Mafeking and the origin of Scouting

Wikis > Our African Heritage > Mafeking and the origin of Scouting

mafekinghatIn 1899, the town of Mafikeng became world famous as the site of a siege which lasted seven months. During the siege, a small group of boys formed a cadet corps which was one of the inspirations which led Robert Baden-Powell to found the Scout Movement.

History of Mafikeng

The Place of Stones

The land around Mafikeng in the Northwest Province of South Africa was inhabited for thousands of years by the Khoisan people. The Khoisan lived closely in tune with nature, in nomadic groups of hunter-gatherers. Stone engravings up to several thousand years old are often found on the rocky outcrops in this region.

More recently the area was settled by the Tswana, of whom some tribes (the baKwena and baGatla) are known for their stone constructions and erection of large town.

The town of Mafeking was founded in the 1880s by British mercenaries who were granted land by warring Barolong chiefs in return for war service.

The town itself was laid out near their collection of farms by British Commander Sir Charles Warren and became the administrative centre of the region and the headquarters of the peace-keeping Bechuanaland Border Police.

The Siege of Mafeking during the Anglo-Boer War in 1899 made the town world-famous. Colonel Baden-Powell led the defence of town, and during the siege Baden-Powell first used boys as “Scouts”, taking messages and assisting in duties around the town. The town’s relief after 217 days made him a hero in Britain, and his fame and popularity enabled him to start the Scout Movement a few years later.

In South Africa under Apartheid, Mafikeng became part of Mmabatho (mother of the people), the capital of the supposedly independent “homeland” of Bophuthatswana. In 1994, when Bophuthatswana was reincorporated into South Africa, the name Mmabatho was replaced by the historical name of Mafikeng.

Today Mafikeng is the capital city of the Northwest Province in South Africa.

The name ‘Mafikeng’

Mafikeng is a seTswana word meaning “place of stones”. In seTswana, fika means stone, mafika is the plural, and the -eng ending means “place of”. (Similarly, the province of Gauteng in South Africa is the “place of gold”).

The British colonists spelt the name “Mafeking”, which is the name that most Scouts know, but it is correctly spelt “Mafikeng”.

Mafeking links

The Mafikeng SCENE
South Africa’s national Scout Centre of Excellence for Nature and the Environment, situated in the Mafikeng Game Reserve, at the birthplace of Scouting.

Of Bullets and Boys
The story of Mafikeng and its connection with the birth of Scouting
(a book by Jay Heale)

The African Seeds of Scouting
A collection of African heritage in Scouting from Ashanti to Zulu, including the story of the siege of Mafeking

Tourism in the Northwest Province of South Africa