of Scouting in South Africa
Mafeking - the beginnings
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
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.