BP's visit to South Africa 1912

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The Chief Scout's report on his visit to South Africa, 11 July to 7 August 1912[edit]

as reported in the Headquarters Gazette of October 1912


Of all the stages of my tour the last was the most impressive, and it brought me nearer home, to a land that is like home to me.

Durban', where first I landed in 1884, is a place that I have grown to regard with a genuine affection, and to see it again in all its beauty, with its perfect winter climate and in its well to do condition, gave me a feeling of enthusiastic satisfaction. I felt almost as if I had had some hand in transforming the former sandy township into the present modern and beautiful city.

A short flight in an aeroplane gave me a sensation that not one in a thousand could have foreseen. When I had a bird's-eye view of the place, I was not looking for a soft spot on which to fall, but I suddenly saw the history of it in my mind's eye. There was Congella, where, in the old days, the Boers ambuscaded the British troops who had been sent to clear them out of the port. .There was the narrow gut which the gallant despatch-rider swam with his horse to carry the despatches which brought reinforcements up to the beleaguered garrison. Yonder, close under us, elephants have wandered within the memory of man. There are the distant hills of Zululand, green they may well be, considering the amount of blood that has flowed over them.

Then Majuba - the tragic mountain which never fails to raise in one the feeling of romance and sadness; its rugged face has seen so much.

What a lesson it has for us which we entirely disregard of the awful expenditure of money, lives, and good name that can be incurred by party politicians at Westminster arguing on subjects of which they know nothing. If they could only see with the other fellow's eyes! But they cannot.

Scoutmasters! I believe that teaching the boys to look at every question from the other side as well as from their own, as a first step to dealing with it, is the keystone to the formation of character.

Then came the arrival at Johannesburg, to find a mighty guard of honour of Boy Scouts among a dense and cheering crowd of former comrades of the Mafeking defence and of South African Constabulary. When their hoarse roar was echoed by the shrill boy voices cheering, as they hoisted me around, the effect was almost more than one could bear. It was indeed a welcome worth the whole long journey to South Africa.

Then to wander once again through Mafeking - it was a joy to see the same old place so little changed; and those of its people who still remain, were even less altered and were friendlier than ever; it all brought back the scenes that happened twelve long years ago, as though they were but yesterday. One even felt a kind of joy to walk across the open without fear of being hunted by a Mauser bullet or a pom-pom shell.

Rally of the Scouts at Rhodes memorial[edit]

The last stage of my trip has impressed me most, this being the Rally of the Scouts at Cecil Rhodes' monument.

General View of proceedings at the foot of Rhodes Memorial during BP's inspection of the various troops

High up on Table Mountain's side among the pines there stands the classic shrine of Rhodes, with Watts' great statue, "Energy”, poised before it; the rider reining in his horse upon the lofty bluff, and peering out across the plains to where the distant ranges rise that guard the mighty continent of Africa beyond.

Their hazy veil hides many a scene of war and strife, of former quarrels now set finally at rest, of happy, peaceful plains where Boer and Briton now live, side by side, on terms of friendship and respect. And here our Movement can claim to be doing valuable work. For already many Troops of Boer Scouts are formed, and, what is better still, many more have Boer and British boys all mingled up together.

The mountain always has its own big thoughts for me, and on this day they were intensified, despite the fact that one was hedged among a Bank Holiday crowd with all its blatant presence, paper scraps and orange peel, instead of standing there alone at night beneath the stars (the only time to really feel the place, and muse).

But even so, to look out from the shadow of the crags and see the distant country far ahead, all glowing in the sunshine, made me think of that which lies before the boys; they soon will sally hence into their sunny life-while we, their elders, point to them the way as we are coming back into the shades.

This was the spot where Rhodes, the Empire Scout, had often sat and planned his schemes. The last time I was here was in his company. And he had brought my mother to gaze upon the view. It was from talks with Watts, the sculptor of the mighty group, I had drawn inspiring thoughts.

So there was much about the spot that had its call for me; and thus it seemed in keeping with the spirit of the place to group the Scouts around the veteran master's masterpiece, and for me to try, however poorly, to inspire in them the will and power to make their way in life and to inculcate the greater love for Country and for others than for selves, by handing them the flag sent by the King for those who will soon be the men to make or mar South Africa.

BP sailed for the UK from Cape Town on the Wednesday 8th August 1912 on-board the Balmoral Castle.

See also[edit]

Baden-Powell's visits to South Africa