I recently was able to attend the national Scout Legotla which happens every three years. As a Group in good standing we are entitled to send a delegate and because the Legotla was online, we managed to get two attendees. It was a worthwhile morning spent online and there were many interesting discussions and points made.
During the course of the conference someone remarked that scouts was the biggest youth organisation that no-one has heard of. It was a telling remark. Almost every scouter has at some point encountered the comment “Scouts? Are they still around?” followed usually by reminisces of when the speaker or someone he or she knows was in scouts. There are many strands to be teased out of these remarks but for the purposes of this reflection, we can ponder how this has become the lot of scouts.
It is not as if we do not get some exposure. Scouts regularly appear on SABC (mind you, that might not count for much!), the national and regional websites are active with some excellent articles regularly posted on them. Scouts are active on social media. We do public activities (one of our recent pioneering projects took place in Keurboom Park and Rebecca’s Springbok Pioneering Project in Keurboom Park attracted enormous attention from passers by). Our parents are generally enthusiastic about the benefits scouts gives to their children and our scouts are enthusiastic about scouting in general.
Maybe one part of why we are the biggest youth organisation that no-one has heard of is not just a marketing question. It is maybe that scouts has not truly understood how to position itself in a country of such disparity. We may be surrounded by excellent academic institutions but for the majority of our fellow scouts they have no such options – their schools have poor infrastructure, poor teaching and poor facilities. Scout groups in these areas are hardly in a better position than the schools – a hike on Table Mountain is far removed from anything that they have the transport or money to do. While scouts is actually generally reflective of the overall demographic of the population, as an organisation, scouts has failed to move from middle class comfort to confront the very challenging conditions of becoming a true youth movement in a country where the socio-economic disparities result in a disconnect between the haves and have-nots. There is much we can learn from our brother and sister scouts, not only in our country but in the rest of Africa. Until we, as a national organisation, embrace this disparity and forge better understanding and co-operation between all of us, we are unlikely to understand how we can adapt and appeal to the broader society.