Friends in South Africa


Boys all over the world know about the Boy Scout program, but many may not know that the idea for founding that organization first came to General Robert Baden-Powell while serving as a British officer in South Africa during the Boer War. Since at that time the only mode of communication was drums, Baden-Powell decided to have young boys carry his messages. The general began to feel that all young people should have more training and experience in outdoor life. In 1907, after his return to England, he organized the first Boy Scout group.

Although drums did not appeal to General Baden-Powell as a means of communication, they were the lifeblood of primitive tribes of Africa. The natives used drums of every kind: big drums, little drums, goatskin drums, pottery drums, gourd drums, drums that were beaten with sticks, and drums that were rubbed or pounded by hands. Africa’s drums have now almost been replaced by transistor radios that have found their way into even the most remote village.

Colorful rock drawings and other relics indicate that the drum-beating Bushmen and Hottentot tribes were the first people to live in South Africa. The Bushmen were less than five feet tall and had yellowish skin, tightly curled hair, and flat faces with high cheekbones. The Hottentots were olive-skinned people who lived near the Cape of Good Hope. But when a stronger and taller people, the Bantus, came marching down from the north with their armies and the Europeans from the Netherlands landed at the Cape, both the Bushmen and the Hottentots were almost destroyed. Today the few survivors of these tribes live in small rather isolated groups. The Bantus live in sod, grass, or straw huts that look like beehives or huge baskets turned upside down.

The settlers who sailed from the Netherlands to South Africa are known as Boers. Boer is the Dutch word for “farmer.” Descendants of the Boers are called Afrikaners. The Dutch people combined words from the Hottentots, the French settlers, and their old country—until gradually they developed an entirely new language now known as Afrikaans.

About 150 years after the Dutch landed in South Africa, the British took over the area and called it their Cape Colony. Many of the Dutch farmers (Boers) did not like the British rule, so thousands of them moved northward in covered wagons pulled by oxen. This was called the Great Trek and resulted in the founding of two new republics, the Transvaal and the Orange Free State.

Disagreements between the Dutch and the British colonists eventually caused trouble between these two countries. Two wars resulted—the first Boer War began in 1880 and lasted only a year and the second war, beginning in 1899, lasted three times as long.

Today the Republic of South Africa is an independent country that occupies the southern tip of the continent of Africa. It is composed of the four colonies of Cape of Good Hope, Natal, Orange Free State, and Transvaal.

Broad flat plateaus that rise up to 6,000 feet above sea level cover most of the country. Cliffs and mountains separate the plateaus from a narrow coastal strip. Large plateaus called karroos make up the dry western half of the region, and the eastern half, higher and more fertile, is called the High Veld (“grassland”).

When Africa is mentioned, people think of a safari (hunt) to kill big game. An organized trip to photograph animals is also called a safari. Guides conduct tours through wildlife parks where lions, leopards, hippopotamuses, elephants, rhinoceroses, and many other animals live wild.

A hippopotamus named Huberta was so loved in King William’s Town that when she died she was stuffed and placed in the town museum. The adventures of Huberta are favorite bedtime stories for children there.

The non-whites of South Africa are classified into three groups: Bantus, Coloured, and Asians. The Coloured live very much like the whites. The Asians still observe some customs of India, where they originated, many of them speaking Hindi. The Bantus live in a tribal area called a kraal (a cluster of huts). Most of the men leave the kraals during the week to work in mines. While they are gone, the women and children take care of the cattle, which are the most prized possession of the Bantus.

Did You Know?

South Africa is south of the equator, so it is summer from October to March and winter from April to September.

Kruger National Park is the largest animal sanctuary in the world.

African violets are native to South Africa.

South Africa is the world’s largest gold producer, producing about two-thirds of the world’s new gold. It also has the richest of gem diamonds and is the leading producer of uranium concentrates.

The flag of South Africa tells much about its history. The large orange, white, and blue stripes come from the early Dutch flag. The British Union flag in the white strip stands for the time when the British ruled the area.

May 31 is a national holiday called Republic Day.

South Africa has two capitals: Cape Town is the legislative capital and Pretoria is the administrative one.

[illustration] Illustrated by Dick Brown