BP's visit to South Africa in 1931

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The Chief Scout's report on his visit to South Africa 9 to 27 June 1931

as reported in 'The Scouter'

The most joyous point of our very joyous tour was when I found myself once more in Durban - more beautiful than ever, in the forty-seven years I have known it, with its lovely gardens blazing with poinsettias, hibiscus, golden shower, bougainvillea, salvias, carinas; and other gorgeous blooms among the graceful palms and shady mango trees.

BP and Olave in Cape Town with local Scouting dignitaries

Then a hasty tour through my old haunts at Maritzburg, Johannesburg, Pretoria, Bloemfontein, Port Elizabeth, East London, and down to the Cape, everywhere greeted by masses of Scouts and Guides, all as smart and efficient and enthusiastic as any in the world.

Enthusiastic? After inspecting a small rally of them, Scouts and Guides, Cubs and Brownies, on the platform at Stormberg station, and they had cheered us off, we thought we had seen the last of them. Not a bit of it : they scrambled into motor cars and raced after us along the road parallel to the railway for twelve miles, and on our arrival at Molteno there they were again to welcome us a second time, and to chat and cheer us off again. A number of these were Afrikaners, that is Dutch-speaking boys and girls, formerly known as Boers.

At Maritzburg we saw a delightful Gilwell perched high in the upland, and doing great work among the Scouts and Scouters. Among the novel institutions to be seen here was that of a Pathway of Honour, made of footprints made in concrete by Scouts specially selected by their Court of Honour for general excellence and Scouty-ness. I went through the operation of having my own footprint taken, to be placed at the head of the path-a very delightful idea!

Another good Gilwell exists at Johannesburg, and a new one has been formed at Cape Town, so everywhere the Movement is going ahead. The general improvement since my last visit four years ago was very noticeable, especially in the four new Divisions which have been formed on the lines of the suggestion that I made at that time out of the original unwieldy and over large Cape Province.

BP Inspecting African Scouts

In regard to the natives of South Africa many of us have felt that since we British have broken up their tribal systems of discipline and training we have given them little to replace them beyond high wages, bad temptations, and such lessons in civilisation as they can gather from low-class American cinema films.

We owe them some sort of character training as an antidote to these, and to the insidious propaganda of communists and other extremist agitators.

The colour prejudice is so strong in South Africa that if we were to admit one coloured boy to be a Boy Scout the white boys would be withdrawn en masse from the Movement. This has already happened in the Boys Brigade and Church Lads' Brigade. We have therefore helped to inaugurate a parallel Movement on similar lines for the non-European boys. This is called the " Pathfinder" Movement; and, for native girls on the lines of the Girl Guides is entitled the "Wayfarers". Both Movements have made a very promising start under the direction of Mr. Rheinallt Jones and others, and after six years have now, been fairly established about the Union with satisfactory results. Their leaders are chiefly native school teachers, trained by officers of the Scouts and Guides.

Another Movement which proposed to start was that of the "Voortrekkers." Over a year ago the promoters, together with the Education authorities, had had a conference with the Boy Scout Council of South Africa. Every effort was made to get them to affiliate the idea with the existing Movement, since our great hope is that the boys of both Dutch and British descent, coming together in comradeship in the one Movement, would grow up as friends, and thus become a united South African Nation, working for the future good of the country without continually harping on past differences.

This Voortrekker Movement was said to be for Afrikaner boys desiring to be Boy Scouts. The Scout authorities pointed out that they could do this by joining the Scout Movement where they would be allowed their own language and their own leaders. But this was not enough for the promoters of the Voortrekkers, who said that they could not take the Promise of loyalty to the King, and wished the word " Country" substituted for King. The Scouts declined to omit the word King, but were willing to add "Country" to the Promise, and so matters stood when I came to South Africa last month.

'Homeward Bound' Lord and Lady Baden-Powell waving from the deck of the 'Kenilworth Castle' to numerous friends who assembled to bid them 'bon voyage'

Dr. van der Merwe, the leader of the Republican Party and the promoter of the Voortrekkers, came with his Committee to see me. He asked me, whether in the event of the Voortrekker Movement being started, it would be officially recognised as a national Movement by the International Scout Bureau. I told him that I thought this most improbable, since the Bureau could only recognise one Movement in each country, and on condition that that Movement took the Scout Promise of allegiance to the constituted authority in that country. Personally, I do not apprehend that the Voortrekkers, if they ever start, will have a very long and effective existence. An opposition Girl Guide Movement was started some years ago, also on political grounds, but this soon fizzled out.

As things are, 20 per cent of our Scouts are Afrikaners, and some troops are wholly composed of them. My earnest hope is that by the boys of the two races coming together in one Brotherhood they will cease from looking back as their elders do on the quarrels of the past, and look forward to building up a united South African nation through the comradeship engendered in the Movement.

The finale of our long journey will long live in our memory.

As we steamed out from Cape Town on our last lap towards our home, we espied high up on the mountain side a thousand Scouts and Guides who had formed themselves into a gigantic living arrow; all waving white towels, they let fly to us their farewell message of "Goodwill and Peace."

See also

Baden-Powell's visits to South Africa