Living life with Scout’s honour
WHEN my father breathed his last after living a most useful life through 91 summers, the family faced a quandary: how to symbolise at the funeral what he lived for most.
He was an intellectual giant, so perhaps some books on heavy philosophy should be placed on the casket. How about What Gives Life Its Meaning? or Do Animals Have Souls? or even What Is Truth?
Despite ascending through the various rungs of society until reaching the top, he maintained a base of humility. Perhaps a small mound of soil would signify that he was, after all, a farmer at heart.
The dilemma was resolved when it was decided to place my father’s scout uniform with its many badges. It epitomised all the characteristics of a good scout and which my father embodied in such abundance: he was trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean and reverent.
Scouting was close to my father’s heart. He was active in the boy scout movement for more than seven decades, rising to be an executive member at national level and was awarded membership of the World Baden-Powell Fellowship. He attributed his personal, career and community achievements to character moulded through scouting.
Scouting was started in 1907 in the United Kingdom by Lord Robert Baden-Powell. His vision was to create a better world.
The first South African troops were formed in 1908. The first scout jamboree (large gathering) in South Africa was held in 1936 and B-P was present to observe how scouting was spreading to youth across the country. Due to the then political climate in South Africa, four racially-segregated scout movements established themselves.
In a historical survey of Indian scouting in this country, the distinguished educationist and scout RG Pillay, who ascended to become the Chief Scout Commissioner for South Africa, recalled that scouting among Indians owed its origin to the Reverend Bernard Lazarus Emmanuel Sigamoney.
During his theological studies in the UK, Rev Sigamoney joined the scout movement there. On his return to South Africa in the late 1920s, he formed a scout troop in Johannesburg where he was stationed. Such was the interest shown by the boys that in a very short time, three active scout groups were functioning in Johannesburg.
However, a stumbling block to further progress was the refusal by the then leaders of the Boy Scout Movement to grant official recognition to the Indian scouts.
In order to obtain this recognition, Rev Sigamoney sought the assistance of the Right Honourable VS Srinivasa Sastri, who had just arrived in this country as the first agent-general for the government of India.
The far-sighted Sastri advised that Rev Sigamoney whip up interest in scouting among Indians in the then Natal province. He surmised that since Indians were mainly centred in Natal, if the movement got a foothold in this province, then the numbers would be increased and recognition would be sure to come by sheer strength of numbers alone.
Thus, Rev Sigamoney brought a contingent of scouts to tour Natal in 1928 and again in 1929. The sight of these scouts marching to the rhythm of their bugle bands along the streets of Durban, Pietermaritzburg and other small towns soon fired the imagination of the Indian community of Natal.
Scout groups were formed at Indian schools. The powerful Natal Indian Teachers’ Society formed a sub-committee with BD Lalla as chairperson to control the activities of these school troops.
Pillay recalled the first combined camp held in Durban North with some of the early pioneers of Indian scouting taking part, including himself, TM Naicker, George Singh, Dr Somasundrum Cooppan, EV Naidoo, PR Singh, Peter Pahliney, Emmanuel Sigamoney, R Regnath and others.
Despite the enthusiasm of the boys, the movement made little headway due to the absence of official recognition. Frustration caused some leaders to lose interest and the movement was on the verge of collapse. It was this dark hour that saw the emergence of the man who was later to be described as the “Father of Indian Scouting” – Herbert Selladura Done.
In 1934 he convened a meeting of school principals and the Suburban Indian Boy Scouts and Girl Guides Association was formed. The 16 principals present voluntarily signed a stop order on their salaries to meet the salary of the organising scoutmaster.
From then onwards there was no stepping back. Camps, hikes and community service became part of the regular activities of the scouts. The first combined camp under the aegis of this association was held in Pietermaritzburg and resulted in the formation of a local association in the capital city.
Community service of a high order soon won for the scouts the admiration of the entire community. The heroic rescue operation by the Rossburgh Rovers during the 1935 floods in Clairwood earned special recognition for the movement. The scouts were thanked personally by the Governor-General of South Africa, the Earl of Clarendon, and Sir Syed Raza Ali, the then Agent-General for the government of India, who both visited the scene of the floods. Meanwhile, the fight for official recognition of the Indian scout movement continued.
The association continued its activities in spite of the inconvenience and delays caused by purchasing all its requirements from London.
In 1936, while travelling from Kenya to London, Lord Baden-Powell asked for a meeting with Indian scouts when his ship reached Durban. A rally was arranged. So impressed was he with the smartness and turn out of the scouts that he delayed his departure to England in order to attend a meeting of the South African Scout Council in Bloemfontein.
At this meeting, a formula was adopted for the successful functioning of the scouts of the four racial groups in this country through peaceful co-existence and friendly co-operation. A spirit of cordiality and true brotherhood existed among all scouts and leaders.
The 1960s brought its own challenges for Indian scouting. There was the movement of settled communities in terms of the Group Areas Act, which resulted in scouting coming to a standstill in well-established areas such as Stella Hill, Cavendish, Cato Manor, Durban North and Queensburgh in Durban, as well as suburbs around Pietermaritzburg.
The people of these areas were resettled in the massive housing schemes of Chatsworth and Northdale. New scout groups had to be formed in these new areas and suitable leaders had to be found and trained. Before long, 17 groups were formed in Chatsworth alone. Local associations were also established in Umzinto, Port Shepstone and Newcastle. Greater attention was given to scouter training.
In the international sphere, members of the Indian scout association were included in the South African delegation to the World Conference held every two years.
Unfortunately, the presence of delegations comprising all four racial groups at these international conferences would have created a false image overseas of an integrated South Africa at a time when apartheid was at its height. In the world jamborees, the South African scout contingents were also multiracial since 1957 and the local boys mixed freely with scouts from around the globe.
That merit alone counts was clearly evident at the 13th World Jamboree in Japan in 1971. South Africa had to choose one representative for the World Youth Forum which was held in conjunction with the Jamboree.
There was pleasant surprise when the South African boys – the majority of them white – chose Vivian Reddy of the Indian Association to represent South Africa. A further pleasant shock came when Reddy – today a community leader and successful businessman – was chosen to be the member of the nine-man steering committee of the Forum by the African Region.
It was only in 1977 that the boy scout movement united into one integrated organisation free for all, regardless of race or religion. In 2000, the SA Scout Movement opened its doors to girls too, making the movement open to all genders.
Until a few decades ago, many schools offered scouting for boys as an extracurricular activity after school hours. Girls could join the guides movement. Teachers would be scout masters and guide mistresses.
Boys and girls developed into young men and women of good character and strong leadership skills. They had great experiences in the outdoor programmes and acquired confidence and self-reliance that they would not have been able to gain anywhere else.
One of the longest serving scouts in the country, VK Naidoo, who joined the movement in 1959 and has been active with the Surat Hindu Scout Group since 1963, said it was a pity that the numbers of Indians joining the scout movement had dwindled.
“There is no doubt that scouting builds moral fibre. Scouting fills in the gaps between schooling and home life and builds skills, fitness, and character in youth and adults. It nurtures an appreciation for the outdoors and also makes it easier to lead a virtuous life.
“Personally, I have learnt the joy of making a difference. Scouting has given me satisfaction in helping boys become young men, and good citizens,” he said.
Perhaps, Vivian Reddy should include on his bucket list a campaign to woo more boys and girls to become scouts to live out Lord Baden-Powell’s mission to build solid values that inspire you to leave the world a little better than you found it.
Devan is a media consultant and social commentator. Share your thoughts with him on: email@example.com
VK Naidoo, one of the longest-serving scouts, with an award from Surat Hindu Scouts.
Scouting honed Vivian Reddy’s leadership skills.