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A New Development in the Scout Movement in South Africa


This article by Baden Powell in a 1936 issue of the Journal of the Royal African Society refers to the compromise in South Africa that split scouting into four racially based "sections": European, Coloured, Indian, and African. Bringing the African Pathfinders into scouting as an affiliated organization allowed white scout officials to control this potentially subversive and embarrassing youth organization without having to grant them equal status in the movement. Baden Powell's refusal to adhere to his own Fourth Scout Law, "A scout is a brother to every other scout," furthered his primary goal of linking the movement to political authority in South Africa. His excuse that white parents, particularly Afrikaner parents, would withdraw their sons if Africans became full scouts exposed the limits of scout ideology. Far from being a force for justice and social change, Baden Powell depicted scouting as a way to defuse "race consciousness" and teach non-Europeans to accept their subordinate place in segregated South African society.

This source is a part of the African Scouting (20th c.) teaching module.


During the past year the Chief Guide and I have visited Egypt and the Sudan, Kenya, Uganda, Tanganyika, the Union, Northern and Southern Rhodesia, St. Helena, Ascension, and the Canaries on a tour of inspection of Boy Scouts and Girl Guides.

You who know South Africa can realise in a way impossible for anyone who has not lived there the intense feeling which prevails on the colour question. For various reasons it has been far more acute here than in other countries.

Therefore our policy of Scouting being open to all "regardless of class, creed, or colour" was found to be impossible in practice. White parents would never allow their boys to consort with black. Any attempt on the part of the Scout movement to bring this about would have meant its boycott by the whites. Locally the question was asked: "Are the blacks to be catered for in preference to the whites?"

An amendment had been suggested to the Constitution of the Scout organisation in South Africa to emphasise the fact that the movement was open only to European boys.

One could not feel that this was in accordance with our professed open door to all sorts of boys, or that it visualised future developments of relationships between the races.

With the introduction of European rule the tribal system was largely broken down, and a transition from savagery to civilisation was brought about.

In many cases, however, the change has been almost too sudden; if you take former hunters and warriors away from their kraals and traditional discipline and place them as workers in mines and cities, with freedom from moral restraints, you thrust upon them the temptations and vices of the underworld of civilisation without having given them any education in character for facing these.

While education is as yet only in its early stages, the natives generally are quickly responsive to it. Those who were formerly segregated from one another by language and distance have now the facilities of a common tongue and improved communications and are thus coming into closer mutual touch.

Through gaining a wider outlook on life they are becoming race conscious and sensitive to justice or injustice. Indeed, influences are already at work among them persuading them that they have not been treated with fairness by their white rulers.

The colour prejudice is further complicated also by the fact that in addition to the natives there is a considerable half-caste element in the population, locally known as the "coloured" people. In addition to these there is a large section of Indians, descendants of earlier immigrants from India but now naturalised South Africans. Also a goodly proportion of Malays similarly circumstanced.

Already these different sections were beginning to feel themselves neglected if not repelled by not being accepted in the Boy Scout movement. The native youth had begun to organise themselves on Scout and Guide lines under able and sympathetic white leaders, calling themselves "Pathfinders" and "Wayfarers " since the name Scouts and Guides was denied them. The Indians had also started a Scout movement of their own.

At the Conference of the Union Scout Council which I attended in February the whole question came up for consideration. The various pros and cons-and there were many of them were discussed in excellent temper and in the true Scout spirit of fairness and wide outlook.

After two and a half days of earnest deliberation the conclusion was unanimously arrived at that, instead of making the Scout movement a closed Association for Europeans only, a Federation should be formed of the respective sections of Pathfinder Scouts, Coloured Boy Scouts, and Indian Boy Scouts; each section to be a separate self-governing unit, but all to be registered under the controlling authority of the Union Boy Scout Council.

This arrangement has met with the enthusiastic approval of all the bodies concerned.

This Federation, as now constituted, supplies at any rate a sound framework on which future developments can be made to meet the needs of future times.

The step is a big one and full of promise and possibilities. Its successful initiation has been largely due to the broad-minded outlook of missionary and education officers working in co-operation with white Scout leaders and in the face of much prejudice on the part of some of the public.

It is too soon yet to speak of any results, but one cannot help looking forward and hoping that this comradeship of the Scout and Guide movement will contribute to an improved mutual relationship between the different elements in the population and so tend to bring about the unity necessary for making an united South African people in the future.


Baden Powell, Robert. "A New Development in the Scout Movement in South Africa." Journal of the Royal African Society 35, no. 141 (October 1936): 368-71. Annotated by Tim Parsons.

How to Cite This Source

"A New Development in the Scout Movement in South Africa," in World History Commons, [accessed February 20, 2024]