Cartoon by Peter GibsonHistory of Scouting in South Africa

Mafeking - the beginnings

Mafeking The history of Scouting in South Africa goes back before the birth of the Scout Movement, because it was during the Siege of Mafeking in 1899-1900 that the founder, Robert Baden-Powell, had the first ideas which led to Scouting. Mafikeng (as it is now spelled) is a small town in the Northwest Province of South Africa.

There are many other `African Seeds' in the early history of Scouting, and many African traditions which have become part of the traditions of Scouting. You can read more about them on the African Seeds of Scouting.

The growth of Scouting in South Africa

South Africa after the Anglo-Boer War was a British colony, and in the cities many boys and young men must have read Baden-Powell's writing about "Boy Scouting" as it arrived in the mail by sea from Britain. In March 1908, only 7 months after the Scout Movement began with B-P's camp at Brownsea Island, many Troops sprang up in Cape Town and further afield in Johannesburg and Natal. It is not clear who was the very first, and there are many claimants, but the earliest registrations with the Imperial HQ in London came for several Groups in July 1909.

Scouting grew rapidly in South Africa, and in 1912, B-P himself visited Scouts in South Africa. Contingents of Scouts from South Africa have attended World Jamborees since the first one in 1920, and the first National Jamboree was held in 1936, with B-P again attending. Many troops still have photos and logs from these early days of Scouting - some even still race the wooden Trek Carts which were used before cars to take equipment to camp.

From division to unity

In many of the British Colonies where Scouting was established, it was at first segregated by race, and South Africa was no exception. However, this did not prevent Black Scout groups from springing up. In the 1920s, Black Scouts were given the name "Klipspringers" (rock-hoppers, a type of small antelope). After consulatation with Baden-Powell, it was agreed to recognise their organisation as a branch of the Scout movement. Their headgear was similar to the Australian bush hat. In all there were four separate branches, for Black, Coloured, White and Indian Scouts.

With the rise of Afrikaner nationalism in South Africa, Scouting was viewed with suspicion by many Afrikaners because of its English roots, and rival Afrikaans organisations including the Voortrekkers were established. These had a strong social and political aim.

Pressure was eventually placed on the World Organisation of the Scout Movement (WOSM) by the Nordic countries to expel South Africa for its racial policies, and South African Scouting responded by combining all branches of the Movement in the 1970s, at a conference known as Quo Vadis.

The Apartheid laws of the time made multiracial gatherings illegal, but Scouting activities from then on went ahead in defiance of these laws. Thankfully, no action was ever taken against Scouting by the Apartheid government. So, many years before the ending of Apartheid, Scouting was a movement for all the youth of South Africa.

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