The pandemic had a devastating effect on the morale of members of clubs and societies in 2020, but 2021 provides new opportunities to remain relevant.

Clubs and societies at Wits University are migrating their operations to online platforms as they prepare to welcome new members in March.

As strict covid-19 rules and regulations prohibit social gatherings, the university’s clubs and societies have had to find new ways to maintain their relevance on campus.

Even though the final list of clubs for 2021 has not been finalised, Wits has an average of 100 clubs each year and each club is required to have a minimum of 40 members to be deemed active, according to Jabu Mashinini, the manager of student governance.

Clubs and societies play a critical part of student life, as they contribute to the social experience at university and help students build their own sense of community. Students have a choice of academic, business, cultural, political, social, religious and social responsibility-focused societies.

Wits SRC officer, Nomsa Khumalo, says the move to online could potentially discourage new students from subscribing to clubs and societies but her office is working hard to make sure that does not happen.

“We are currently planning to do an exhibition of some clubs through online platforms. We will also advertise [clubs and societies] through the SRC’s various social media pages to make sure that they will be visible during Orientation Week,” Khumalo told Wits Vuvuzela.

Wits Debating Union (WDU) chairperson Umar Buckus said that although the pandemic has deprived members of a sense of community, moving online has opened many doors.

“I wouldn’t say that online debating is the same as in-person debating. However, it is a very strong tool to create greater accessibility for members. Now, instead of sending one or two teams, we can send five to six teams [to tournaments],” he said.

Debating online has also cut down costs. “There was a world championship and a Pan-African championship that generally cost us over R20 000 per person [before lockdown]. Last year those competitions happened online and it cost us only about six dollars per person,” Buckus told Wits Vuvuzela.

He added that because the union saved a lot of money last year and thus has healthy reserves, the union is considering not charging members the usual subscription fee of R230.

“I think that in a difficult situation where people are not able to get data to access the space, asking them to pay R230 on top of that almost definitely means we won’t get new members,” said Buckus.

Mashinini says it is not compulsory for clubs to charge subscription fees, however, should clubs decide to charge subscription fees, the minimum they can charge members is R50 a year.

“All the membership [fees] raised by the club is for the club to use for operations. The minimum that a club can set for subscriptions is R50,” Mashinini told Wits Vuvuzela.

The SRC’s Khumalo said that an exception to paying subscription fees will be made for returning students. “People who subscribed [to clubs and societies] in 2020 won’t be charged subscription fees for 2021.”

The pandemic has had a negative impact on the boating club’s finances, and has discouraged its members, according to the president, Thomas Roberg. “We weren’t able to do fundraisers, meaning that the club had no income, while still having to pay for expenses, such as boat maintenance and the boat shed (located at a lake in Wemmer Pan). This caused a major financial crisis within the club.

“Furthermore, all tours and races were cancelled, meaning that motivation was at an all-time low, causing many members of the club to quit the sport altogether [and] lose a year of technical training,” Roberg said.

The club will offer new members a free month’s trial this year. Thereafter, new members who wish to join on a permanent basis will have to pay the subscription fee of R1 400 per annum.

“[As the boating club], we would want them to come and see if they enjoy the sport, but at the end of the day we still have to pay for our boat shed, boat maintenance and fuel for the motorboats on the water,” Roberg told Wits Vuvuzela.

FEATURED IMAGE:  Members of the Wits Yacht Club touting for members during Orientation Week in 2016. Photo: File.