

“As a history buff, it’s an honour to be a part of this organisation’s history and attend lectures on ancient historical subjects,” she says.

Gillian Russell, from Tokai, has been with the society since the beginning.

“I saw an ad by the founder, and I attended and was amazed by the turnout,” she says, adding that learning about ancient Egypt has aided her work as an independent researcher.

Esther Esmyol, a curator of social history for Iziko Museums of South Africa, says the society’s relationship with the Iziko Slave Lodge goes back many years and the society was helpful and financially supportive when the museum was planning an Egyptian exhibition.

Because of Covid-19 the society has been unable to hold its monthly meetings with its members.

“We keep in touch with our members, via our Facebook page, but also with our newsletter and occasional news bulletins by email. Members without computers are sent printed copies of Shemu,” says Ms Smith.

The society looks forward to holding meetings again once the pandemic is over. So for now, the 25th anniversary celebrations will be a muted affair.

“For this year we won’t be having a big celebration,” says Ms Smith. “We will be sending a special newsletter to our members.”

Mr Grenville was unavailable to comment and St George’s Grammar School did not respond to questions by time of publication.

Visit for more information about the society.

Dr Zahi Hawass, former secretary general of the Supreme Council of Antiquities, Egypt, addresses members of The Egyptian Society of South Africa, in 2006, while secretary Jean Smith looks on.
The Egyptian Society of South Africa provided financial support to upgrade the Egyptian exhibition at the Iziko Slave Lodge Museum.