South African Boy Scout Movement

Figure 1.--South Africa is a country of great natural beauty. South African Scouts take advantage of this on their outdoor and camping activities.

South Africa played an important role in the formative period of Scoting. Not only the lore of British Scouting, but the uniform was heavily influenced by South Africa. It was in South Africa that Lord Baden Powell became known to the British public and British boys. Some of the Scouting legends come from South Africa. British Cubs, and as a result Cubs in most countries, drew from Africa for their lore. The Scout movement movement was probably the most integrated insitution in the country during the Apartheid era, especially English Scout units.


The history of Scouting in South Africa goes back before the birth of the Scout Movement itself. It was during the Boer Siege of Mafeking (1899-1900) that the founder of the Scouting, Lord Robert Baden-Powell, at the time a British general, first conceived of the ideas which led to Scouting. Mafikeng (as it is now spelled) is a small town in the Northwest Province of South Africa. The Boer war erupted as an effort of the Boers or Afrikaaners (actually Dutch- speaking settlers) to be independent of British colonial control. The word boer means farmer in Dutch. Many words used in the Boy Scout movement came from the Dutch langauge of the Boers thanks to Baden Powell: Voortrekker, Verkenner, Oubaas, in English the words "veld" and "trek" are common now. Baden-Powell has often described the African influences on the Scouting movement. 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. This was less true in America where Indian lore was more influential.

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 Scout 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.

Figure 2.--Many Scout troops in South Africa were integrated even during the Apartheid era.

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, Colored, 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.

Figure 3.--South Aftrica Cubs practicing their knot tieing skills. The adult is Nkwenkwe Nkomo, South Africa's Chief Scout in 1998.


The Scout Association of South Africa is made up of three branches. There is a separate Girl Guide Association for girls of Cub and Scout age, but the Rover groups are combined groups of boys and girls.
Cubs: Cubs are boys from 7 to 10 years of age.
Scouts: Scouts are boys from 11 to 17 years of age.
Rovers: Rover groups are made up of young men and women 18 years of age and older.

Future of Scouting

In the lead up to the 100th anniversary of the birth of Scouting, the South African Scout Association wishes to improve upon and promote the quality of Scouting in this country. A planning Conference will be held at the end of June 1998 to decide on strategies to develop the Movement. The opinions of all members are sought to ensure that this Conference produces the best plan possible.

Scouting is a unique Educational programme, based on an ingenious and successful Method, set out in the Constitution of the World Organisation of the Scout Movement as follows, "A system of progressive self education through:
A Promise and Law
Learning by doing
Membership of small groups: (i e the Patrol), involving, under adult guidance, progressive discovery and acceptance of responsibility directed toward the development of character, and the acquisition of competence, self reliance, dependability and the capacities to both co-operate and lead.
Progressive and stimulating programmes: taking place in a largely outdoor setting in contact with nature.

These aspects of Scouting are not negotiable - but how we offer them in a more effective and efficient way is what we need to decide upon.

Figure 4.--Apparently these two South African Cubs have perfected their knot tieing skills under the supervision of South Africa's Chief Scout, Nkwenkwe Nkomo.

The South African Scout Movement has so often in the past been ahead of its times:
1975: The Quo Vadis commission set up by Chief Scout Charles Martin brought South Africa's four Scout Associations into one non-racial Movement.
1979: New Boy and Adult Leader Training programmes were incorporated into South African Scouting consistent with world trends, giving boys greater choice of path to Springbok Scout Award, and focusing on a deeper understanding of the principles of the Movement for adult leaders.
1986: The Phambili group set up on the initiative of Chief Scout Garnet de la Hunt devised a truly South African programme and structure.
1998: Now South African Scouters plan to celebrate on its 100th anniversary a strong, relevant and exciting Movement in South Africa. Courts of Honours, Scouts, Cubs and Scouters; Commissioners, Parents, Committee Members, well-wishers and past Scouts - all are invited to send to our Task Team ideas and thoughts you have on the future of Scouting and views on how we can make the Movement better.


I am not sure of the uniforms South African Scouts had before the different associations were unified. I think they may have been similar or the same. Chief Scout Nkwenkwe Nkomo writes:

I recall quite distinctly, it was either in 1966 or 1967, that State President CR Swart was coming to a school opening or some ceremony, and we were told we couldn't go there as scouts with white boys from Benoni and black boys from Benoni in the same uniform. The master in charge, Keith Crossley, put his foot down and said we were either going to go there together as scouts, or go together as school children.

Each of the three South African Scout groups (Cubs, Scouts, and Rovers) have distinctive uniforms. I am not sure if


The South African Cub uniform seems quite similar to the Scout uniform, except for the cap. The Cub Scout uniform consists of the traditional green Cub peaked cap with yellow trim worn with tan shirt, shorts, and dark green knee socks. The Cub uniform seems quite similar to the Scout uniform, the primary difference being the destinctive peaked cap and dark green kneesocks.

Figure 5.--These South African Scouts are engaged in a game at a troop meeting. They wear tan shirts and shorts with dark kneesocks, but without kerchiefs.


South African Scouts wear colored kerchiefs, tan shirts, short pants, and matching tan knee socks. The official headgear is a beret.


I have no information on River uniforms at this time.

Scouting Memories

South African Scouters have many fond memories of their years in Scouting. Here are some of the thoughts of Scouters looking back. They offer interesting insights on the activiyties that the boys enjoyed and remember as adults.

Foreign Scouts

HBU has noted several different foreign Scout groups that operated in South Africa. HBU is not positive why this was. It seems that some parents formed national Scout groups rather than join South Aftrican troops. This is no unknown in other countries, but appears to have been more prevalebt in South Africa than other countries. I'm not sure why this was. It was pergaps related to language or the countries former Apartheid policies.

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Created: November 15, 1998
Last updated: 1:57 AM 12/16/2009